The title of this article is supposed to evoke a response that makes you realize you aren’t doing much marketing for your practice and no one is in charge of it. Chances are good that I hit the mark. The vast majority of private optometric practices do very little marketing other than recall post cards and confirming pre-appoints. That used to be OK in the not too distant past. But we turned a corner recently and we need far more patients than we used to. Maybe it is due to the increases in managed care or maybe it is the increasing competition in eye care. A good marketing plan is now a necessity.
The single biggest challenge for practice owners and office managers who may wish to embrace marketing is lack of time. Optometrists and managers are generally very smart people who truly get the trends in our society today and I’m quite sure they could do a great job with all the marketing projects I will recommend below, but they lack one very important factor for success: TIME. Marketing simply does not seem that urgent and most practices are understaffed (for true excellence) and most optometrists are too busy seeing patients. So marketing takes a backseat to more pressing matters and the owner intends to get around to it. That could go on for years.
When I discuss marketing with consulting clients, I always start with time management. Let’s start by deciding who will handle the planning and the logistics of marketing projects in your practice and then let’s be sure that they have enough time in their weekly schedule to do a good job. I think the optometrist/owner should make some time for the marketing decision making and I think a staff member who has a flair for communication should be assigned to handle the logistics. I think we need both people to work together on marketing.
To give the OD more time for marketing, I recommend that he or she close off one half day per week to patients and see those patients in the remaining days of the week. In other words, compress the existing appointments into fewer days. For the staff member who is appointed to become your marketing director, I would give her at least 10 hours per week free from other duties to work on marketing. If that seems difficult right now, I would hire another employee so some of the marketing person’s work can be moved to the newcomer.
The 10 or more staff hours per week is one expense in your marketing budget and there will be other costs, but it need not be very expensive and we should see good return on the investment in any case. Typically, optometric practices spend about 3% of gross revenue on marketing and that is a good place to start.
Work with your new marketing director to plan ahead for a whole year and list the marketing projects you will do with approximate dates. Give an estimate of the cost of each project and you’ll note that many of them have zero cash outlay, other than staff time.
Consider these topics for your marketing plan and for your marketing director to focus on.
Start with customer service and cultivating the patient experience. This leads to word-of-mouth marketing, which is the most powerful form of marketing. Marketing is identifying and satisfying patients’ wants and needs.
Reactivate your social media effort. You marketing specialist should post about three times per week and make them mostly about your practice; not generic newsfeed content. Photos and videos are golden. Get many more likes on Facebook by simply asking patients to like you. Running a contest for likes works great.
What do you do in the area of community outreach? This includes all kinds of sponsorships and donating time in civic organizations. Have a booth for your practice at parks and recreation events. Participate in health screenings, high school career day and all kinds of events.
Meet the local primary care physicians. Drop in and introduce yourself. Drop off business cards and ask for theirs. Discuss the types of cases you can help them with and ask what you can refer to them.
Generate a list of patients who have not been in your office for two to six years. This could be a big list and your staff could call them. Be sure to check the records and know their insurance and their diagnosis. A good way to start the conversation is to ask if they have received your reminder cards and if they would like you to continue to send them.
Host events in your practice, then announce them and promote them through all kinds of media. This could be an open house after remodeling or a frame trunk show or a patient seminar on an eye care topic that you are an expert in.
Refresh or start over with your website. Spend some money on the design and spend the time needed to write good copy and take lots of photos and videos.
Invest in making your practice busier and you will realize a great return that pays dividends for a lifetime.
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.