Questions & Answers-Marketing Your Practice

by Rose Piper LaCroix

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Question:

I want to have a plan of action for building and maintaining my private practice. I even bought an expensive software program that promised to "simplify the process of creating a marketing plan." Unfortunately, it wasn't much help. Is there an easy way to get started?

Answer:

Your question is a good one. It actually has two parts. There are some very simple things you can do in order to begin to create a marketing plan and we will look at those today. (In a future issue we will discuss how to implement your plan.)

First, you will need four tools.

1. Your address book, Rolodex, or contact manager;
2. Your appointment book for the last 12 months;
3. A pen; and
4. Some paper.

For those who are very computer oriented any good word processing program that has the ability to create tables will work, but a contact or database manager is better.

Next you should set aside several hours of quiet time. This work is easy to start and stop, so it's perfect for that free time you have due to a last minute cancellation.

There are the six questions you will ask yourself in order to get started

1. Who is sending me patients now?
2. To whom have I referred my patients in the last year?
3. (When appropriate) Are they referring back?
4. Whom do I want to target?
5. What marketing ideas have I implemented in the past that have worked (or not worked) for me?
6. How much time do I have each week to devote to building and maintaining my practice?

Let's start with the first one since it is the most important and the most time consuming. Who is sending you patients now? This is information that you should be gathering as you go along. If you have, that's great because you're way ahead of the game. In my experience as a consultant less than 1% of my clients have this information in an organized manner. In fact, it's so important that if I came to consult with your practice tomorrow, asking you for that information would be the first thing I would do. Keep in mind that if you aren't keeping track of who is referring patients to you, you can't possibly be staying in touch with these important referral sources. You should be in touch with a regular referral source every eight to ten weeks.

I have a form that I give to my clients to track this information on an on-going basis and I'm glad to share it with you. Just e-mail the Editor-In-Chief your snail mail address and I will send you a copy.

The next question is to whom you have referred patients to in the last year?--and, when appropriate, are they referring back? This is a good time to analyze your own referral patterns. Are you referring to professionals who respect your services and feel comfortable referring to you, or do you notice that the people you refer to aren't referring to you?

Then comes the question of whom you want to target? All of your regular referral sources should be the first on the list you will now create. Next list the type of person you want to target. Here is an example: If you want to do more public speaking you might want to obtain the Chamber of Commerce lists of local organizations. Your library may also have a list of organizations, and almost every library has "Gale's Guide to National Organizations." This is particularly helpful if you are targeting a certain type of group, although you will probably have to call the national and state chapter before you get the local number. Your local business journal puts out an annual "book of lists" that may also have specific groups you want to target. This is literally a list of prospects that will be the start of your marketing efforts.

What marketing ideas have you implemented in the past that have worked (or not worked)? Write them out and be brutally honest here. You are the only one who will ever see it and it may help you avoid costly repeats of unsuccessful efforts. Look at first list you created. How many of your referrals in the last year came as a direct result of your marketing efforts? How much time do you have each week to devote to building and maintaining your practice? It really all boils down to this, doesn't it? And the correct answer to this question has changed over the years. Here is a formula that almost all successful private practitioners agree with. Take the number of hours you want to be seeing clients each week (a national average to desire to see 25 clients per week) and divide it by three, giving you the total number of hours that should be spent marketing (again, based on the average, eight hours.)

Most of my clients initially say they don't have that kind of time. I always ask the same question. If I referred to you eight new clients next week, could you fit them into your schedule? The answer is always yes. If your answer is yes than you can set those eight hours aside to do the all important marketing. I know that most of you didn't open a private practice in order to become salespeople, but managed care has changed the way we all do business.

In our next issue we will cover sales and marketing skills for clinicians. I specialize in painless marketing that is designed to make this a little bit less daunting.

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5/11/98

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Rose Piper LaCroix has 10 years of marketing experience in building private practices for mental health professionals. You won't get a lot of philosophy about marketing because she believes in a nuts and bolts approach to building and maintaining a private practice. You can reach her at (909) 989-7006 PST .

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