How adding a student can amplify growth.
By Anthony Sinacore, ATC, SPT
It is not easy deciding how to add on to your already strong and promising business plan, especially when everything is going well. Your revenue is building, your clientele is strong, and you are marketing yourself well within the community; you have done your homework. But like anything else, you also know that it is not going to stay like this forever and that every day you grow, your competition grows as well. So now you are forced to make a difficult and strategic decision—one that could help set you apart from everyone else, but one that also has the potential of financial repercussions. And let us face it, your chief financial officer, managing partners, or investors will not like the sound of change when your bottom line is beginning to blossom. So what can you do to keep your business ahead of your competitors, even before you feel them as a threat?
There is a way to meet these goals, a simple and safe way that bypasses the “high-risk, high-reward” decisions that practice owners face when on the brink of future growth of their company: Add a student into your clinic.
As a third-year student myself, all of my experience has come from clinical rotations. I may not have the years of wisdom of some of the authors in this issue, but for the last seven years, I have become really good at immersing myself within a variety of clinic settings. You read that correctly: seven years. (Three were from athletic training school where I spent time in physical therapy–based clinics; three from physical therapy school; and one year in between when I worked in an outpatient orthopedic clinic as a certified athletic trainer and rehab aide.)
For 16 to 20 weeks at a time, I have been able to take a glimpse into how each company’s day-to-day operations can bring them one step closer to meeting quarterly goals and showing value within their community. I have experienced good clinics, bad clinics, and great clinics; and I have noticed certain characteristics that tend to separate one from another. Though all of them (aside from the year that I was employed) have taken on a student, it is the way they each utilized their students that was a key factor in this separation.
Benefits to Your Employees
As a practice owner, students can be your safe haven for boosting morale. It is easy to get stuck in a rut with day-to-day practice, and an easy way to incentivize your employees is to have them become certified clinical instructors (CIs). With a little bit of encouragement, all students want to learn how to treat patients. Otherwise, why would they spend so many tuition dollars to be there? So even if it starts with only a few patients per day, a student can be that extra set of eyes or hands you need to help correct faulty mechanics, continue with someone’s treatment diary, or educate on the importance of a home exercise program. This extra bit of help can make all the difference between therapists working only to keep their productivity up versus providing a higher quality of care. One thing I have noticed at almost every clinic where I have worked is that documentation continues to increase, and the workday grows longer because of it. So it might be a difficult transition initially, but having a student in their second or third year of physical therapy school who can take half or one-fourth of your caseload can save you time to work on documentation while maintaining clinic productivity standards.
Improve Patient Outcomes
Another benefit of having a student is that they can keep you up to date with the latest evidence. This idea is no gimmick; it is the truth. Since the transition toward the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree, programs have further institutionalized the use of evidence-based practice (EBP) within their curriculum. More importantly, clinicians who have been practicing for more than 15 years and still have only a bachelor’s or master’s degree need to work harder to keep up with current literature.
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) conducted a survey in 2002 in which 488 therapists discussed their personal beliefs and utilization of EBP in their practice. Of this sample, 84 percent indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed that they needed to increase the use of evidence in their daily practice. Additionally, 65 percent reported performing fewer than two database searches per month, and 74 percent reported using professional literature in the process of clinical decision making five or fewer times per month. What I thought was significant was that nearly half of the respondents (46 percent) indicated that “insufficient time” was the biggest barrier to using evidence in practice and nearly 67 percent rated insufficient time as one of their top three barriers. The article further noted, “A large proportion of our respondents indicated that they were interested in improving their skills related to incorporating evidence into practice.”1
We have already mentioned that a common complaint is that there is not enough time in the day. So how is it possible to review and implement new evidence through the week?
Simple. Host a student.
A student will want to prove to their clinical instructor that they know how to take the information learned in school and implement it into practice. Inspire them to teach you something new while with you. As a goal, you can discuss with them the importance of learning from each other. You are obviously there to instruct them and assist them in becoming an experienced professional, but if they can inform you of any practice methods with lacking or no scientific evidence, how can it hurt your practice? This is an opportunity to help build the confidence of the student while endorsing positive and timely outcomes for your patient. Plus, I do not know of any managing director who would dissuade anyone from continuing his or her education relatively free of charge and without taking any paid time off.
It may also be beneficial to have students track patient outcomes using validated measures and compare them to old practice methods. This method can hold students accountable for the care they are providing.
If time is your biggest enemy, you can maximize efficiency by learning and mentoring at the same time. Education. Is that not why they are here?
Obviously, this idea of hosting a student does not have to focus on helping out your bottom line. As is the nature of the job, clinicians enjoy educating people on their skill sets. We teach patients every day about what we do and what they can do to “optimize movement and improve the human experience.”2 So naturally, adding a student can be another opportunity to educate and impact someone early on in his or her career. Individuals who are successful in private practice did not arrive at success by chance. With a wide understanding of the human body combined with numerous years of experience, successful clinicians gather their own “clinical pearls” along the way. It would be my guess that these hints of wisdom are a large part of what makes each clinic successful. What better way to create a legacy than to help students practice with the same methods that helped you prosper?
Networking with Their School: A Key to the Future
Let us not forget how the student got to you in the first place. Whether they are attending a university in your general area or not, keeping a relationship with their program can help preserve your clinic’s visibility.
Ideally, you are going to want to continue hosting students at your clinic and an easy way to do that is by gaining a reputation as one of their “go-to” clinical sites. Advertise your clinic’s strengths. Is your practice heavily manual therapy based? Does it offer women’s health services? Do you treat neurological pathologies? These are all qualities that can highlight your company in the midst of a long list of potential clinical affiliations. A 2005 study published through the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) looked at the availability of thrust manipulation training within physical therapy programs’ clinical opportunities. The study found that 70 percent of the directors of clinical education were unsure which sites employed clinical instructors trained in thrust joint manipulation, and 85 percent did not consider whether thrust joint manipulation training was provided when scheduling the experience.3 This study expresses that a relatively untapped resource exists for promoting and marketing your niche practice to schools across the nation.
So simply put: If there is a university in your area with a physical therapy department, reach out to them. Hold meetings with their director of clinical education and discuss how your goals can align with theirs. If they are not in your area, maximize your exposure by keeping in contact with their core faculty. Express the value of placing a student in your clinic and what skills they will acquire during the rotation to advance their skill set. In time, this relationship could even open up opportunities for further collaboration; for instance:
- Guest-lecturing classes within their didactic curriculum
- Becoming a clinical faculty member and assisting during lab sessions or site visits
- Sponsoring a continuing education course (I am sure any program could use your help with the “Pittsburgh-Marquette challenge” hosted by the APTA Foundation for Physical Therapy.4)
Creating a partnership in any way will always help promote your clinic. Once you have formed these types of relationships, the opportunities for you and your employees could be endless.
Create a Legacy
You do not need to have a large clinic to host students. I have worked in clinics with only one physical therapist, a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or two, and about two office employees. While most students will not ever get an opportunity to be in a clinic this small, I have found it to be one of my more valuable experiences. It was here where I was largely exposed to the administrative side of private practice. I can attribute the experiences I gained in this setting to being one of the main reasons that I joined the Private Practice Section, as well as to further aspire to open my own practice one day.
I realized that treating patients was only half the battle; the other half was the constant dealing with insurance agencies, physicians, health networks, and collection agencies. This was the first time as a student that I heard terms like “accounts receivable” or “sustainability management,” among other terms and factors that business owners must understand to keep their clinic afloat. Chiropractic institutions have historically done a good job educating their entry-level clinicians on managing and starting private practices. This standard is not as universal among physical therapy programs, which incidentally leads to a vast amount of fresh clinicians entering the workforce with little knowledge of the benefits of private practice. Hosting a student at your clinic can help promote small business and encourage students, such as myself, to push for what they may still consider “the American Dream.”
Who knows, by the end of their rotation you may have been unknowingly training a trustworthy and proficient individual who now understands your practice model. If the time is right and they are searching for a job following graduation, this may be an easy and dependable hire because “feeling out” and recruiting a potential employee who fits into your clinic can be difficult in itself.
1. Jette DU, et al. Evidence-based practice: beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of physical therapists. Phys Ther. 2003;83:9: 786-805.
2. American Physical Therapy Association. Vision Statement for the Physical Therapy Profession and Guiding Principles to Achieve the Vision. 2013. www.apta.org/vision.
3. Boissonnault W, et al. Thrust joint manipulation clinical education opportunities for professional degree physical therapy students. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2005;35:7: 416-423.
4. American Physical Therapy Association. Foundation for Physical Therapy. Pittsburgh-Marquette Challenge. www.foundation4pt.org/ways-to-give/marquette-challenge. Accessed on January 4, 2016.
If you are not capable of hosting a student in your clinic for whatever reason (cash-based, Medicare only, a violation of your policies/procedures) but would still like to offer assistance to students seeking advice on practice management, consider becoming a sponsored mentor to a student through the PPS mentoring program.
To find out more, contact email@example.com.
Anthony Sinacore, ATC, SPT, is a student in the University of Pittsburgh DPT Class of 2016. He currently serves as the vice president of the PPS student special interest group and is an editorial board member of Impact magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using automation increases efficiency, referrals, and profits.
By Steve Young, PT, DPT
Fourteen years ago and out of school only 16 months, I said “yes” to taking ownership of a struggling physical therapy clinic. My sense of excitement was only slightly overshadowed by a sense of burden: The clinic was losing $7,000 a month. I had before me the challenge and the opportunity to turn things around and to build the practice of my dreams.
My experience as a practice owner is that the growth of a physical therapy practice occurs in phases. The first phase is limitless optimism and lots of learning, next comes nailing down the structure and management phase, and finally the systematizing and automating phase. The automation phase of practice growth can be one of the most important and beneficial to your practice.
So what are the benefits of automation?
When you automate, you put systems in place that will generate beneficial output with minimal manual input. In other words, automation can produce benefit to your practice by utilizing minimal staff time or effort. Automation systems can help grow your profits, allow for you and your staff to use time more efficiently and productively, and help build the value of your practice while increasing the quality of your service.
So what can you automate?
You can automate many of the activities in your practice that are repeated exactly the same way more than a few times a month. Examples would be inventory management, generating new patients online, charging copays, sending correspondence to patients, prompting patients to write online reviews, education, and prompts to decrease patient cancellation rates.
What do you need to automate certain systems in your practice?
Depending on what you want to automate, the resources can vary. In most cases you may want software that has autoresponder capabilities, credit card process capabilities, your electronic medical record (EMR) system, and a mind mapping software or a whiteboard to map out clinic processes.
Let us explore several useful ways to use automation that when implemented could have an impact on your practice profits and efficient use of staff time.
I have estimated that it takes a receptionist working in an average practice two minutes to take and process a patient copay. That includes taking the payment, possibly making change, writing the receipt, and getting a signature on a credit card slip. So, how can we save two minutes on every visit?
By using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that includes a credit processing system. Several examples include, but are not limited to, Infusionsoft, Salesforce, Pipedrive, Insightly, Base, and ConnectWise PSA.
When your patient first registers for their initial evaluation, you can ask them for payment by using their credit card. With a simple script focusing on the benefits to them by using their credit card (saves time, less paperwork, easier to track), you can obtain card information. This information can then be entered into a credit processing system. From there, many CRM systems can be set up to autocharge with a simple “push of a button” for specific events like cancellations, visit arrivals, or equipment sales made during their treatment visits. Now, two minutes can be cut down to only a few seconds.
You can do so much more…
From day one, our patients are entered into our CRM system. They now can be sent a sequence of emails telling them more about our practice, our staff, our management, our practice specialties, and our practice culture and vision. This email sequence is designed to build a connection between our patients and our practice. It is used to educate them regarding cancellation policies, to encourage them to complete home exercise programs, and to encourage them to refer friends and family to our practice. We use a sequence of seven emails to help improve visit compliance (more profits and better treatment outcomes), to improve compliance in performing their home exercises (better outcomes), and to increase friend and family referrals.
Here is an example of a sequence of emails we have successfully used:
Day 1, email no. 1: Share your practice vision and office culture.
Day 2, email no. 2: Give a health tip and offer that you are never too busy to help their friends and family as well as them.
Day 5, email no. 3: Educate on the healing process while emphasizing the importance of consistent home exercise.
Day 9, email no. 4: Give health tip.
Day 14, email no. 5: Get feedback from them via a patient satisfaction survey (example: Net Promoter Score).
Day 20, email no. 6: Give a health tip and an additional reminder that you are never too busy to help friends and family.
Day 30, email no. 7: Ask the patient to write a review on your Google page.
Now that you know how you can save time and connect regularly with present patients, how can you generate new patients using the same autoresponder concept?
Using your web page, you can insert an opt-in form for visitors to enter their email address. There are ways to prompt a prospective patient to do this. For example, in exchange for their email address, you can share with them a health care–related video, more information about your practice, or a printed report or article related to the benefits of physical rehabilitation. The articles or video could be specific to your practice specialties. Many potential patients will find that information obtained via a special video or article will solidify their decision to make an appointment with your practice. Others may still hesitate. For those that hesitate, you now have their email address and can send them additional information and even ask them to contact you by phone if they would like to discuss possible options for physical therapy treatment. This automated system can generate patients consistently without effort once it is built.
Begin automation one step at a time and work with what you are comfortable with. It may take some time and effort to research the CRM and autoresponder system you wish to use, but once implemented, it can save you time and money and will help build your practice. Automation and autoresponder systems can also help you to better establish and maintain relationships with present patients as well as attract new patients to your practice far better than many other marketing mediums such as television, radio, or print ads.
Automation is the present and the future. It will be important to every private physical therapy practice to continue to explore all of the ways automation can keep our practices alive and well—and also save us precious time.
Steve Young, PT, DPT, is chief happiness officer at Body Solutions in Voorhees, New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A cash-based practice perspective.
By Susan C. Clinton, PT, DSc, OCS, WCS, FAAOMPT
In 2014, with great enthusiasm, my partner and I opened the doors of our cash-based physical therapy practice—thus fulfilling a dream several years in the making! We soon discovered that our many years of treating patients did not prepare us for managing all aspects of a physical therapy business. In particular, we centered our practice in a region that is dominated by large payer consortiums that employ many of the region’s physicians. Though we had solid reputations with a number of physicians in our area, their health care consortiums severely limited their ability to consistently refer to outside physical therapy practices. Consequently, we quickly learned that a common practice—marketing to physicians—would not provide the expected revenue stream. Instead, a direct-to-consumer marketing strategy was needed and needed fast!
Marketing directly to customers demanded that we consider the following three parameters:
- clearly define the customer;
- answer the question, “Why should the consumer come to our clinic specifically and pay cash at our practice?”; and
- determine how to effectively reach that target market.
As a cash-based practice with a niche specialty in pelvic health, pregnancy, and chronic pain, our primary target customer was easily defined. The second parameter proved more challenging. To paraphrase Peter Drucker, “Consumers do not buy what you sell. They buy what has value to them.”1 Given our out-of-network status, we first had to educate the customer about our practice model to ensure that it provides value. For many of our prospective patients, it is absolutely critical that we overcome this issue first. If they do not understand the financial considerations, most will simply not consider utilizing our skilled and focused treatment programs.
As a result, we developed marketing materials that address this question head-on and advise potential clients on how to obtain insurance reimbursement and to consider the cost of copays to in-network providers versus our treatment plans. We can then focus on our approach to physical therapy and the value we believe in: a singular experience for the client by directing the sessions around his or her goals in a one-to-one environment.
As for the third parameter—effectively reaching our target market—we are still learning. The shift from a physician-focused to a customer-focused marketing strategy means we must directly reach the customer. Our multifaceted approach involves writing blogs and e-books, providing community movement classes, and offering wellness experiences. We also use Facebook to post educational information for the pregnant, postpartum, and chronic pain consumers as well as to post community education in pilates and yoga studios.
Other successful cash-based practices are using their own unique approaches. For example: Marianne Ryan, PT, of MRPTNY2 in New York City, has remarked that she had to change her practice model because many of her referral sources changed with physician- and hospital-owned practices emerging in her area. She changed her practice to focus on pelvic health and pregnancy and began a unique campaign by writing a successful book aimed directly at the consumer, The Baby Bod.3 The book is a great method to educate her clients/patients in an effective manner and bring national acclaim to her practice, which sets her apart from her competition.
Sandy Hilton, PT, and Sarah Haag, PT, of Entropy Physiotherapy & Wellness, LLC, in Chicago, are using community involvement and a strong social media campaign to help bring their message directly to their consumer group.4 Both of these physical therapists and their company have a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook and are successful in networking with the consumer on messages about chronic pain, pelvic health, and accessing physical therapy. In addition, they have found that working within their community Chamber of Commerce group and the Women’s Health Foundation has helped with their local position. Creativity also has set them apart from their competition: Sarah offers community yoga classes, and Sandy spreads the work about pelvic health in stand-up comedy and storytelling communities in Chicago.
Blair Green, PT, of One on One Physical Therapy5 in Atlanta, uses the success of the patients’ experience to emphasize how the practice is different. Having a physical therapist who listens, empathizes, and takes them through a full program is their standard of care. She reports, “Our patients are our best marketing tool. The most common comment is, ‘I wish I knew about you sooner.’”
In today’s changing health care environment, it is crucial that cash-based physical therapy practices clearly define their target market. Once defined, then it is imperative that the practice’s value proposition be clearly communicated directly to the consumer.
1. Drucker PF. 22 Quotes on Management. www.slideshare.net/bright9977/22-quotes-on-management-by-peter-f-drucker. Published July 16, 2011. Accessed December 28, 2015.
2. Marianne Ryan Physical Therapy. www.mrptny.com. Accessed December 28, 2015.
3. Ryan, M. Baby Bod: Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat! Baby Bod Press; 2015.
4. Entropy Physiotherapy and Wellness. www.entropy-physio.com. Published 2013. Accessed December 28, 2015.
5. One on One Physical Therapy. Gyrotonic Sales Corp. www.onetherapy.com. Published 2015. Accessed December 28, 2015.
Susan C. Clinton, PT, DSc, OCS, WCS, FAAOMPT, is a PPS member and co-owner of Embody Physiotherapy & Wellness, LLC in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When public policy impacts your practice.
By Christine V. Walters, JD, MAS, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
If you ever feel just a bit of pressure or wonder why you started or joined your practice, you are not alone. Many business owners and managers from myriad industries might not regret their entrepreneurial spirit but do periodically take pause to wonder, “If I knew then what I know now would I do it all over again?” The pressure of regulatory, legislative, and legal compliance can be overwhelming. This is just one more area of conflict that private practice owners and managers must navigate on the path to success, not to mention the path to mere survival.
Consider just a few snippets of data related to increasing employment mandates.
The Hill reports, “2015 was a record-setting year for the Federal Register, according to numbers the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., released [in December]. This year’s daily publication of the federal government’s rules, proposed rules, and notices amounted to 81,611 pages as of Wednesday [December 30, 2015], higher than [2014’s] 77,687 pages and higher than the all-time high of 81,405 pages in 2010—with one day to go in 2015.”1 This does not include the 60 Executive Orders and Memoranda some of which mandate paid leave, overtime, nondiscrimination, and other employment provisions.
The categories of protected classes continue to increase as 22 states currently have laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation with more reportedly2 on the horizon in 2016, including those adding gender identity and/or expression.
The National Partnership for Women and Families reports3 that as of July 2015 paid sick leave mandates had been enacted in 23 jurisdictions in the United States.
I find most legislative and regulatory reform is born out of good intentions. Paid leave mandates espouse supporting parents who must choose between working to earn wages or staying home to care for a sick child. Discussions with elected officials sponsoring new employment legislation reveal the issue frequently originates with one constituent’s story. An employee has a problem or challenge at work, contacts his or her state delegate or senator, and voilà! A bill is born.
So what is a business owner or manager to do? Advocate: It is a verb and a noun—so do it and be it.
Be an Advocate! Think about all that you currently do for and offer your employees. Do you stand above the market? How do you carve yourself out from the competition? Once you have defined your “best practices,” ask yourself, “Do I want my state-elected officials to flatten the market and make every other business do what I have already created, paid for, and administered for the benefit of my employees?” If your answer is “yes,” then so be it. For many employers that is not the desired result. Think of it. How can you shine in a flattened market where all employers are required to meet the standards of the highest or those deemed to be the best? How many awards currently recognize employers that are outstanding? Chambers of Commerce, professional and trade associations, and many more recognize employers for all sorts of “best” or proactive practices. As the market flattens through regulatory and legislative mandates, the opportunities for recognition are reduced.
There are many lists touting projected employment trends for 2016. Here is mine in no particular order.
- Decriminalization and legalization of (medical) marijuana will continue to impact workplace policies and practices on substance use, abuse, testing, and fitness for duty.
- Workplace wellness programs—as of this writing the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is poised to release related regulations,4 while states and local jurisdictions consider related issues such as bans on electronic cigarettes and vaping.
- Ban-the-box laws prohibiting or limiting employers’ ability to inquire about criminal history prior to extending a bona fide offer of employment.
- Fair or predictive scheduling bills propose to require employers to pay an employee whose scheduled workday or hours are reduced or canceled with minimal notice to pay the employee for the day’s wages or a portion thereof.
- Paid (family, sick) leave proposals to require certain employers, including some with as few as 10 employees, to provide specific amounts of paid leave under specified terms.
- Pregnancy accommodation to provide even greater protection and accommodation for pregnant applicants and employees than is currently provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
- Pay transparency legislation gives employees the legally protected right to discuss their own wages or those of a coworker with other coworkers (often with or without the coworkers’ permission).
- Minimum wage increases—at least 29 states plus the District of Columbia5 require a minimum wage higher than the federal with similar requirements under Executive Order for covered government contractors.
- Healthy workplace bills (anti-bullying legislation)—at least 31 legislatures6 have introduced legislation that would increase liability for employers for workplace bullying, which is defined more broadly than workplace harassment.
- Workplace flexibility—bring your own device (BYOD), flexible staffing, electronic messaging, and all the wage and hour implications that come with these practices will continue to have the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor, which is expected to issue a Request for Information (RFI) in early 2016. Stay tuned for related regulations.
Now Advocate! Choose just two, maybe three of the topics above (or any others) that may impact your business, human resources, and employment-related practices. Assess your baseline measures and then calculate the fiscal and employee relations impact that related legislation would have on your business. Equipped with those metrics, reach out, build relationships, and advocate. Whether you support or oppose a proposed initiative, advocacy is the message here. Employers need to shape public policy that works for them and their employees. No one knows that better for your practice or business than you.
How? Identify the sponsor of related legislation, whether it is a U.S., state, or local representative. See them in person, or when that is not feasible, call them to schedule a conversation. Draft your talking points in advance. Connect with and follow the elected representation on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. This will help them connect your name with your face—making the in-person dialogue more familiar. Tell your business story; explain what your position is and why. Do not forget the “why”; it can be a powerful tool in negotiation.
This article does not constitute the rendering of legal advice. You should consult with your practice’s legal counsel for advice on employment-related matters.
1. http://thehill.com/regulation/administration/264456-2015-was-record-year-for-federal-regulation-group-says. Accessed January 2016.
2. www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-01-02/states-plan-renewed-debate-on-lgbt-rights-religious-freedom. Accessed January 2016.
3. www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/campaigns/psd/state-and-local-action-paid-sick-days.pdf. Accessed January 2016.
4. www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/20/2015-08827/amendments-to-regulations-under-the-americans-with-disabilities-act. Accessed January 2016.
5. www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/america.htm. Accessed January 2016.
6. http://healthyworkplacebill.org. Accessed January 2016.
Christine V. Walters, JD, MAS, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is an independent human resources and employment law consultant for DBA FiveL Company out of Westminster, Maryland. She can be reached at info@FiveL.net.
By Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA
I know you. Well, at least 80 percent of you.
You are a great physical therapist, maybe even the best in your area. You are passionate about quality care and you love the business side of physical therapy. Yet you are challenged by marketing.
In fact, you hate selling. You believe that physical therapy is not something to be “sold,” it is something that is needed.
While I, too, feel uncomfortable when stepping foot onto a used car lot, the concept of “sales” and “selling” is one that we cannot shy away from in physical therapy. It is a requirement for our survival.
Believe it or not, sales is something that can—and should—be delivered naturally, sincerely, and with authenticity.
Within physical therapy, this is best achieved through a five-step process, parts of which you are likely already doing today. Infuse a little strategy and polish into the process, and you will be well on your way toward sales efforts that work and that you will begin to love.
The five-step process looks like this:
- Awareness. Before all else, the target of your sales efforts must know you exist.
- Engagement. Once aware, you must engage their interest, or be forgotten.
- Education. Once engaged, you have the opportunity to share your value through education.
- Conversion. Once educated, you can comfortably make “the ask,” converting the sale.
- Amplification. Once the sale is made, you can now amplify sales through new relationships.
We will be diving into each of the above concepts over a five-part series in Impact, making you a physical therapy sales pro in no time. This five-step sales approach leverages your natural abilities as a physical therapist, moving you toward sales opportunities through an authentic and value-driven approach—one you can believe in.
In this article, we are going to start with step one:
Before we can even hope to sell, our target market must know we exist. Concepts such as branding, mindshare, and top-of-mind awareness come into play during this step, but this can all be boiled down to a simple premise: People can only buy something if they know it is there.
Think of the last tube of toothpaste, bottle of water, or oil change you purchased. Each of them had to be positioned in front of you, in some shape or form, before you could evaluate the purchase. You had to see it. You had to be aware.
Once aware—whether by walking past the toothpaste aisle in your supermarket or driving past your local oil and lube shop—you can then begin the process of evaluating each. Replace the awareness of your favorite brand with another, and your decision would put money into another brand’s pocket.
This awareness can come about actively or passively.
It happens actively when a consumer is looking for something specific to buy. They walk down the toothpaste aisle searching for their brand. They Google “oil and lube.” They ask a friend for a recommendation.
It happens passively when a consumer is not specifically looking for something to buy, and they may be sitting on the couch when they see a toothpaste commercial. They happen across a web advertisement related to their industry. A friend volunteers that they just had the best experience ever with their urologist. (It could happen.)
The same goes for physical therapy. Before we can expect a client to schedule time with us, they must know either actively or passively that we exist.
Before we can expect a referral source to send a patient our way, they must know our name. Before our phone will ring, our number must be published. Before someone can “like” us on social media, we have to have a social media account in the first place.
You get the point.
The first step toward selling is simply to make sure your target market is aware of you. Once aware, you can then take the next step toward bringing them closer to the sale through engagement.
Here are a few examples that can be used to create awareness for you and your practice.
- Display prominent signage in and around your location.
- Have an active social media presence.
- Provide free information and updates to your community via email.
- Send periodic mailers to those within your neighborhood.
- Visit your top referral sources each month (even if just to check in to see how they are doing).
- Submit story ideas or business updates to your local press each month.
There are as many ways to get noticed as there are people to generate ideas on how to get noticed, so I encourage you to share your ideas with others.
Next month, we will tackle step two, the concept of engagement. Once you have got eyes on your practice, the next step is to start a conversation that leads somewhere. Engagement is how you will make this happen.
Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, lives at the intersection of physical therapy and entrepreneurship, spending his time helping physical therapists build and operate successful practices through his company, Vantage Clinical Solutions. He specializes in marketing, finance, and business planning, and authors and speaks regularly for the APTA and PPS. He can be reached at email@example.com.