Dentists are at a major disadvantage when it comes to marketing.
- We did not learn marketing in school.
- We own a private, small business that requires marketing, to be successful.
- We must split our time between seeing patients, managing the practice, continuing our education, spending time with family, and marketing to acquire new patients.
- We are inundated with companies wanting to sell us marketing and advertising services, and we don’t know which ones truly offer the best return on investment (ROI).
- We aren’t sure how much various marketing services should cost.
- We may have unrealistic ideas of what to expect from various types of marketing.
Before you succumb to marketing pitches, let me tell you to stop and plan before spending any more of your hard-earned dollars on postcards, logo’d pens, and Facebook ads. If you want to make wise investments, you need to first do some homework.
Where Are You?
Are you a new dentist, just opening a practice, who has not yet identified a target market and practice name? Your goals and expectations will be much different from the seasoned dentist who has been in private practice for a decade or longer. And his marketing needs will differ from the dentist who is looking to transition into retirement. You must first consider where you are, and then you can determine where you want to be.
What Does Your Marketing Need to Accomplish?
Look at your budget. Figure projections, incorporating costs of staff, supplies, and other overhead. Determine what your practice’s financial need is for various patient numbers. What does profit look like if you have 300 active patients? What about 500, 1000, or 2000? As your patient numbers rise, your profitability will also rise, but you will see a leveling out point in your data. There will be a threshold at which you either become stagnant in profit or decline a bit, before the next growth period. Think about that sweet spot where profits are highest. If you aren’t there right now, make that your starting goal. If you’ve been sitting in the sweet spot a while, and you’re ready to press forward, define the next practical goal, according to your profit projections. Now, consider how you’ll reach that next point on your timeline.
What Marketing Should You Be Doing Now?
Let’s first break marketing down into three segments: offline, online, and PR (public relations). The following guidelines are extremely basic. If you’ve done all of these things and are ready for grander things, we’ll need to analyze what’s worked, what hasn’t, and where to place our energy moving forward. If you’re just beginning to think about marketing, explore these three areas while keeping your eye on that next mile marker for your practice.
Offline, you need visible signage for your office, an inviting lobby and front desk, and a front office team trained at answering the phones, greeting patients, and converting inquiries to booked appointments. You need collateral: business cards, appointment cards, letterhead, and envelopes. As far as advertising is concerned, the benefits of placing ads in your local paper, phone book, and doing direct mail will depend in part on your target market and local competitors (peers).
As for online marketing, you need a website that will accurately portray your practice’s look, feel, and philosophy, while also attracting patients via search engines. Beyond the website, you may want a blog, social media profiles, and an e-newsletter. Whatever you do online, remember that your website is the foundation.
PR, or public relations, is the often neglected stepchild of dental marketing. A local, part-time, professional PR person can take your marketing efforts to new heights by focusing on the important aspects of marketing, for which you have neither time nor training. A good PR person can make connections for you, get your brand in front of target patients, and make certain that your ads are well placed – and you aren’t overcharged for them.
You Cannot Do It All
As The Dentist’s Coach®, I’ve seen many strong, professional male and female dentists try to personally manage every aspect of running and growing their dental practice. Inevitably, they leave loose ends and cannot achieve their best. Like a dental consultant, I help my clients organize and develop their practice. Unlike a dental consultant, I approach my clients as a coach, helping them uncover problems, gather facts, make informed decisions, and properly manage their practices, as well as their lives. When it comes to running your dental office, you cannot do it all. In addition to your staff, you need to work with experts in various areas of business. Just as you collaborate with an accountant on finances and taxes, you should develop a relationship with a marketing firm and/or PR representative whom you trust.
Next, define what your practice needs to achieve. Set goals and realistic expectations. Invest adequate time, energy, and finances in marketing, and then – never forget this most important part – measure your return on investment.