In less than a year, Dr. Sean McWilliams has built a thriving start-up practice that seems to be growing by the day. McWilliams, owner of the Atlanta Spinal Correction Center in Roswell, Ga., has based his professional life on two basic tenets: “Never give up, and never give in,” and, “Image is everything.”
These strategies have helped McWilliams build a practice that’s already averaging nearly $31,000 per month in gross collections, even though he just opened his clinic doors in August 2000. By the end of the year, he estimates his annual gross collections will stand at about $435,000.
Before McWilliams found the formula for his success, he spent some rocky times learning the ropes. A 1995 graduate of Life University, he made his first attempt at opening a practice two years later, in another suburb of Atlanta. “I just wasn’t ready,” McWilliams says now. He openly admits that he was in over his head and that he needed guidance.
He asked around to find someone who might be able to offer him that guidance, and one trusted colleague directed him to Dr. Ben Lerner in Kissimmee, Fla. McWilliams wrote Lerner a letter, and Lerner invited him to visit his practice. It was a trip that McWilliams says changed his life. He explains: “Seeing somebody that saw 350 patients per day, I said, ‘I need to work with this guy.’” McWilliams did just that. He closed his practice, moved to Florida, and served an internship with Lerner for about nine months.
McWilliams recalls: “That molded me a lot. I didn’t really have the discipline it took. After that, I knew I could communicate chiropractic to people, but I just didn’t have a sound vehicle. It was hard work.”
Lerner is quick to sing McWilliams’ praises. “He was caring, committed, and was an excellent adjuster,” Lerner says. “It led him toward working with someone like me who had a strong patient education and care system that worked to get a lot of families in who understood chiropractic and received a life-changing experience. Everyone needs the right experience and training to become a master chiropractic warrior.”
After getting an education regarding Lerner’s business and marketing techniques, McWilliams decided to strike out on his own once again. He opened his practice last August in Roswell, Ga. Joining him was office manager Julie A. Thomas, who previously managed a 650-patient-per-week office in Florida.
“A lot of what I learned from Dr. Lerner had to do with educating patients,” McWilliams says. Since opening his new practice, McWilliams has developed a computerized “slide” presentation that’s used during the report of findings to educate patients about chiropractic. “We show them what we can see on X-rays and how it can correlate to irregularities,” he says.
McWilliams gives health talks four times a year, and he offers screenings at local arts festivals twice a year and rents a mall kiosk for a month at least twice a year. He emphasizes the importance of soft-selling vs. hard-selling. He says his goal is to educate prospective potential patients and get them interested in the services his clinic offers, without pushing them.
From the two annual arts festivals alone, McWilliams estimates he gets 30 new patients. It doesn’t hurt being in the middle of one of the more affluent communities in the area. A quarter of the families in Roswell (population 75,000) have incomes in excess of $150,000 per year. Only 15% have annual family incomes below $35,000. There’s a lot to be said for location, location, location, he says.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but McWilliams makes sure visitors to his practice have plenty to behold. He wants people to be impressed by what they see, since first impressions are lasting. “People buy with their eyes first, then with their hearts and minds next,” he says. “You need to give people Rolls Royce service and you will attract that quality of people.”
A big part of delivering that quality service lies with office manager Thomas, McWilliams says. She is the only support staff in the office and has developed many procedures to efficiently handle the patient volume single-handedly. Thomas is the first person and last person patients come into contact with when they visit the practice, and her public relations finesse is just as important as her efficient patient service skills, McWilliams says.
McWilliams’ practice is located in a historic, upscale section of Roswell, in a Civil War-era mill home with hardwood floors that’s filled with antiques. “We took a big gamble here,” he says. “The rent was about twice what I wanted it to be.”
He is by no means an advocate of low overhead when it comes to image, with antique chairs in the waiting room and framed artwork throughout the office. McWilliams also puts fresh flowers in the front desk area every week. There’s a 47- by 65-inch mirror in the waiting room with names of new patients referred by current patients, with a “thank you” to the referring patients.
McWilliams believes in ancillary products and services. One of his best-selling products is therapeutic pillows. He displays boxes of pillows in his adjusting rooms, leaving a sample pillow out of the box for patients to try. “They really sell themselves,” he says. McWilliams also sells compression/ extension cervical traction units. He suggests that patients purchase a unit after their 36th adjustment to supplement their care with home treatments.
However, McWilliams is well aware that it takes more than a spiffy office or a few ancillary products to retain patients, and it’s with that in mind that he borrowed a couple more of Lerner’s ideas. In addition, many of McWilliams business strategies have their roots with Dr. C.J. Mertz of Waiting List Practice, since Lerner is one of Mertz’ biggest clients, and McWilliams attended several Waiting List Practice seminars while working with Lerner.
Using a strategy termed the “seven-day rule” and getting patients to commit to a 12-month treatment plan, McWilliams has been able to build his patient visits per week to an average of 350-plus. He doesn’t feel the mandatory 12-month commitment is unreasonable, even if it’s not required in all chiropractic offices.
“Part of it is our care plan,” McWilliams says. “A lot of things can change when someone’s getting care three times a week for 90 days. We make sure they learn some basic chiropractic, things that we want them to understand. It’s really rare that someone comes in and doesn’t want to sign up.”
Again, McWilliams benefits from the demographics of his area. He knows there is money to be spent. He tries to market himself as much as possible to the 35-50 age group, citing the Baby Boomers’ tendencies toward making good incomes, having quality insurance and having disposable income available to spend on personal healthcare. He also credits this generation for generally having a positive, open mind set when it comes to approaching their health.
Once a patient commits, the “seven-day rule” goes into effect. It essentially gives patients committed to the 12-month program a chance to refer a friend or family member to be X-rayed and examined at McWilliams’ cost, as long as the referral is made within the first seven days of the referring patient’s treatment plan. Of the patients who come in as part of the offer, 85% also commit to a program.
With patients in for the long haul, McWilliams keeps things fresh by continually educating them. For the first six weeks, this includes a new piece of literature each week that teaches patients what a subluxation is, what conditions can be helped by chiropractic, what the nervous systems does, etc. His goal is for patients to understand both their own bodies and the treatment they are undergoing. On their second visit, patients are given an X-ray report with slides, using technology in the form of digital photographs and computer images.
“A lot of patients do a major 180-degree turn after viewing this, and many referrals are generated at this point,” McWilliams says. After each re-exam, done after every 12 adjustments, patients are quizzed on basic chiropractic principles to “help reiterate why they are coming and encourage them to continue,” he says.
By the 90th day of care, patients are again X-rayed to illustrate structural changes. “This is an exciting time because many people have been working hard to see their spines improve, and this is a nice re-affirming point for them… that they made the right decision to come to our office and their money is being well-invested in their health and their future,” he says.
McWilliams has plans for his own future. Those plans include expanding his practice by adding another doctor. Meanwhile, he’ll continue concentrating on enhancing public perception of his practice. This includes anything from cakes and balloons for staff members’ birthdays – for patients to share – to patient appreciation projects such as a toys-for-services holiday exchange. During the 2000 holidays, McWilliams exchanged an estimated $10,000 in services for toys donated by patients.
The success of McWilliams practice is tied to his willingness to take chances, do new things and constantly make himself visible to the community. He prides himself on making patients feel at home when they’re in his office. “You should be having fun in your office,” he says. “There are so many people out there looking for great chiropractic care. Your office should be like your second home. Make it nice. Surround yourself with good people who support you and what you do. Never give up, and never give in.”
Bringing In New Patients
Dr. Sean McWilliams of Roswell, Ga., believes in the importance marketing his practice. His main strategy is to meet as many prospective patients as possible, face-to-face. By carefully picking his marketing activities, McWilliams is able to reach a huge audience.
In addition to marketing his practice twice a year at local arts festivals, McWilliams twice during the early portion of this year rented a kiosk at a local mall to offer screenings as a patient recruiting tool. It cost him a total of $3,084.
McWilliams saw a major spike in new patient numbers as a result of the two months he spent at the mall. After seeing 12, 12 and 11 new patients, respectively, November, December and January, the figures jumped to 75 and 64 in February and March. Those two months accounted for half of the new patients in his eight months of practicing.
Using a portable unit, McWilliams screened between 150 and 200 people each month in the mall. Of those, he estimates about 75 people each month — or roughly half of those who are screened — schedule appointments.
Beyond the screenings, McWilliams has printed flyers to pass out at a cost of about $100; and he gives donations to such local benefactors as a soccer booster club and an elementary school. He believes those gestures, along with their small price tag, can reap as much benefit as any ad in the Yellow Pages or in a newspaper.
“I have always felt that if you give back to your community out of your abundance, that magically your community will give back to you,” he says.
Atlanta Spinal Correction Center
28 Sloan St.
Roswell, GA 30075
Dr. Sean McWilliams, Founder/Owner
Julie A. Thomas, Office Manager
Stephanie Etterman, Massage Therapist
M-W-F: 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
and 3:30 p.m.-7 p.m.
SAT: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Monthly Gross Collections (2001):
Anticipated Total Annual
Patient Visits Per Week:
Aug ‘00: 176
Sept. ‘00: 201
Oct. ‘00: 246
Nov. ‘00: 222
Dec. ‘00: 247
Jan. ‘01: 261
Feb. ‘01: 309
Mar. ‘01: 388
New Patient Visits:
Aug ‘00: 9
Sept. ‘00: 48
Oct. ‘00: 48
Nov. ‘00: 12
Dec. ‘00: 12
Jan. ‘01: 11
Feb. ‘01: 75
Mar. ‘01: 64
• Kenneth Sprague, Bookkeeper
• RNM Billing (Patrick and
• Skillman E. Siewert, CPA
• Jeff Nolde, Financial Advisor
• Dr. Ben Lerner, Kissimmee, Fla.
• Dr. C.J. Mertz, Waiting List Practice
Dripping Springs, Texas
512-858-5608 or 877-TEAMWLP