If you're like me, you've tried many marketing ideas for your practice that did not work very well. It can be difficult to predict what will work and what won't. Many optometrists eventually just give up and do very little marketing other than sending recall notices. I don't recommend that you give up; marketing can be very successful if it is done well. A good place to start is with community outreach.
Community outreach does not simply mean that the optometrist joins the local Rotary Club. Having the doctor involved in community organizations can be extremely helpful, but if that is not your interest, there are many other good ways to provide support. If you are in private practice, community support can help you become identified as an important member of your town, city or neighborhood. There is a grass-roots movement all over North America to support local, independent businesses and your practice can benefit from that. One of the best ways to increase what you receive is to give first, unselfishly. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.”
Chamber of Commerce
Many optometric practices belong to the local chamber, but they often just pay dues and don't do anything. The Chamber of Commerce is a group of business and professional people in your community with the goal of helping to improve local business. These business people quickly become patrons or patients of other chamber members themselves, but more importantly, they make you aware of programs and events that your practice can participate in. In many ways, the chamber is the organizer of everything your town has to offer.
Join your local chamber and attend some meetings. If you don't want to participate yourself, have your office manager attend. If you don't have an office manager or staff member who can attend and get involved, consider hiring someone who has the drive and the personality to represent your practice. This is a major first step in your new marketing plan.
Some chamber events may require attending meetings or events after normal business hours or on weekends. Consider this as work hours for your employee and find a fair way to compensate him or her.
Your city or town
Our local police department has an annual night out against crime event, which is held at a local community swimming pool. There are many fun events, raffles, and contests and local businesses have booths and give away freebies. Our practice gives a gift certificate from our office as a raffle prize and we have a booth to promote good eye care. We have two staff members attend and they talk to many people and have a good time.
Your community may have a local parade or other celebrations that your practice can be part of. It is fine to just sponsor an event, but it is far better if you have representatives at the event in person to talk to the public.
Parks and Recreation
You may have a local parks department that hosts many events. We have things like the Fall Festival, the Baby Olympics, the Big Wheel 500 for kids, an Easter egg hunt and much more. Many events allow businesses to have a table or booth. We have a portable table with a table cloth and a large sign, both with our practice logo. In some cases we take a telebinocular and do free vision screenings. In other cases, we hand out free pens, lens cloths or other giveaways along with practice brochures and discount promotions. We have moved past the old thinking that doctors should not promote or give discounts. It is a new world and we are part of it.
Local schools of all kinds, public or private, elementary school to colleges, all have events and they increasingly need financial support. Build strong relationships with teachers, parents and students as you participate in their events. You could participate in a science fair or give a presentation on career day.
Sponsor a fund-raising event
You can start your own bike-a-thon or walk and run event for a good cause. Or choose a favorite national charity and promote the annual fund-raiser for it. Encourage your staff to take part in the event.
Rotary, Lions Club, Kiwanis and church groups are a few of the better known groups that give to the community. They often hold fund-raising events to raise money for local causes. Belong to one of the groups and get involved. You will meet the other movers and shakers in your local area and those are good people to know.
Don't forget social media
As your practice supports the community in so many ways, be sure to post the events on your practice Facebook page and your website. Be sure to take photos to personalize the event and make posts more interesting. Community outreach gives you plenty of good things to talk about!
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week