Article Date: 5/1/2013

Develop Your Marketing Plan
Plan

Develop Your Marketing Plan

Examine your “SWOT” to determine a plan for your practice.

WALTER O. WHITLEY, O.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.O., NORFOLK, VA.

For practice sustainability and survival, you must delve deep and find out where you want your practice to be both now and in the future. This requires developing a marketing plan. To accomplish this, you must perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, or “SWOT,” analysis.

Here, I discuss how to perform a SWOT and how to use the SWOT information to create your practice marketing plan.

Performing a SWOT analysis

The purpose of a SWOT is to provide information on your practice strengths and weaknesses as they relate to your opportunities and threats. This process is best performed when you welcome the input of all team members. You could also ask your patients for their feedback prior to the meeting through patient satisfaction surveys.

The more information that you can gather helps develop a marketing direction for your practice. Consider having this discussion at an upcoming staff meeting or possibly at a strategic retreat.

Key aspects of this discussion will include the following:

What do you feel your practice strengths are? Examples include the doctor’s clinical experience, state-of-the-art technology, convenient office hours, accessible locations and exemplary customer service.

What are your practice weaknesses? Examples: Clinic efficiency, patient wait times and limited technology.

Identify all current and future opportunities for your practice and profession. Examples: Developing specialty services, acquiring technology and implementing social media.

Determine any and all threats to your practice and profession. Examples: Managed care, scope-of-practice legislation, online retailers and competitors.

During this discussion, compile a running list of all factors that were identified, which will be used to develop a marketing strategy for your practice. Once you have identified your SWOT, the next step is determining what differentiates your practice. This is your competitive advantage that sustains and grows your practice.

One way to determine your competitive advantage is to match your practice strengths with your opportunities, and develop and implement a strategy. Are there things that you do that set you apart from all other optometrists, ophthalmologists and optical retail locations in your area?

Each practice utilizes its competitive advantages in different ways. Some O.D.s choose to focus on operational excellence with efficiency and lower costs for patients. Others may choose a strategy of product leadership and offer the most advanced technology and/or high-end retail optical. And others may use the strategy of customer service by developing long-term patient relationships and understanding their patients better than their competition.

There can be many competitive advantages, including your practice’s cost structure, product offerings, distribution network and patient support. Do you have advantages over your competition, and can you name them? If so, are they sustainable? In every market, each practice should determine what their sustainable competitive advantage is and how they can differentiate themselves through the long run.

Using the SWOT information

Now that you have identified your SWOT, what do you do with this information?

Identify what you already do well, and highlight this to your patients. Patients know that they come to us for eye care. However, do they know about your practice’s recent accomplishments and what you have to offer? (Examples include advanced technology, specialty services, office hours and locations.)

Also, work to rectify weaknesses. Clinic efficiency and patient wait times are examples of areas that may need to be addressed. One way to improve your weaknesses is to track all areas that may be “bottlenecks” for the practice. Implement patient logs and monitor the time it takes for patients to sign in or be taken back by the technician, how long the work-up takes, how long testing takes and how long the doctor is with the patient. This reveals areas where you can and need to improve your efficiency.

Also, you can overcome weaknesses with strategic investments. An example would be hiring a new O.D. to provide specialty eyecare services, such as vision therapy, low vision or disease management, if you don’t feel confident in providing these services yourself. Weaknesses that cannot be converted into strengths must be minimized as much as possible to have a lesser effect on our patients.

Remember you can’t market these aspects of your practice until they become your strengths. Identify and fix your weaknesses, then highlight these areas in your marketing plan.

Utilize your strengths by matching them with opportunities that you identified, and implement them into processes that may have been previously untapped. A great example is expanding on the services that you provide to complement the clinical training you have already received. The medical model can have a significant impact on an optometric practice, yet many of us are not fully engaged in this model. Consider adopting advanced diagnostic technologies into your practice. Also, you can acquire a tear film osmolarity unit to identify and manage patients who have dry eye disease or an SD-OCT to treat and manage glaucoma or retina conditions. These technologies can help improve your diagnostic and management capabilities, improve the care that you provide your patients, and are reimbursed by most insurance carriers.

One way to improve your weaknesses is to track all areas that may be “bottlenecks”. . .

Turn threats into future opportunities with the investment of appropriate resources. Let’s take another look at the online retail business. Differentiating your practice brand, customer service, boutique eyewear and exceeding patient expectations are opportunities to not only compete, but to improve your whole practice culture. In the end, the SWOT analysis comes down to reducing risk for your practice while improving overall practice performance.

The impact

Many optometrists inadvertently neglect some areas of their practice, which could have a dramatic impact on their long-term survival.

By utilizing the SWOT analysis, we can identify and capitalize on our strengths and opportunities while mitigating our weaknesses and threats. Determining our practice’s competitive advantage differentiates us from our competitors and results in greater profits, patient retention and increased patient demand. The end goal is optimal patient care while improving practice profitability and sustainability. OM

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Dr. Whitley is the director of optometric services at Virginia Eye Consultants in Norfolk, Va., where he serves dual roles in patient care and practice marketing. He completed his MBA from the University of Nevada School of Business. E-mail him at wwhitley@vec2020.com, or send comments to optometric management@gmail.com.



Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: May 2013, page(s): 25 - 27