The biggest problem facing optometrists today is insufficient patient demand. Most practices are simply not busy enough. If you can solve that problem, nearly all of your other problems would go away.
So let's start the new year with a series on marketing ideas for the independent private practice designed to fill your appointment schedule. These projects will require time, energy and some expense, but if you own a practice, remember that your job description is more than just examining eyes. You also must actively manage your business. That aspect is not always easy, but embrace it and you will be rewarded.
The first step
The most important marketing strategy is to stimulate more word-of-mouth referrals and the basis for that is outstanding customer service. I will concentrate on specific marketing tactics in this series, with an emphasis on the practical details, but don't overlook the importance of an office culture that is built on customer service. Work on that first. It does little good to attract new people to your practice if you leave many of them dissatisfied and spreading negative word-of-mouth comments.
About this tip series
Each week, I will present an idea for a specific marketing project that you can put into effect to increase patient demand in your practice. Of course, each idea won't appeal to everyone, but try to stretch out of your comfort zone and adapt the concept into ways that will work for your practice and with your resources. Choose the projects that appeal most to you and develop a plan to do the others in the future. I'll make some basic decisions and present very specific instructions for each topic to make it easy to get started. But many alternative methods will also work so modify as you see fit. Questions and comments via email are welcome.
Host an in-office seminar
The marketing tactic this week is to host an in-office seminar on an eye care topic of your choice. I'll choose contact lenses for presbyopia, but there are dozens of eye care specialties that will work. Present a different topic later in the year.
You do not need to be an eloquent speaker to present a seminar. The simple approach that you already use when you speak to a patient who is interested in bifocal contact lenses will work just fine. You'll just do the same thing for a small group instead of one person. In fact, it is best to limit the lecture to only about 20 minutes and to use simple layman's terms.
An in-office seminar is a great marketing concept because:
It brings people who are interested in a service or product into your office.
It makes use of your resources like office space and staff when you are not busy enough.
You and your practice are positioned as expert in the eye care topic.
The advertising you do for the event is great publicity for your practice.
Even people who do not attend the seminar will think of your practice when they are in need of that service in the future.
It makes an event happen that creates a buzz among your staff and patients.
Plan and promote the project
Here is a list of things to do to:
What is the event? I suggest you make it a seminar and free screening. The doctor will give a presentation on new advancements in multifocal contact lenses and a free trial contact lens screening will be offered for anyone interested. Refreshments will be served. You must make the event enticing to people and this fills the bill. People can learn about contact lens options, talk to a doctor and see if they qualify to wear specialty contacts, all at no cost. That is compelling.
Select a date. The optimum time will be when people can attend and not have to miss work, so late afternoon or evening is best. In this case, you will need as many staff members as possible to assist with the screening. You could pay overtime or, if you are not very busy, just chose a date when you typically have evening hours and close it off to appointments. Choose a date well into the future so you have time to make the arrangements.
Consider a time like 4pm so people can stop on their way home from work before dinner or 6pm so people can come out after dinner. There is no perfect time that will appeal to everyone.
Prepare the seminar. Use PowerPoint to make slides and buy or borrow an LCD projector. The slides actually guide you through the talk so you don't need notes. Have about 10 slides with bullet points of what you want to say, but don't put everything on the slide. Explain presbyopia (very simply), the disadvantages of eyeglasses, the benefits of contacts, how bifocal contacts work for near and far and discuss modified monovision as an additional option.
Be sure to encourage questions after the talk. Have a staff member ask something if no one else does to break the ice.
Be prepared to answer questions about price. Consider offering a 10% discount if a fitting appointment is scheduled at the seminar.
Offer appointments. Ask attendees to schedule a fitting appointment after the presentation and have staff ready.
Have handouts. This can be a simple outline of what you will talk about (a copy of the PowerPoint works well) and you can include brochures from the AOA and your contact lens manufacturer of choice. You can also include your office brochure and business cards.
Plan for the screening aspect. Ask people in attendance to sign a list if they want to try contacts in the office after the seminar. Have your staff determine their approximate Rx by autorefraction or lensometry of present eyeglasses. Insert trial lenses and let the patients walk around the office to adapt while the doctor speaks to each one individually. The doctor should ask all good candidates to schedule a fitting exam.
Decide on refreshments. I would not serve alcohol. Cookies, coffee and cold bottled water should be sufficient.
Ask your contact lens sales rep for assistance and ideas. Co-op financial support may be available for some projects. Can you get some slides with diagrams or photos of bifocal contacts?
Promote the event on your website and on your business Facebook page. Tip: if you can't easily do these tasks, make the needed investments so you can use electronic media more effectively in the future.
Advertise the seminar and screening in your local newspaper. This part can be expensive, but you are getting the word out and it will pay off. Newspaper ads reach your current patient base as well as everyone else in the community.
You could send a special invitation to a select group of patients (search your records for the right age group) if you wish. Your staff could also call a select group and personally invite them for a better response.
You could send invitations by mail or email to the local community or to certain zip codes. Speak to a local printer about this; use post cards and bulk mail pricing.
Put signs up in the office for the event and ask candidates in person if they can come back for the seminar.
Require people to reserve a spot by phone in advance. Space is limited.
If you find that you have a bigger response than you can handle, add another date.
If you find that you get a very low response you can increase the promotion effort. Postpone the date if necessary. A small group is OK.
Confirm attendance by phone the day before and be prepared for some no shows. Accept 20% more than ideal to plan for no shows.
Measure your results
It is not always possible to know how much new business is generated from a marketing project, but keep good records and do the best you can. Make notes about:
Cost of advertising and cost of other invitations.
Cost of food and drink served.
Additional staff wages outside of normal business hours (if any).
Day, date and time of the seminar.
Number of people confirmed/ number actually attended.
Number of appointments scheduled in the next week.
Number of actual cases fitted with the product as a result of the project.
Gross revenue generated.
What you would do differently next time.
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.