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Issue: 35 - Nov 15, 2011
“Barketing” 2011
By: Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Sponsor
I recently made a serendipitous typo that inspired this column. I meant to say that someone was the new marketing chairperson of an organization and inadvertently typed “barketing.” Then I thought, hmmm, that isn’t so far off – marketing does kinda mean “barking” about your business, skills and services! And many veterinarians definitely could do more barking about their businesses to bring in new clients and expand services to existing ones. Here are some of the ways we can bark about our services and bring in new business.
 
Bark all the time
Marketing is a lot like real estate: The key is to market, market, market. Even when you’re neck-deep in appointments and could swear that you’ll never need another new client, try to set aside time and energy for regular marketing activities, because you’ll need that new client when you least expect to.
 
I try to set aside one day a week – usually Mondays – for marketing my editorial business: sending out newsletters, contacting past clients, posting at Twitter or Facebook, adding to a LinkedIn profile, updating my website, etc. Some colleagues set aside one day a month for marketing; others do marketing at a certain time of day every day. That scheduled approach could work for a vet. Figure out what works for you and stick to it, perhaps sharing the responsibility with a staff member.
 
Use tools that work
Newsletters – As we’ve said in recent marketing columns, promotional newsletters are popular these days. If it includes news about patients, client education, new products and services, etc., it functions as a useful reminder that you exist and as a service to your readers.
 
Being online – Most of us have accepted the fact that being online, somehow or other, is a factor in marketing and business success. Many people today make their choice of service providers based on what they find online. That means your practice needs a website, and you need an online presence through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and e-mail. Those are all marketing activities, even if some of them seem like plain old fun (or plain old work). Join online groups where you can become established as an expert on animal care. Use a Facebook business page to catch the attention of people who don’t use Twitter or LinkedIn. Make sure your e-mail messages have a signature line that refers to your practice and its phone number and website.
 
Websites – The whys and hows are fodder for another column, but your website is one of your most important marketing tools. It should present you and your veterinary services in a business-like way that shows clients what you do, how you do it and why you’re their best choice to do it. Be sure to use lots of pictures of healthy animals and testimonials from happy clients!
 
Blogs – Colleagues who make time and effort for blogging tell me that they get new clients from doing so. Just be aware that there already are so many blogs that it’s hard to see what yet another one might offer and that, once you start, you have to keep going. Blogging does increase your visibility, which means it can be an effective, even powerful, marketing tool. Just make sure that your blog reflects and focuses on your professional skills and services. Stay away from politics and religion!
 
Advertising – Paid ads only work if you target them very carefully. Advertising your services in a local newspaper or the program of a nonprofit group’s event can work, because it establishes your connection to that community.  A Yellow Pages ad is usually still a good marketing tool, since many people – especially new residents – still start there when looking for someone to care for their pets.
 
Networking –Not just joining, but being visible in professional organizations is priceless as marketing. If you become more than just a name in a membership roster or e-mail address at a discussion list, you will end up with new clients as a result – fellow members might hire you, subcontract to you, refer you, recommend you, send you their overflow. A colleague recently said that “marketing to colleagues is one of those best-kept secrets,” and she’s right.
 
It isn’t enough to market to each other. Don’t forget to network outside your peers and colleagues – a Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or Lions club, tip/lead group, hobby group, etc., could be a great place to become known for your veterinary services.
 
And the networking aspect of marketing extends beyond membership associations. It’s in everything you do. You never know when connecting with someone in a social setting can lead to work. That’s why you should never be without …
 
Business cards – These little guys may be old-school, but they remain an invaluable resource for barking about your clinic. Get ’em made, carry ’em with you at all times and urge your employees to do the same. You’ll end up with new clients just by having them at the oddest but rightest of times and places – a Halloween party, a thruway gas stop, the grocery store, the playground, a PTA meeting.
 
Speaking/training – Making presentations works two ways: You can get paid for public speaking and you can attract new clients by being a presenter. (If you’re nervous, join a Toastmasters club to polish your speaking skills and overcome fear of getting up in front of people to share your knowledge.) Let community and school groups, animal shelters, and Humane Society chapters know that you’re available – these are all good potential audiences for presentations about animal care, matching people to the appropriate pets and related topics. Those audiences are potential clients.
 
Pro-bono/volunteering – There are opposing opinions about whether it’s worthwhile to donate professional services, but it’s a great way to support a cause you believe in, and can be a good way to develop new contacts, as well as visibility. Just be sure that you’re the one who decides how much work you do for free, and for whom.
 
Brand name/slogan/business name – Plenty of people offer veterinary services in any given community. You need to stand out. “Branding” may be a buzzword, but all that means is developing a recognizable business personality through a business name and a consistent use of that name in business cards, résumés, brochures, websites, blogs, e-mail signature lines, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
 
Go forth and bark it up!