Marketing your practice today is different than it was in the “Mercedes ’80s” when I started my own practice.
Today, many providers feel their hands are tied when trying to market their services while adhering to stricter health care regulations.
When you consider the changes in the health care profession within the past decade, from regulatory and compliance crackdowns to health care reform, it makes you wonder if marketing your practice is worth the risk. Fortunately, it is still possible to create a rock-solid marketing plan while staying compliant and attracting new patients to your practice.
Growing up, I lived next door to the sister of Zig Ziglar. You might have to look that name up, but one of his favorite sayings was: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”
I took that advice perhaps too much to heart, and I am guilty of the “shoot, ready, aim” course of action. I’ve launched new ideas without a clear plan that resulted in costly mistakes. When you begin marketing your practice, it pays to take some time to establish a plan of action and a reasonable budget, and stick to them.
A good rule of thumb for small businesses is to allocate 7 to 10 percent of your revenue for marketing. That number may vary depending on your market size, competitors and costs of media outlets.
In the beginning
Appearances matter: The visual aspect of your practice has the highest impact. Your brand is about the patient experience, how they feel when they visit your office and meet with you and your staff.
Start by looking at the parking area in front of your building. What do you see? How do you feel? Follow the same route as your patients and observe what they see from every angle. Go in the restrooms. Sit in the waiting room. Lay on the adjusting table.
Take notes about what works and what doesn’t work. Is the lighting harsh? Does the paint color enhance the relaxing atmosphere you are trying to establish? Are the chairs in the waiting room uncomfortable? It was during this exercise that I discovered that every patient who had lain on my adjusting table had a view of dust collecting around the base. Our daily checklist now includes cleaning this area. Make a visit to your clinic enjoyable, provide outstanding customer service, and watch your brand soar.
Create an online presence: People are now digitally connected to the world from their phones and laptops. Consumers like to get information about businesses and services online before making a decision. The lack of a website can make a business seem outdated and less legitimate. To maintain the attention of your audience and connect with potential new patients, your website should be easy to access, mobile-friendly, and provide an easy way to connect with your team.
Be smart when it comes to creating a website. Unless you have a background in digital marketing and design, consider professional help— it’s worth the added expense. A great variety of companies can build and design the website of your dreams affordably. They also offer additional services to help build an online presence, with packages to fit any budget. And some are dedicated to chiropractic practices.
And speaking of expenses, you must crawl, and then walk, before you can run. Resist the urge to be an impulse shopper and stick to your budget. As your practice grows, so will your marketing dollars and the opportunity to access additional services to expand your marketing reach.
Marketing materials: Many chiropractors offer a variety of services and products to patients beyond the adjustment. You’ll want a marketing brochure or flyer with information about the services you offer, conditions you treat, your picture and a short bio, and your address and contact information— including your web address.
You’ll need appointment cards and business cards that are cohesive with your brand. These marketing essentials can be used for years to come so it’s worth the investment to have a professional create them.
Additionally, you will want to have brochures specific to the products that you carry, and these can be attractively displayed. Most of the companies that supply nutritional supplements, orthotics and other products for your office are happy to supply these marketing pieces at little or no cost.
People do business with people they like, so be an active and visible participant in your community. A good place to get started is through your local chamber of commerce. Join and attend networking events such as ribbon cuttings and open houses. These events put you in front of other business owners, medical professionals and a host of potential new patients in your area. They also offer opportunities to participate in community events, promote your practice at local 5K runs, and educate other business professionals on the benefits of chiropractic.
Be careful if offering discounts on services. There are rules and regulations, some carrying high fines and penalties, which prohibit discounts. Additionally, there are consequences to offering discounts when you are a participating provider with an insurance company. Recently, two chiropractors were charged with federal fraud for offering free visit incentives. They are facing fines and penalties estimated at more than $500,000. There is no quantity of new patients in your office that makes offering noncompliant discounts worth the risk.
Don’t market your doctors, market your brand. Over the years, I have had many associate doctors in my practice. Some even had unique specialties that added value to the practice. When you market your doctors to the community, instead of marketing your brand, you risk losing patients if the providers leave to join another practice or start their own. By all means publish an announcement welcoming a doctor to your practice, but after the initial announcement, advertising should focus on your practice brand.
Don’t violate HIPAA. HIPAA rules require that you obtain a patient’s permission before using their personal information for marketing purposes. This includes the patient’s name, photo, and testimonial on your website, social media, print advertising, and in your office.
Everyone on your staff—even marketing personnel—should be well-educated on HIPAA rules and regulations. In 2016, a physical therapy provider received a $25,000 penalty for posting patient testimonials without permission on his website. You are required to get your patient’s permission in writing before using testimonials.
Don’t expect results overnight. Establishing your name and building your brand takes time. With each new marketing initiative launched in your office, gather results for four to six months before deciding whether the plan was a success or failure. For new practices, especially, a longer time frame up to nine months may be appropriate.
Marketing is an ongoing process. Many make the mistake of pulling back or stopping marketing when their practice is busy, only to quickly restart out of desperation when the practice slows down. To maintain a steady stream of new patients, marketing should be done consistently all year.
Set aside time each fall to outline your marketing plan for the coming year. Plan your marketing efforts by month. This will make it easier for you and your team to prepare in advance and stay on target. It won’t take long to see the long-term benefits of an effectively executed marketing plan on your practice.
Ray Foxworth, DC, FICC, MCS-P, is president of ChiroHealthUSA and a certified medical compliance specialist. He maintains his practice on NewSouth Professional Campus in Flowood, Mississippi, home to a large multidisciplinary spine center, with services ranging from chiropractic to neurosurgery. He can be contacted through chirohealthusa.com.