It happens almost every day; a new (or experienced) physician looks to open their own private practice. The expenses can be overwhelming when you think of the equipment, staff, operations, office space, etc…. And we’re not talking about just buying an oven or a grill, cash register and sink; we’re talking about thousands of dollars wrapped up in lasers, x-ray machines, chairs that move up and down, patient management systems and more. What happens once you’ve gotten all these things in place? Your beautifully decorated waiting room and the state-of-the-art equipment in the downtown location that’s experiencing a major renaissance. How are you going to fill the nice, new leather chairs with nailhead trim?
Back in the 90’s, my mom was one of those ambitious people; moving from an established dental practice to open her own practice with another dentist. They had the location, in a very good community, and all the latest, state-of-the-art equipment. The problem was they didn’t have a good marketing plan. Some of their existing patients traveled to the new location, but they were starting in a totally new target market, so a majority felt it was too far away. The idea was to put out some print ads, maybe do a radio spot (only a few because that was all they could afford due to the cost), but focus heavily on “grassroots” marketing concepts. Now, I understand that this was the early 90’s, before the internet existed, and that there are more channels available now then there were at that time, but the concepts that exist now are still based on the same theories that existed then.
When I was around 12, Mom came home one day and told my 8 year old sister and me to get in the car; we were going on an adventure. Both my sister and I got very excited and eagerly awaited Mom in the car as she loaded some boxes in the trunk (sorry Mom, I didn’t help!). About 30 minutes later we pulled over to the curb in this very nice community of affluent homes. My sister and I got out of the car wondering what we we’re doing here as Mom starts opening the boxes of door hangers and handing stacks of them over to us. We were instructed to place one on each of the houses and when we were done, to come back for more. This went on for a few hours that night, in a few different locations, and we were rewarded with McDonald’s (it had a big playground). The same adventure continued for about two weeks. I felt like we placed thousands of those things and that we got every house in a 15 mile radius. In reality, she had only ordered 500 and that was her total impressions for approximately 10-15 hours’ worth of work, yikes!
The reason why I’m telling this story is because you see the same mistakes being made today by physicians ambitious enough to go out on their own. They get the practice off the ground with all the equipment they need, but they don’t dedicate enough budget to drive new patients. Referrals from other local physicians can only account for so much, and if you are new to the area, can be very difficult to achieve. Radio requires a significant budget so you can have sustainable ads running over a period of time. Print can be effective, but doesn’t necessarily capture prospective patients in their moment of interest. Online marketing is certainly effective at targeting and can have an immediate impact, but requires a degree of faith that your target audience is online searching for your services and a procedural or patient value that makes it worthwhile to advertise online.
The point is, don’t go into your new venture thinking that just because your doors are open, patients will be walking through them. Our larger clients spend $50,000 a month on marketing while smaller practices still spend around $3000-5000 a month to market their practice (spend is total marketing budget, not just online). When devising your business plan, make sure you are including enough budget to actually market your practice and drive new patients so you’re not the only one enjoying those nice leather chairs!