Most optometrists do very little marketing in their practices, but that really is something we should try to change. Most practices need more patients and we would be smart to not simply rely on vision plans to drive in patients. For independent private practice owners, your reputation in your community is extremely important to your success, but what are you doing to shape public opinion? Sure, the people who already come to your practice know you do a great job, but you need to attract the others as well.
A good marketing plan should include a comprehensive list of many different strategies, but for purposes of this article, I’ll review a basic one that you may be overlooking: community outreach.
I define community outreach as a collection of community based programs aimed at supporting local organizations, clubs and events that help others. When the public sees that your practice gives back to the community in various ways, they will be drawn to you. This involvement in projects and events that are not directly driven by profit creates an image that you care about people first. The marketing benefit is more subtle, but in many ways it is more powerful.
Time is more important than money
Community outreach events do not usually require much expense. There may be a sponsorship donation or a registration fee, but usually the contribution is mostly in the form of time and effort. Participating in community organizations requires time by the doctor or staff or both. Consider how much time each person can devote to these events per week. It is great for the doctor to have some involvement as described below, but I believe it is also a good investment to pay staff their usual wages to have them participate. Some employees may participate in the community on their own, and that is great, but if they are doing it for the practice, you should treat it as work for them.
If an event or meeting requires staff to participate in the evening or on weekends, consider giving them some compensatory time off in exchange. Always observe rules for paying overtime if required. You may need to hire another employee to give your office the proper coverage for patient care, but I would embrace that and try it. I want the staff to grow larger because your practice will grow larger as well. Make something happen.
Chamber of Commerce
The local chamber is a good place to start because this group focuses on all kinds of events in town. You’ll meet other business leaders and share ideas on what they have done to build their businesses. The chamber often sponsors events for the public that will showcase your practice. Pay the dues, become a chamber member, attend the meetings and volunteer to participate.
Parks and Recreation
Keep up with your city or neighborhood to learn about events that will be hosted, often through the parks department. There may be fairs, festivals, or educational programs. Your practice may be able to have a booth and have your staff present to talk to people about eye care, give away practice brochures, free gifts and do vision screenings.
Say yes to some of the community events that ask for help to get your practice logo on signs, T-shirts and in programs as a sponsor. Sponsor a little league team or the high school speech and debate club.
Fund raising support
Many organizations have fund raising events like silent auctions and raffles. While you will have to say no sometimes, consider donating a pair of sunglasses. If you do this, be sure to play up the marketing value by placing the sunglasses and case in a basket with lots of extras, like tissue paper, a bow, a practice brochure and business cards, and some give-away gifts like a lens cleaner and cloth.
Active membership in organizations like Rotary Club, Lions Club or many others is a good idea because it builds your network of local leaders. These are excellent patients and referral sources. If you join, however, make a commitment to attend meetings and be active in club events. And approach the club primarily with an attitude of how you can help others, not how to attract business. The business will follow.
Charities and church
Get involved in charities especially one that means a lot to you and is vision related. If you have a special promotion in your office, like a frame trunk show, you could donate a portion of the profit to a charity.
Your marketing plan
Make community outreach just one phase of your total marketing plan. Spread your participation at events throughout the year and stick to a budget. Keep good records of each event and make notes about it so you can decide if you continue to support it next year or try something else.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week