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Issue: 63 - Mar 14, 2014
Spring into New Opportunities to Market your Practice Effectively
By: Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter

After one of the most devastating winters in recent memory, what a delight and relief to be able to say it’s spring! And what a pleasure it should be to spring into the new season with lively ideas for growing your practice through more and better marketing.

  • Do you have a dedicated marketing budget? The average business allocates 3 to 12 percent of its expenses to marketing. In a highly competitive market, higher percentages are common – the average in retail, for instance, is 20 percent. It isn’t surprising for a small business to flinch at spending what seems like a lot on marketing efforts, but remember that marketing brings in new business – it’s an investment. Results may not be immediate, but that’s not a reason to either not make the investment or stop before it can deliver for you. A successful marketing program involves identifying your ideal client(s), researching where those potential clients find the information they use to choose service providers, and creating a plan based on that information. Put those three factors together, and you should have a marketing plan that pays for itself with new business.
  • The three current top trends, according to the American Marketing Association (AMA), are making sure your marketing efforts include “clear and effective” objectives, use analytics and metrics (to measure success), and involve local chapter engagement.

Objectives could be as basic – and the more likely to be clear and effective – as adding X number of new clients to the practice for the year, providing certain new services, buying a new piece of diagnostic equipment or office-management software, hiring more staff, learning new skills or creating new outreach programs. Once you set those objectives, you’ll need to figure out to achieve them, but you can’t achieve what you don’t visualize and plan for. Make those objectives as specific as possible; the more vague, the harder to achieve and the less likely you are to create marketing initiatives that help make them happen.

Measurement is often easier than you’d think. As a starting point, make a list of all current clients, and a separate list of past clients – anyone who hasn’t brought in their animals in the past six months or longer. Now you can tell if you’re meeting your objective of X new clients. Analyze the numbers by asking new clients how they found you – through a blog, social media, referrals, advertisements, public service activities; whatever you’ve been doing that falls into marketing and promotional efforts. Keep track of that information so you can track what’s working and decide where to invest more time, effort and even money. Don’t waste precious marketing resources on efforts that don’t work.

Getting involved in a local chapter is as easy as checking the phone book or with the Association of American Animal Hospitals (AAHA), your state veterinary organization, local animal shelters, etc. Association membership is a good marketing technique because it helps you meet colleagues who might need or refer your specialty services for their clients, be visible on new levels, and much more. Membership also helps you stay on top of trends in your community and profession, which you can use in marketing the skills and services of your practice.

And don’t limit this step to organizations in the field of veterinary science and service; consider joining a local Chamber of Commerce, AMA chapter or non-profit group that can give you new insights into good business practices and new connections with people in town who might need your services.

  • If you or any of your staff have recently taken continuing education courses, that’s a marketing opportunity – let your clients and community know! Ongoing professional education is a great way to improve your services, but it only goes so far if you don’t get the word out to those who benefit from your improved skills and insights. You want your community to know that you constantly and consistently grow your abilities so they know they can trust you to give their animals the best and most up-to-date level of care.
  • A recent column in one of the AMA magazines urged readers to “Throw away your books on marketing theory, and forget all of the complicated lessons you’re learned about business strategy. The keys to attracting an audience to your business, old or new, are to make your offerings better, cheaper and more fun that the competitors.”

I agree that you can build up your business by offering better and more services than your competitors, and by promoting your practice with a sense of fun – veterinary practices are custom-made for fun and heart-tugging marketing campaigns featuring adorable animals and practice employees caring for them.

I’m not sure it makes sense to try to compete on price. While some people will shop for a veterinarian by who’s the cheapest, people who really care about their animals will look for the best, and often equate higher prices with better quality. Rather than cut prices, make sure you can explain the reason for your fees in case a client voices concerns about costs, and consider developing payment plans for those who genuinely can’t afford the whole expense of a given procedure or service. A regular client who’s used to the reasonable cost of check-ups and minor problems could understandably blanch at the price of surgery or ongoing treatment for a beloved pet’s serious condition.

You don’t want to be known as the cheapest veterinarian in town; you want to be known as the best. A solid marketing program will help you establish the reputation you want to have.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning freelance writer, editor, proofreader and speaker whose motto is “I can write about anything!”®