When I opened my private practice in the early 1990s, I had little money to spend on marketing. However, I did develop an overall marketing strategy for my practice: Do a good job and be trustworthy. I reasoned that if I made my patients happy, I would keep them for life and they would refer family and friends. I have a very high retention rate in my practice and approximately 40% of all new patients are referrals from existing patients. Referrals are the best way to build a practice.
But how do you get those first few patients? When I opened my first private practice, I gave as many educational seminars as possible.
Getting the first few speaking engagements was difficult, but soon I received invitations to speak regularly. I started by going to the Chamber of Commerce and signing up for its speakers' bureau. I called service organizations, like Rotary International and Lions Club, and retirement communities.
Public speaking is an art. The more you do it, the better you get. I developed a number of presentations to have at my disposal. Providing information that is both helpful and entertaining is important, so I bought books with funny quotes and sayings to intersperse in presentations. In the beginning I was stiff and self-conscious while making presentations, but I soon found that I was actually enjoying myself and engaging with the audience. At the end of each presentation, several people usually wanted to make an appointment, and those were my first patients.
Once you get those first few patients in the door, provide exceptional service. Every morning when I walk into my office, I view it as though I am walking in for the first time. Is it clean and well-organized, with attention to detail? Patients will judge you by the look of your office.
Exceed expectations—provide more service than clients expect. I schedule patients so there is rarely a wait. This feat involves scheduling blocks of time so patients are not rushed. Develop protocols that are shared with patients verbally and in writing, so they know exactly what to expect from the services you provide. Return phone calls promptly, answer questions, and listen to the patient—all very easy ways of providing exceptional service. Patients want to know you care about them. Before long, word-of-mouth referrals will come from happy patients.
After almost all initial visits and periodically for all patients, I send a report to the primary-care physician. This interaction helps the medical community become familiar with me and the profession of audiology. Developing a good format for these reports is important. Occasionally, I will call the primary-care physician if I have a concern. I want to encourage other medical professionals to view audiologists as colleagues. Often after I send several reports to a primary-care physician, that physician will start referring as well.
Community involvement—even for busy professionals like audiologists—has a dual purpose. When I become involved, people in the community become aware of me as both an individual and a professional. These connections can become important in highlighting a practice, and audiologists will be surprised at the doors those connections may open. For example, I did a great deal of work with our local symphony; consequently, many of the symphony members came to me for musician's earplugs and other services. My membership on the Playhouse Board opened up opportunities to give talks in the community on hearing loss and its prevention.
Advertising usually has been last on my list for marketing. I began advertising after I had built a good foundation for my practice and had the resources to do so. Print advertising is becoming less effective, and television is expensive. Direct mail can be successful but often people are overwhelmed with mail and simply trash advertisements. I have tried all of these types of advertising at various points in time and found them intermittently successful. A Web site is crucial. People go online to educate themselves; an educational site often brings a patient in the door. At that point, face-to-face education can begin.
Effective marketing is part of a professional's daily life, from a clean, well-organized office, to educational seminars, great service, and sometimes advertising. If you do a good job and are trustworthy, your marketing efforts will be successful.