Spread the Word


Spoiling the best kept secret in health care.

By Sturdy McKee, PT, MPT, CEO

It’s no secret that not enough people know about physical therapists and what we can do to help them. In many cases our families don’t even know what we do when we go to work. On social media recently, the phrase “Physical Therapists, the best kept secret in health care” is being bandied about. But despite people not knowing, what physical therapists do is inspiring, meaningful, and incredibly valuable to individuals and society. We need to do a better job of spreading the word.

We are specialists in human movement, improving individual function, optimizing strength, flexibility, and control, and in communicating, connecting with, and teaching people. We know the human body and its capabilities better than most anyone else on the planet. But few physical therapists are experts in marketing, business, and sales. Marketing is not what we study in school nor is it what many physical therapists are passionate about. So, acknowledging that when we move into the role of business owner, we must acquire new skills, how and what do we need to know about marketing?

Scott McAfee, PT, DPT, posted on Twitter:

Marketing 101
1. Capture attention
2. Convert that attention into action
3. Keep the attention

(You can check out his timeline on Feb. 1, 2017 @McAfeePT, complete with graphics.)

And he’s right. We have to capture people’s attention. That’s the first step. So, being new to this, how can you do that? The answer: Tell them stories.

When you tell someone a story, you have an opportunity to move them. Connecting with someone on an emotional level is far more compelling than virtually any other method of communication. And the person hearing, watching, or reading the story has a framework to remember what you shared with them. Stories are how we passed along our teachings and histories even before we had written language. We love stories. We watch sports, buy books, spend way too much time watching television, and we pay for movies. It is quite simply how humans are wired.

Now how do you convert their attention into action? Once you’ve connected with them and have their attention, teach them something. Give value. As an expert in what you do, you have knowledge that other people need. So, teach it. Sharing will deepen the relationship and how they view you. It will deepen your rapport and start building trust. You can teach and share what you know through local talks, workshops, on your website, on Facebook, over the phone, at a team practice, while having dinner, or on the schoolyard. The opportunities are virtually limitless. And once you’ve provided that knowledge and value, offer them an opportunity.


People buy what they want, not what they need. Reframing their thoughts around what is in their own best interest, making them want what they need, is a great way to motivate more people to take action. The obvious offer is to come in for an evaluation. But before that you can offer them a phone screen, a telehealth consult, a clinical screen in your clinic, a class or anything else you can think of. What do they want? What will help them? And how can your offer turn them into a happy, paying customer?

And once you’ve inspired them to act, you will want to keep their attention. What additional information can you share to keep them engaged? Do you relate their treatment plan back to their goals and desired outcome? Do you have a plan to stay in touch after they are discharged from care? If you are not building a list and sharing more information about what physical therapists do and how your practice can help people, then you are missing an enormous opportunity.

Carl Mattiola, of Breakthrough PT Marketing, says that the value of your business is directly tied to the size and quality of your list. And StriveLabs, the brainchild of two physical therapists, has built an entire business on what to do with your list, automating processes, segmenting audiences, and creating relevant content for the people on your list.

All of this can seem overwhelming if you haven’t yet started. Or perhaps you’ve tried marketing without success or jumped from project to project without fully committing to a process that works. If so, there are two things you can do to make this digestible and increase your likelihood of success. Define your ideal customer and pick one thing and do it exceptionally well.

I have seen many business owners say they will serve everybody, or anyone willing to pay for their services. This is a scattershot strategy that might work occasionally but does not lend itself to a repeatable process or to the creation of raving fans. Focusing on a specific target, though counterintuitive for some, most often yields superior results. Kelly Starrett, PT, DPT, and cofounder of San Francisco Crossfit and Mobility|WOD, has built a successful gym business, physical therapy practice, and an online business through focusing on CrossFitters, a small segment of the population. He has not tried to serve everyone, just to serve his ideal customers exceptionally well.

To define your ideal customer, think about who loves working with you and who you love working with. Who do you thrill with your skills, care, and service? And who among those people inspires and energizes you when you get out of bed in the morning so that you can’t wait to get to work? Now who among these has the resources to pay you? Whether payment comes in the form of grants, government funding, an insurance carrier, their employer, or directly from them, you have to get paid to keep a business going. Now write down who loves you, who you love to work with, and who has the resources to pay you. Where those intersect is a pretty good start toward defining your ideal customer.

And finally, you will want to define how you are going to get your message to your ideal customer. Talk to peers and successful practice owners. Gather information, do a little research, and define a plan. Build into your plan that you will repeat whatever it is you decide to do and give it time to work. Start by using Scott’s outline of capture attention, convert it to action, and keep their attention. Do it again and again. And make sure to set measurable goals and track your results. You can always iterate to improve your results, but if you do not measure and track your results, there is no way to know if your plan is working and moving you toward your goals.

Sturdy McKee, PT, MPT, CEO, is a business coach and adviser at www.SturdyMcKee.com and the chief executive officer and cofounder at San Francisco Sport and Spine Physical Therapy, ScheduleDoc.co, and Major League Orthopaedics. He is also a member of PPS and serves on PPS’s Impact magazine editorial board. He can be reached at sturdymckee@gmail.com or @Sturdy.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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