There are many misconceptions about marketing and what it takes to be effective in marketing a medical practice. When I suggest that physicians market to promote their practice and attract the right types of patients they are often dismissive. If you have attempted to market your practice in the past and have been unsuccessful it is time to open your mind to new marketing opportunities. I'd like to shed light on the importance of marketing and how powerful it can be in strengthening your bottom line.
First of all, marketing isn't something you simply try out, applying a hit-and-miss approach, or copying someone else's advertising strategy. Marketing takes planning, expertise, and a firm commitment. It is a valuable tool in building and maintaining a solid practice base.
You may be a phenomenal physician and have a stellar business manager, but it isn't likely you have years of training and experience in marketing a business; and don't forget, your practice is a business. Marketing requires an ongoing commitment and a willingness to listen to the experts. The best approach to marketing is to have a plan — a comprehensive, written marketing plan. There are several primary components in a thorough marketing plan:
1. Conducting research
Market research is the first step in developing a marketing plan. This includes an objective analysis of your practice to identify "strengths and weaknesses," and examine existing and potential "opportunities and threats," including competitive factors that might threaten your position in the market place. This is often called a "SWOT" analysis.
You should conduct a demographic analysis of your community: its growth patterns, job market, economics, age distribution, earnings breakdown, marital status, ethnicity, and education of the residents in your target area, by zip code. It is also important to examine your existing patient population, as well. This can be quite insightful and help you to communicate better with the people in your community.
2. Setting goals
The next step is to establish short-term and long-term marketing goals. Start by determining your target market — the type of patients you want to attract. The information learned in your market research will guide you through this process.
Some practices may want to focus on building out a new physician's patient base, others might want to introduce a new service that will give their practice a competitive edge and improve patient care. Setting goals is both fundamental and powerful in guiding your strategic approach to marketing and allows you to measure results.
3. Developing strategies
After you've chosen your target group and set your goals, you'll need to outline your marketing strategies, along with specific actions that will be taken. For example, one strategy may involve community outreach —that may mean hosting an open house, joining the hospital's speaker bureau, and seeking media attention.
Want to improve communication skills? Physicians can benefit by attending seminars and having a consultant shadow them when providing patient care. One important trend that has emerged in recent years is the power of social-media marketing and online reputation management.
4. Building a budget
Finally, set a marketing budget to be sure your ambitions and ideas are within your financial capabilities. Keep in mind, marketing is an investment and spending 5 percent to 7 percent of practice revenue on prudent marketing will inevitably provide a big payoff down the road.
5. Tracking progress and results
Once your marketing plan is complete, it is important to build a matrix listing each action item, providing a start- and end-date, and appointing someone to lead the charge for each activity. Engaging the services of a medical marketing professional can provide a higher return on your investment and keep things moving forward so deadlines are met.
Marketing can put you ahead of the competition, create an inflow of desirable patients, and increase your revenue base. It can even put you in a position to cull some of those unprofitable managed-care contracts you have been reluctant to cancel. Defining your goals, understanding your market, and developing a marketing plan that is realistic will lead you to success.
Judy Capko is a healthcare consultant, speaker, and author of the popular book "Secrets of the Best Run Practice." With more than 20 years experience, her focus is practice operations, staffing, finance, and strategic planning. She is a popular speaker at national and regional conferences. Capko is the founder of Capko & Company, www.capko.com, based in San Francisco and Thousand Oaks, Calif.