Three steps to help your practice’s marketing efforts.
Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS
“If you build it, they will come” is a memorable line from the famous 1989 movie Field of Dreams.
If only this were true for physical therapy practices. Any practice would thrive if we could simply open our doors and provide excellent care to our patients. The practice would do even better if that alone resulted in an endless flow of new, compliant patients who understood the value of the services we provide and were happy to pay! But whether you are a single practitioner with a cash-based model or a legacy, multi-clinic practice, recognizing marketing as a core element to your businesses’ success will be crucial when it comes to attracting and retaining patients or clients.
“We don’t need to do any marketing” is a phrase often heard when fellow physical therapy practice owners discuss their business. But let’s clarify what marketing really is. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large”:1 an encompassing description that describes marketing as the way we communicate who we are to the public and referral sources, what we do, and how we do it. Marketing ranges from the color of our logo to the content we post on social media; the relationships we develop with referral sources to the messaging we provide patients on the value of physical therapy; the community events we participate in, all the way to paid advertising. Aspects of marketing a practice are provided by leaders, managers, and clinical and administrative staff. Considering how marketing is integral and intertwined into every facet of our practices could make anyone’s mind spin.
Most practices have ebbs and flows. We hit peaks when there are plenty of new patients, and everyone is focused on patient care. We think there’s no time to focus on anything else except maximizing these revenue opportunities. However, these fruitful times of patient care come with a price. Relationship development with physicians is ignored, social media posts slow down, community outreach ceases, and a few weeks later there is a dip in new patients. Panic, worry, and stress then lead to rushed marketing efforts. The team begins writing blog posts, dropping in to visit physicians, and calling past patients. Stress levels begin to go down as a flurry of new patients fills the schedule, and everyone returns to full-time patient care, but the cycle of inconsistency is strengthened. Everyone begins to despise marketing as it’s only done during times of stress, with the underlying fear, What if we don’t get new patients? When you add in holidays, vacations, staffing changes, unpredictable snow days, illness, and seasonal variations, the peaks and valleys in patient volume become more erratic. This cycle turns the underlying culture of your practice to nothing more than stress. Of course, all business owners manage a certain amount of stress; however, being mindful of your marketing plan will mitigate some of the unnecessary stress caused by the ebbs and flows of patient volume.
- Be proactive rather than reactive. A marketing plan with objectives, SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) goals, and tactics will help manage and prevent the dips in new patients that come when we simply initiate random marketing efforts to increase patient volume at times of need. Be mindful that marketing efforts initiated due to a desperate need for new patients are typically short-sighted. A visit to a physician’s office with brochures and coffee will likely result in at least one new referral. However, a strategic initiative aimed to truly develop a physician relationship over the course of a few months could lead to a lifelong, professional connection built on trust.
- Include marketing time in your schedule. Be mindful of the endless to do list that all business owners and leaders have. Therefore, unless something is on your schedule, it’s quite likely it will not get done. Schedule time for marketing actions every week to ensure a consistent number of new patients are coming to your practice. Make this time sacred, a priority, and at a time on a day when you can be the most effective. Friday afternoons are not ideal marketing time!
- Choose data over creativity. Collect data including where your patients are coming from and how they are finding your practice to better understand the strategies that should be focused on to attract more. Measure the results of your marketing efforts over time to understand what tactics lead to the results you want. Consider including three- and 12-month trailing averages of patients to get an improved understanding of short-term, seasonal, and long-term effects of marketing efforts.
By stepping back and being mindful of marketing strategies, objectives, and goals, as well as scheduling time to accomplish marketing tactics, and utilizing data effectively, you can evolve the ebbs and flows of patient volume into a steady stream of stress-free, new business.
Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS, is the chair of the PPS PR and Marketing Committee and chief executive officer of Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.