Beginning the next phase of life as a new dentist is exciting, but careful planning is required to ensure you have priorities straight, realistic expectations and a (at minimum) a five-year plan. Whether you are starting your practice from scratch or purchasing an existing one, a cornerstone of your plans for the future – both short- and long-term – must be marketing.
You must be prepared and ready to sell your brand – which, in dentistry, is a combination of both yourself and the practice you run. There are thousands of things you can do to increase your chances of marketing success; but there are five things you must do, without which other efforts are useless.
1: Allocate a Budget
A realistic marketing budget can range from $25K for an established practice in a region with little competition to $250K or more for a brand-new practice in a highly competitive area. Seem like a lot of money? It is. Building a brand isn’t cheap.
A huge factor when it comes to marketing costs is one that too few dentists think of when deciding where they want to practice – in many cases, they choose where they want to live first and then look for the closest spot available to establish or transition a practice. They fail to research each potential location, scope out the competition and weigh in the cost of necessary marketing.
If you will be the only option within a decent mile radius (normally less than 50 miles and in some cases less than 25) people are more likely to default – but that’s not a guarantee. People feel strongly about certain health care providers and are often willing to drive distances to use a dentist they are already familiar with and whom they trust.
However, if you are planning to practice in any decently sized city, town or suburb, there are likely to be established practices already in position. Convincing residents to switch can be difficult, and obtaining new patients can be expensive.
In either situation, a budget is an imperative – and you can’t count on simply dipping onto whatever working capital is left from your initial funding. Marketing needs to be part of your strategy from day one, and a generous allotment to cover the first year should be included in your acquisition costs.
2: Understand what “Brand” Really Means
Your brand is your reputation, not a logo, slogan or picture of you. Unlike Nike or Pepsi, you can’t assume people will automatically have a reaction. It’s important to recognize that an established practice isn’t guaranteed to have a brand you like and, more importantly, a brand that patients will continue to trust after he is gone. Brand management takes consistent effort and the current owner may have let it slide in recent Do your research to figure out how much effort (and cost) you are in for.
Your goal is to be the dentist most recognized by your target audience – and for all the right reasons. This means building yourself and your practice up as the best option (not necessarily the most affordable). A good brand can take 5-10 years to build, which is why you need to embrace both short- and long-term marketing tactics.
3: Use the Web – It Exists for a Reason
In the Internet age, you’d think having a practice website is a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Many, many practices are out there with little or no web presence, when a great website is a must.
Your site should be well designed and intuitive, so don’t cut corners when having it built. Make sure your web development team includes both reputable designers and expert copywriters. Then look for SEO / SMM specialists to help you build your website and practice image up on social media and search engines. You want to rank online not only for searches for dentists in your local area, but for your name – word of mouth still hinges on “Go see Dr. so-and-so. He/she is the best!”
This is a long-term marketing investment. When you pay for a commercial, a radio ad or some space in the local newspaper, your marketing dollars pay for “limited-time” exposure. Money spent on building your online presence not only has a better short-term ROI (return on investment) than advertising, but it can keep working for you year after year.
4: Advertising isn’t the Devil
While building your online reputation should be a priority, advertising still has a valid role – especially for a new practice. If you don’t have any patients, advertising is the way to get them. It’s effective, especially if you have a broad demographic.
That said, most dentists don’t have the budget required for sustained commercial advertising, on or off-line. Direct marketing can give you more bang for your buck. It’s less expensive, allows you to control both the message and the audience, has a significantly higher ROI and doesn’t waste thousands of impressions on an indifferent audience.
5: Get Personally Involved
Going to the dentist is scary enough without feeling like the person with their hands in your mouth is an unapproachable stranger. Dentists tend to worry about “corporate dentistry” taking over, yet fear to show the personal side of their practice. They don’t realize that transparency is the key to local success.
Personal doesn’t have to mean unprofessional. One of the best ways to gain acceptance in your community – which is also your most valuable source of patients – is to get involved. Show up for local events, sponsor a youth sports league or hold your own charity drive. Let your patients get to know you, your team and your passions.
If you build your marketing plan around these five ideals, you can ensure both short- and long-term success as your branch out on your own. Remember, it’s not just, “If you build it, they will come,” but, “If you don’t market it, no one knows it is there!”