How do I get the owners of the practice to support marketing and advertising efforts?

Many doctors think in very linear terms, just as they have been taught to examine, diagnose, and treat. Building and sustaining a profitable business are not so black and white. You might give them literature or case studies of how well-planned and well-executed marketing efforts greatly helped some businesses and what kinds of results they could expect. Maybe you can get a small budget allocated for testing out marketing and advertising; the results may lay the foundation for more support.

Moreover, practice valuation specialists and certified public accountants will tell you that up to 75 percent of a practice's value can be based on goodwillthe intangibles such as reputation, image, location in the community, and so on. Marketing, as you now know, is not simply an advertisement in a newspaper; it is everything you do, say, or make visible. Therefore, your facility, signage, uniforms, lobby décor, and website are all marketingthey all say something loud and clear about the practice. Ask the owners whether this is what they want to be saying. If not, you have a foot in the door to advocate for their support.

If the owners are happy with the current practice revenue and rate of new clients, then you will have a tough time convincing them they need to do anything different. But in today's climate, it's a rare practice that wouldn't want to increase its base of clients and revenues to support the delivery of optimum health care.

Which is considered the best use of marketing dollars: developing our website, creating brochures, or sending out a newsletter (by email or mail)?

The answer is all of the above. Each tool satisfies a different need and sometimes even different clients. Marketing is really a compilation of everything you do to communicate with current and prospective clients. Some tools are considered passive, such as a website where the client seeks you out, for instance when typing in your address or finding you in a search. A direct-mail piece, by contrast, is active, whereby you are making a concerted effort to reach a specific audience by mail, print, or electronic means. Brochures and other types of materials are tools to support the education process whereby you want to encourage specific behaviors to gain compliance in health care recommendations. The most effective marketing typically involves a variety of tools and tacticswhat is often referred to as the "marketing mix."

Think about your clients as fitting into three categories: attract, retain, expand. Then ask yourself, what tools do I need to develop to attract new clientele? What tools do I need to employ to retain clients? And finally, how can I expand my relationship with clients and get more from them? The latter can occur either through using more products and services or referring friends and family. By understanding that each tool serves a different purpose and that each client at various stages in your relationship will require different things, you will see that a variety of communication methods work best.

Are there guidelines on what percentage of the total marketing budget should be allocated to existing clients versus that allocated to getting new clients?

The way to divide resources between marketing to existing clients and marketing to new clients depends on your marketing goals. If you are making a large effort to gain new clientele, the percentage of resources allocated may tip further toward reaching out to new clients than to current ones, although the general rule is to remember to butter your bread. In other words, pay the most attention to those patronizing your services, as they will likely generate a sizable portion of new clients anyway. Keep them coming back, using more services, agreeing to your recommendations, and, also important, spreading word-of-mouth referrals. This makes for healthier pets and a more profitable practice. Remember, retaining clients costs less than attracting new ones.

However, if you are a newer practice or have recently added a new veterinarian, you might be more focused on building a larger base of clients. Likewise, if you have added any new services, this might indicate more resources being spent on acquisition. With a new doctor, you have capacity to fill. With a new service, you may solidify relationships with those already patronizing your practice by virtue of this service, but you may also sway other pet owners to give you a try because of it. To attract new clients cost-effectively, take advantage of marketing a reason or rationale behind the outreach, such as "We've added another veterinarian to our team and expanded our hourswe are now welcoming patients on Sundays." For a new service, you might put out a message such as "Personalized nutrition plans now being offered for any overweight pet, including customized diets and weight loss programs." Both examples can and likely will also appeal to your current clients, but they may also tip the scales in your favor for some willing to consider a change.

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