I often say the biggest problem facing optometrists today is lack of patient demand. Just think about what your practice would be like if you had tons of patients calling your office for eye care! I love to help optometrists manage the problems they face because they have too many patients! Once you have the cash flow that a higher volume of patients produce, you can hire more staff, install advanced instrumentation, move to a larger office, expand your optical and then just continue to set goals and grow! The irony is that once your practice reaches that high level, you attract even more patients because you offer such great service in an awesome facility. You have more competitive advantages and an upward business spiral occurs.
As important as patient demand is, most optometrists seem to think it is something outside of their own control. They seem to just take what comes their way. Most ODs do very little marketing. I think one reason for that is often because they simply do not have the time or make the time. Let's take a look at some simple steps you can take to market your practice and grow your patient volume.
Marketing and advertising is actually very complex. Many promotional efforts do not work very well. Many can result in a financial loss. But marketing is extremely important to practice success and should be part of your daily activity.
Most optometrists have not been trained in marketing, but you can learn.
Learn by trying things and keeping records of costs and revenue produced.
Learn by talking with colleagues about what has worked for them.
Learn by attending courses and reading books.
Learn by hiring a consultant or a local advertising firm to help develop your marketing plan and guide you.
How to design your marketing plan
For most optometrists: start by appointing someone from your staff as your marketing coordinator. If you are already short-staffed, hire a new employee with a plan for someone to work with you on marketing. There are many details with marketing projects and you will not have time to do it all yourself. Your marketing specialist should be enthusiastic about the goals of bringing in more patients and increasing practice revenue. The marketing duties may total 10 to 20 hours per week in an average practice. This is an investment that should produce a good return. Work closely with your marketing director.
Make a list on paper of projects you do now and list new ideas that you could take on.
Prioritize your ideas and develop a timeline. Put your projects on a calendar for the next 12 months.
Decide on an annual marketing budget and indicate the amount you will spend on each project on your list. The typical optometric practice spends about 3% of gross revenue on marketing, but you may decide to invest more than that.
A truly effective marketing plan involves a comprehensive review of the practice and many aspects of your practice. It is far more than just the direct promotional ideas. It includes fee schedules, product mix, office hours, practice image, customer service issues and much more. Marketing is defined as identifying and satisfying patients' wants and needs.
To get you started, here are a few projects that usually work well to increase patient demand:
Use your computer software system to search for patients who have not responded to recall notices and are past due for eye care. Have a very friendly staff member call these patients and ask how they are doing. See Tip #466 for advice on this procedure.
If you are new to practice and don't have that patient history, drop in on various primary care MDs and other health professionals to introduce yourself. Discuss referral possibilities both ways. Invite the physicians and staff members to obtain eyewear at your office at a 50% discount. You want them to wear glasses from your practice.
Community outreach can be an effective way to improve your reputation. Participate in community events through the chamber of commerce, the parks and recreation department, local civic organizations, sponsorship of school events and sports team, and other local activities. Have a booth for your practice, give away free stuff, do vision screenings and talk to people. Get your staff involved in these events.
Host events in your practice, such as in-office seminars, screenings, open houses, and trunk shows. Once you plan events, you can promote those events on your practice Facebook page, website, to your patients via email and to the community at large via newspaper or local radio.
Cross market with other local businesses. Help promote them and they will help promote you.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.