Become a Community Alliance Champion

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Discover how strategic community relationships are good for business

By Alicia Backer, PTA

As a private practice community, we are, or certainly should be, cognizant of the high value that community alliances provide.

Becoming an expert in building community relationships can be challenging and exhausting, but when executed thoughtfully, the process can be fun and highly rewarding. Regardless of experience level, creating lasting ties and maintaining long standing connections within your community are vital skillsets for continued growth and success. In this article I will share champion habits to create, improve, or preserve community alliances.

If you are looking to make a long-lasting impact in your community then strong partnerships are essential. Building real and lifelong partnerships is not something that happens overnight. It is a game of endurance, and taking the time to establish clear expectations of what and who you are looking to build relationships with, will lay the foundation for best outcomes.

BELIEVE IN WHAT YOU DO

For someone else to trust and believe in what you do, you must believe and model behaviors that show it. Being present and forthright about who you are and what you do will spark people’s interests. You do not need to give a formal presentation on physical therapy and the services you provide to get people’s attention. Displaying genuineness and enthusiasm consistently, despite your audience, will leave people wanting to know more. Show interest and get to know people in your community without having an agenda. When I first started working in private practice and learned how valuable community relationships were, I was unsure, as a PTA, if and how I could contribute to building these critical ties. Thankfully, a mentor encouraged me to push myself and other team members to participate in community marketing opportunities. He said to be present, be engaged, and be likeable and the rest would take care of itself. He was right. People are drawn to authenticity.

BE AN EXPERT

As a private practice leader, you already have a great deal of responsibilities to keep your business growing and successful. You want to make sure that valuable time is not wasted by marketing to a source that will not give you the best possible return. Being an expert in what you have to offer, “knowing your niche(s),” will help you decide in which populations you should invest. Do you desire serving athletes or does your passion lie within the geriatric community? Are you an expert in vestibular rehab or maybe you have perfected the art of workplace injury prevention? Is your clinic located in a community where you are expected to be the expert in everything? Regardless the situation, target the businesses and physicians that you anticipate as biggest gains in both numbers of potential clients and longevity of relationship.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Knowing your audience is significant to having marketing success but also having a basic knowledge of common local payers will be an added worth to building partnerships. Direct access has come a long way over the last sixty years in its journey to have a front-line presence in health care. Direct access has since proven to be instrumental in the success of private physical therapy practices across the grid. With that said, physician referrals are still a very important component to private practice. However, building relationships to yield physician referrals in private practice seems to be more challenging today than ever before due to the looming network hurdles within large healthcare systems. Strategies of the past may no longer be effective. Use creative planning to establish routes for developing indirect relationships with physicians. Strengthen relationships with physicians through patients and other community relationships. Create raving fans and the physician’s referrals will likely follow.

Payer mix is also an important factor. Which payers require referrals, and which do not? How does patient responsibility vary amongst payers? For example, devoting lots of time and energy on an employer that carries insurance requiring high out-of-pocket costs may be better delayed to concentrate more on direct access or payers requiring little to no patient responsibility. Utilize the expertise of your front office staff to learn local payer trends when deciding where to first spend your time and energy. Do not abandon resources that have less ideal payer benefits, diversifying your audience is also important, but first focus on those that you foresee having the largest impact on your business. Regardless of niche, population served, or payer details, you must focus on building relationships with those who will satisfy the need for bringing people through your clinic doors and will continue to do so for years to come.

ESTABLISH YOUR BEST APPROACH

There are marketing opportunities all around you, but you must be willing to get a little uncomfortable and a bit creative. I admit, when I first entered the private practice world seven years ago, I had no idea what it meant to build community alliances. Spending my first few years in the profession working under the umbrella of a large hospital network did not open my eyes to building community relationships. Sure, I could “sign-up” to take part in local events sponsored by the hospital, but I was never involved in the marketing plan or the intention of the process nor did I expect to be. That is one of the many beauties of private practice! We can create our own destiny, our purpose. Our purpose drives everything. Clinic culture, employee happiness, patient outcomes, and community relationships are all driven by our wish to simply help people and to be the champions of private practice.

Once you have determined your best audiences and crafted a plan as to where your first efforts should be absorbed, it’s time to decide your approach. Marketing can be anything from radio or TV advertisements and hosting community events to meeting with physicians or creating a workplace injury prevention program. But just as important as choosing the best audience is deciding on the best mode of presenting your practice, your expertise, and your authenticity. This is the fun part and where you can get the entire team involved. Utilize the strengths and motivations of your team to create a plan that will be diverse. John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market and co-author of Conscious Capitalism, suggests that a business needs to create value with and for its various stakeholders (customers, employees, vendors, investors, communities, etc.).1 Healthy stakeholders will lead to a healthy business system. Value you your employee’s ideas, sweat, and loyalty. Recognize them as a foundation of marketing.

The following ideas can help enhance or develop a champion marketing strategy:

  • Volunteer at local organizations or community events
  • Collaborate with your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Create or participate in community events that emphasize the value of health
  • Partner with a local business to reduce workplace injury
  • Schedule opportunities to present at workshops, health fairs, or “lunch-and-learns”
  • Participate in county fairs and annual parades

This is just a short list to help get you started. There are so many ways to build an impactful presence in your community. Whether you are new to private practice or a seasoned leader, these ideas can provide insight to opportunities around you. Do not settle with being comfortable. Push yourself to new heights. It will most certainly pay off.

DETERMINE BEST PRACTICES FOR LONGEVITY

Being a true champion of building community alliances requires longevity. Have you heard the saying, “Don’t post and ghost” when referring to marketing via social media platforms? When executing your marketing plan, it is critical to be consistent. Building a calendar will create a clear vision of expectations and allow you to fill gaps. Stay on people’s radar. It is also important to evaluate current community investments to determine if they are valuable and worthy of your time and effort. Your plan will not be flawless. There will be unsuccessful attempts but see these moments for building wisdom rather than labeling as defeat. Our profession is ever evolving as is the way we market ourselves. Be open to feedback, learn from others, and have an innovative mindset.

We all truly want to achieve champion status. We want to develop relationships that will withstand the test of time while also reserving enough energy to create new opportunities for marketing growth. Be intentional about your marketing plan and include your team in the journey. There can be and should be more than one champion within your clinic walls. Developing the best marketing strategy will produce lifetime relationships and bring great success to your team and to your practice. 

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References:

1Mackey J, Sisodia R. Conscious capitalism: Liberating the heroic spirit of business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press; 2014.


Alicia Backer

Alicia Backer, PTA, is a physical therapist assistant and clinic administrator at RehabAuthority in Thief River Falls, MN. She can be reached at abacker@rehabuthority.com and on Twitter @AliciaBacker.