Who’s in Control of Your Marketing?

Steering Wheel

Drive your practice to success with a basic marketing infrastructure.

By Steven L. Line, PT, ATC

Having enjoyed almost two decades as a private practice owner, I can tell you that it has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, and it has also been the catalyst for some gray hairs and sleepless nights.

It is not an occupation for the faint of heart. Owners face a vast array of problems every single day, for which a solution is demanded, yet there is no preparation. Problems can run the gamut of issues from patient treatment to accounts receivable and everything in between. However, when I speak with other private practice owners, the one area that creates more anxiety than any other is marketing. Simply put, without marketing pulling new patients into your practice, there are not any patients to treat to pay for rent and salaries. That reality creates a lot of pressure in the life of a physical therapy (PT) private practice owner.

So why does marketing specifically cause so much anxiety? I am not a psychologist but have trained and certified in many different psychometric evaluation tools for human performance, and the general consensus is that stress is simply an indicator of “perceived threat” in our lives.1 More bluntly stated, we are stressed when we do not feel in control. If marketing stresses you out, it may indicate you lack confidence and control in some aspect of marketing. Your stress could be centered around attracting the attention of physicians, budgeting for appropriate advertising, or because you have no clue where to start! Anxiety can be worsened with avoidance and lessened by taking control and facing stressors head on. You have a choice: either to be in control or be controlled by your practice’s marketing challenges.

I have met, spoken, and consulted with many private practice owners and have found that many are not organized. Some do not really know who they are and what kind of practice they want. Some have no idea how their practices are performing, and most do not have future goals. In my experience, an organization, person, or activity cannot prosper in a chaotic, random, or disordered environment. Marketing can only work effectively if it has an infrastructure to initiate, support, and sustain it. I liken marketing to a freight train. A train possesses mass, speed, and power to move large amounts of products and materials effectively. However, all of that mass, speed, and power is worthless, if the train doesn’t have a rail system underneath to structure and channel it. Many owners, myself included, have made the mistake of “spaghetti marketing” by casting multiple ads, brochures, messages, mailers, events out into the universe, just to see what will stick. “Spaghetti marketing” is desperate, expensive, yields poor returns, and stems from an owner’s lack of confidence in marketing structure, systems, and execution, and about how you treat your patients: Do you throw random treatments at them, or do you have an organized plan of care aligned toward the goal of the patient returning to function? Physical therapy practice owners take charge of their destiny when they execute control in their marketing by putting structure, systems, and programs in place to drive a steady supply of patients into their practices.

The following practical tips will help structure your marketing efforts:

1. Know Your Numbers

“What gets measured gets managed.”2 If you currently do not track your practice metrics, you need to start today! You measure patient progress by objective data, so why would you not do that in your business? Keep stats on new patients, visits, no-show/cancellation rate, charges, collections, and expenses. Gather all of your numbers at the end of your business week and review them. Make this practice a habit. Graphing your stats is powerful, providing a clear picture of your weekly trends and ultimately showing you where your practice is headed.

2. Know Your Marketing Buckets

If you do not track where your business is coming from, you cannot improve it. It is imperative not only to track the number of new patients but also to track why the patient chose your practice. You can start to assemble some new patient subcategories, or “buckets,” by simply asking each patient at their first appointment why they chose your clinic, or “What influenced your decision to choose our practice?” Marketing buckets can include former (return) patients, physician referrals, patient referrals, and offsite marketing events. Tracking will expose which of those buckets contains the majority of your patients, as well as your top physician referrers, your top patients who refer others to you, and your best media influence such as radio, TV, or social media. This tracking system prevents “spaghetti marketing” by providing you tools to make the correct decisions with your time and money.

3. Know What You Want

Having an attainable and specific marketing goal will help you achieve the results you desire. Begin with the end in mind by setting some goals for your practice. This step determines the marketing path you will take, how much preparation will be needed, and how hard you will have to work to achieve it. All owners have different wants, and there is no “one size fits all” goal or aspiration for everyone. Some want to be comfortable, while others desire to build empires and be on the cover of Fortune, or maybe featured in Impact magazine! Neither ambition is right or wrong, as long as it aligns with what you want. Write out in detail the specifics of your practice goal: large or small, quantitative or qualitative. Writing and posting your goal aligns wants with actions and puts you in control of leading your practice destiny.

4. Know The Costs

Marketing costs money but costs you more if you do it poorly. View marketing as a return on investment (ROI), and you will feel a shift in your marketing confidence. A $500 doctor’s lunch netting one new patient is a good return. One patient reactivated from phone calls to past patients is a great return. But one patient referred by a current patient is a phenomenal return! The least stressful marketing is something you spend the least time or effort on that generates the greatest number of new patients. For reference, it is recommended that your marketing budget should be 7%–8% gross revenue.3

5. Know How You Are Going To Do It

It helps if you have a road map. There will be a lot of moving parts when installing a fully developed marketing system into your practice, so start small, start easy, and take one step at a time.

Here is a simple approach to how to install a direct access patient marketing system into your practice:

  1. Ask every current satisfied patient, on caseload or at discharge, if they know anyone they could refer. Provide them with a tool to refer that patient like a referral business card.
  2. Consider a mailing program. Send cards to your patients including birthday, anniversary, or sympathy. Start a monthly practice newsletter to educate and promote reactivation with free screens. Mail personalized, handwritten letters to patients after discharge to check on their status.
  3. Initiate an email/social media program that targets your younger patient demographic.
  4. Start a patient call-back system: 30 days, 90 days, 180 days, and 1 year follow-up calls from date of discharge. Your goal here is to check how they are doing, visit with them, and encourage a free screen if appropriate.
  5. Have a patient appreciation event at your clinic. The atmosphere should be mainly about food, drinks, fun, and hospitality with the intent of building deeper relationships with your past patient base. The less you “push” the more you will “pull” when it comes to reactivating patients from the event.
  6. Install an organization system for scheduling, timing, details, budgeting, and automation of these five patient programs. This step is what actually establishes the marketing “infrastructure” in your practice and holds it in place.

Congratulations! You have just installed a marketing system into your practice. The physician, patient referral, and general public programs can be installed by following a similar format.


1McLeod SA. What is the stress response. Simply Psychology. 2010.

2Willcocks L. & Lester S. (1996). Beyond the IT productivity paradox. European Management Journal, 14(3), 279-290.

3Beesley C. How to set a marketing budget that fits your business goals and provides a high return on investment. SBA.org. 2013.

Steven L. Line, PT, ATC, is a PPS member and president and chief executive officer of Columbus Physical Therapy, PC, in Columbus, Nebraska. He can be reached at cptsl@columbusphysicaltherapy.com.

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