Mistakes of Marketing on a Small Budget
By Kevin Howard
Whether you’re just starting out or are a small-and-growing practice, marketing is crucial to increasing awareness of your practice and gaining new customers. However, small practices with modest marketing budgets are often competing against larger practices with larger marketing budgets and may make mistakes as they navigate amidst providing patient care, managing and growing a business, and marketing. In this article, Section members Peter Decoteau and Scott Wick, together with their colleague Scott Benson, outline the most common mistakes made on small marketing budgets—and how to avoid them.
MARKETING WITHOUT A PLAN
Vital to any marketing effort is the marketing plan. Developing a plan can help to maintain focus and prioritize where you will invest money, especially when new marketing opportunities arise.
According to Scott Benson, director of business development at Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy, a private practice attempting to market without any kind of plan or goal will experience less-than-stellar outcomes. “Going about marketing for a physical therapy practice without any direction or north star could lead to fragmented efforts and poor spending decisions that are not aligned to one or two key goals,” said Benson.
While in the planning stage, setting a few clear goals will keep the marketing plan on track as it is being executed. Some specific goals might include recruiting a specific number of new patients, increasing website traffic, or other metrics that reflect success.
Peter Decoteau, director of marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers in Connecticut, says that while the most common goal in the industry is to increase new patient volume, not all private practices share that goal—or it’s just one part of the marketing plan.
“Goals should be specific, and let that drive your marketing—for instance, if your goal is ‘increase self-referred new patients’ as opposed to ‘increase new patients referred by MDs,’ your marketing activities should be different because you’re speaking to a very different audience,” Decoteau said.
He also points out that some private practices focus too much on the end goal of a marketing plan, which can cause some problems.
“Having an end goal or ‘conversion goal’ as the driver of your marketing efforts is one of the most important things a clinic owner can do, but focusing only on calls-to-action (i.e., ‘click here/call to schedule today!’) in content and messaging comes off as one long, endless sales-pitch,” Decoteau said. “Make sure to create content and messaging that brings what’s most valuable about your expertise to the audience—educate, entertain, and inform your audience about body health, new techniques in treatment, or other areas of expertise. Providing value builds trust!”
Marketing plans may be developed any number of ways. You may opt to hire a third-party marketing firm. While this is certainly a comprehensive approach that will provide all levels of expertise and a wide range of resources, it may be out of reach for most operating on a smaller budget.
An alternative is hiring an internal marketing coordinator—either full- or part-time—who can help develop and execute the marketing plan. This person may be hired as a contractor, on a project basis, solely for the purpose of developing said marketing plan and help get your marketing efforts off the ground.
Yet another approach involves forming an internal team of staff who collaborate to develop the plan. This communal approach provides many different perspectives and taps into other areas of expertise on a small team; for example, a physical therapist on the team might be well-versed in social media while another enjoys writing content for your website’s blog. Involving the team in developing the plan leverages those other interests to the benefit of the practice and helps ensure that everyone is working toward a common goal.
MARKETING WITHOUT A BUDGET
No matter what size a private practice is, marketing is essential to growth and profitability. Without spending parameters, though, marketing can either devour your profits or be under-funded and out of line with your goals. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses that make less than $5 million in revenue should allocate 7% to 8% of their revenue to marketing.
That cost should then be split between two budgets: Brand development costs (which includes all the channels you use to promote your brand, such as your website, blogs, sales collateral, etc.), and the cost of promoting your business (e.g., campaigns, advertising, events, etc.).
Earmarking funds in your operating budget isn’t the green light for a spending spree. It can be easy to blow the whole budget on one big, fancy piece of technology or software. Create a plan for your marketing budget to ensure that you spend your marketing dollars wisely. Research where your audience finds you, such as via your website, on social media, or via paid media, to determine which channels are most effective and, therefore, most worth investing in.
ONLY FOCUSING ON NEW PATIENT ACQUISITION
Benson notes that, while new patient acquisition is a major focus of private practice marketing, those practices often disregard their back catalogue of past patients who might be prime candidates for repeat business.
“By not investing in past patient re-acquisition, you miss out on the lowest hanging fruit for volume growth over time,” Benson said. “Past patients are easier to market to (you know the audience), easier to activate (you’ve gained their trust), and generally lower in cost to reach and convert. They also are your best word-of-mouth promoters who can target new customers on your behalf.”
He also points out that if your messaging is broadly targeted (i.e., reaching too many people in too many avenues of messaging), a practice could find it more difficult to get to the audience that really needs them.
“It makes it much more difficult to create content for a broad audience with varying needs,” Benson said. “Additionally, engagement on content that doesn’t relate to an audience type will prove ineffective in conversion. Stay focused on identifying AND targeting your target audience.”
NEGLECTING THEIR ONLINE PRESENCE
According to SCORE, a non-profit organization and resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, 53% of online shoppers say they do online research before buying a product or service to make sure they are making the best possible choice. This makes it essential for every private practice, no matter the size, to have a website.
However, simply having a website isn’t enough. Practice owners need to drive traffic to their website to ensure that their practice is found when potential customers are looking for physical therapy services. A go-to resource for search engine optimization (SEO) is Google’s Keyword Planner tool, which helps identify popular keywords and search phrases used in online searches relevant to your private practice. Once you’ve identified the words that users are searching for online, you can incorporate them into your website via blog posts, informational pages, videos, or other content. The more content on a website, the more helpful it can be for patients. However, the most important thing to remember when developing content for your website: quality over quantity. Ensure that it’s useful and provides information users want, and Google will recognize your site as being helpful.
Similarly, if you run a campaign that directs users to a web page, Decoteau advises practice owners to ensure that the content users are directed to is relevant and aligns with the goal of the marketing plan.
“You may have a perfectly strategized and executed TV ad with a call to action to visit your website,” Decoteau said. “If, after all that, the website does not bring the audience to the most relevant information that you promised in the ad, that is both easy to navigate and easy to ‘convert’ on [perform an action that directly relates to your end goal, such as scheduling an appointment] you will have wasted your efforts, and your budget.”
HAVING SHORT-TERM VISION
Scott Wick, director of business development at Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy, finds that some private practices suffer from viewing marketing as a short-term investment when, in fact, a long-term view on marketing leads to better business over time.
“Marketing is often viewed as short-term investment but, in actuality, it needs to be viewed and measured on a longer return cycle,” Wick said. “This will change expectations and behaviors and produce a more sustainable outreach plan leading to overall business health in the long term.”
He also finds that the consistency that comes with strong marketing planning and budgeting provides more consistent growth over time, which, in turn, helps business leaders better manage expenses in the long run.
“Consistency over time will produce growth that is manageable both from a quantity and quality standpoint,” Wick said. “Implication to biggest expense (labor costs) for physical therapy practices is that with sustainable growth, practices can manage labor expenses to meet growth curves long term. Sustainable growth is better than just growth.”
Small budgets can be difficult to work with, but they present plenty of opportunity to make an impact with your marketing. Creativity and effort go a long way in giving your practice the visibility it needs to grow, regardless of the size of your marketing budget.
Kevin Howard is a staff writer for PPS based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.