How do we maintain and improve our reputation in the community?

Developing and maintaining a positive image in the community require that your community knows who you are and what benefits you providein essence, why they should like you. The best way to do this is to be an active part of the community. Find areas of interest to support, both personally and professionally. This is an excellent time to consult your team to help decide where you want to place your efforts. Most people go into veterinary medicine to help animals. As a team, select a few animal-related charities or organizations to serve that have meaning to you and your team. You may even decide to offer your team members a designated amount of time off each year as a benefit to encourage participation in volunteerism. Or you may choose to make a financial contribution up to a specific limit, with the team helping you decide where it should be designated.

To serve the community, you must be out in the community. If you are a patron of the arts, consider an ad in the theater program or serving on the board of directors. If you have children involved in school athletics, consider sponsoring a team. If you are serious about pet care education, think about partnering with the local fire and rescue department to teach cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid for both humans and pets. The most important aspect of being well thought of in the community is visibility. There is no harm in being seen doing good deeds. In fact, it's excellent business. But most of all, do it because you want to and because you enjoy it. That reaps the most rewards.

What are effective marketing tools in a rural practice?

If your practice is located where the population is more spread out or less dense, you have to look a little harder. Consider what activities are most popular in your area, and go where the people are. Rural populations tend to gravitate to a local main street or common meeting center for goods and services. Schools also tend to be natural places to congregate. Think about establishing a presence at a community center, feed store, local post office, or farmers' market. Work with the local Red Cross to do a blood drive for both humans and pets at the local hospital or medical facility. Offer to teach pet first aid and CPR at the local firehouse where emergency medical technicians (EMTs) can do likewise for humans. Consider partnering with other businesses that serve a similar clientele.

Sometimes the Internet is the best resource for a more rural area, as many people are willing to travel farther to see you. You will need to help those people reach out beyond typical suburban boundaries, and the Web can be the most cost-effective way to do so. To gain access to many people within your surrounding community, make an effort to have a presence on other local area websites that link to your website. Not only will you be visible to those visiting your neighbors' websites, you'll also be increasing your ranking in the search engines by having other sites link to you. In exchange, a community page on your site can give them the same courtesy.

In a multiple-hospital situation, should we market each hospital separately or market the whole group?

Don't reinvent the wheel. Unless there is a reason not to market the practices as one hospital with two or several locations, why duplicate your efforts and expenses? Use these multiple locations to your advantage to extend your reach to more potential clients and pet owners by letting them know you have greater resources and conveniently located clinics for better accessibility. If the practices all use the same practice management system, let pet owners know that the advantage of such an arrangement is that they can go to any of the hospitals and their pet's medical records will be available to the staff. You can adjust scheduling of the hospitals' hours so that at least one of them is always open seven days a week; consider extended hours, such as a few late evenings or early morning drop-offs, as well.

Cross-train staff and use the system of economy of scale to take care of bookkeeping, payroll, human resources, and staff development by using one set of resources. This should lower your total expenses and allow the entire team to be more flexible and cover for each other regardless of the location, so long as they are within commuting distance. The other great benefit is that the lower operating expenses should allow for more marketing dollars, and with multiple locations you have more team members to help deliver the message.

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