Even with a full practice, a sound business practice for the long term is to continuously invest in marketing your practice. Marketing – how your work with patients, your price, place and promotion – means that you are always working to improve your practice organization. Patients will leave, and new patients are looking for good physicians. Running a business means constant renewal.
In their recent newsletter, Healthcare Success Strategies, a practice marketing consulting firm, offered these “Marketing Resolutions to Break Inertia and Get Moving Today”:
1. Start an account just for marketing
2. Take 4 minutes to seriously assess your practice.
3. Start a plan.
4. Track the source of new patients from the first phone call.
5. Learn something new each month about marketing.
6. Repeat after me: “Marketing is an investment.”
7. Call someone. Sort of a “marketing buddy system;” you’ll get further with sound advice and accountability.
Over the past month, I’ve been writing about how this time of year is often one of introspection and a time to unleash new energy into your business. I’m doing this myself – I’m seeking out more opportunities to lead seminars and workshops for physicians and small business groups around the country.
Your budget for 2008 – and every year – should include monies for marketing. A very rough “rule of thumb” would provide 1-3 percent of total expenses into that account. Marketing expenses include patient education materials, advertising, sponsorships (PTAs, high school plays and athletic teams, community theater groups, etc), fees to a marketing consultant, and so on. Before spending much money, however, sit down and draw up a basic plan. Who are you trying to reach? For example, in my city there is a Center for Women that has a variety of programs, from a series for women entrepreneurs (I’ve spoken for them – some interesting businesses out there). This organization reaches a lot of women, so a relationship would be a good investment. A business membership is inexpensive ($250 a year) and includes a link on their website. High school football is very big here, and there is also an active cultural and arts community. The basic test is this: will people actually notice your sponsorship, and are these the people you are trying to reach with your message?
In addition to sponsorships, your highest priority should be in the office. As I’ve written many times before, get thee a website, and get thee printed materials to give to patients. People don’t always hear or remember everything you tell them in the exam room. Written materials reinforce your message, and can provide more information if patients want it. A website is a must – even a simple one, such as offered through the AMA subsidiary Medem.
Resolution 7 above says to get help. You need not hire an employee – there are many good people out there who consult and freelance to practices and other businesses. Personally, I often work on a flat monthly retainer rather than an hourly rate for longer term projects.
Going back to the plan – item 3: a marketing plan outlines the goals and tasks for growing your practice. Tasks can included developing patient education materials, conducting a walk-through assessment of your practice, listing the physicians and other potential referral sources you will meet with (including meals), and outlining sponsorship opportunities. If you are planning to place advertising, this should also be sketched out. On the latter, the place to start is by gathering media kits from the various outlets (newspapers, magazines and radio) in you service area. Do not commit to anything without help – you will be promised a lot of things. Do not place ads simply because “it’s cheap – how can I go wrong?” You can – it’s a waste of money and time that could be better spend somewhere else.
Let us know how things go – questions are always welcome!