We went through a multi-day strategic planning session last fall. In our case, that essentially meant Tara and I sequestered away in a cheap hideaway where we could focus on the big-picture of the business, and do some great hiking when we needed a break. It was three days very well spent.

One of the real advantages to this process was that we came out of it with a concrete, concise template for how to move forward when things get dicey. I’ve gone through the plan and pulled out the strategies that I feel are making the biggest difference during challenging times:

1. Look for Prospects, Not Patients

It’s easy to think that you need more patients, but the truth is that before someone becomes a patient, they often make a pitstop along the way. In sales, they call it being a “prospect” – that’s someone who might become a patient.

In a slower economy people are more careful in their spending. They’re cautious when it comes to resources, and as a result they don’t necessarily want to leap from stranger to client in one step. They want to kick a few tires first.

In practical terms for us, that meant pushing our 15-minute “meet the doctor” visit. It’s a complimentary appointment for people to find out if naturopathy is a fit for them, and how we can help. It gives prospects a risk-free way to explore the idea of becoming patients without leaping right in. It’s a stepping stone to becoming a full-fledged client, and in a slow economy, you need those stepping stones. (And is it worth it? I think so. Over 90% of our 15-minute prospects become patients.)

What risk-free “stepping stones” are you offering for people to discover you?

2. Build MD Relationships

Health care is publicly funded here. That means that a recession doesn’t really change whether or not you can see an MD, or visit a hospital. It may affect how long you wait, but you can do it regardless of your income. The same applies for people with insurance coverage.

The impact of this is that in slow times, MD’s still see a lot of sick people. While CAM usage tends to be out-of-pocket and hit harder by economic changes, MD’s in many countries stay busy. We’re working to create more relationships, and nurture the ones we have with MD’s. The downside? These often take time to build. But like planting trees, if you want to have big ones, you need to start with small ones as soon as possible.

3. Cut Costs

This one isn’t rocket science, but it’s a critical piece of the plan. Here’s what we did:

  • Created a quick spreadsheet containing most of the expenses in the clinic
  • Used the spreadsheet to calculate the savings on each item, and overall, if we could cut 15% across the board
  • Assigned areas, where possible, to the staff. The admin and other support staff tackled things like medical and office supplies, we did things like payroll and others. (Even in a one-person office, it’s actually pretty easy when you just itemize it all and get going.)

This whole process did feel a bit squishy at first – like scarcity thinking, or a step backwards – but one we got started, I realized there were some things we should have done long ago that had nothing to do with the economy. They were just smart business decisions.

4. Stay in Touch with Your Clients

These days, it’s easy and cheap to stay in touch, particularly by email, and when things slow down, there’s no excuse for not connecting with patients. We do a few email newsletters and a couple of print mailings a year, and we’ve stepped that up a bit with targeted mailing to certain groups within our patient base.

If you’re looking for an easy way to start your own email newsletter, we’ve always recommended iContact. Lots of templates, and those great little signup forms for your website, too. No geekiness required, and you get a beautiful email newsletter delivered to your client base for pennies apiece. Two thumbs up!

5. Increase Advertising (but Measure Return)

It’s tempting to cut your advertising when money’s tight, but the truth is that as long as your marketing is working (bringing in patients), then there’s no reason not to spend more.

If your advertising generates more profit than it costs, it makes sense to do more of it.

The trick, of course, is to actually know when it works. We track the source of every new patient so that we know whether a splashy ad, or our website, or a trade show, or an open house are attracting patients. It’s not hard – we just ask patients on our intake form, and clarify as needed – but it’s unbelievably valuable. If you also know the annual value of a patient, then you can pretty quickly see what’s paying off and what isn’t. If we run an $800 ad, and 7 new patients come in as a result, we know exactly whether or not that ad was worth it.

6. Consolidate Debt

If you’ve got business loans, student loans, operating lines of credit, credit card debt, etc., it’s worth trying to consolidate them into one loan in one spot. Easier to manage, and you can often get away with a smaller payment, or a shorter term. It’ll depend on your situation, but it’s worth half an hour with your banker to find out.

7. Expand Operating Credit

If cash flow is tight going into a recession, you’ll need some extra breathing room to be able to advertise more, get through a lean month, etc. If you don’t have a business line of credit to help you through the swings in business, it’s worth checking into. if you do have one, consider expanding it just in case. You don’t have to use it, but you’ll sleep better if you have it.

8. Monitor Your Media Consumption

Unless you’re prepared to take action on bad economic news, there’s no need to be micro-informed about every bit of bad media out there. I’ve ditched news radio in favor of music, changed the news I see on my browser’s home page, and I stay away from television news wherever possible.

This isn’t head-in-the sand behavior – I know these are challenging times and we’re taking action. I just don’t need to hear it 24×7 – I can tune in briefly once in a while to get the big picture. This one wasn’t in our strategic planning, but it really is important. Too much bad news keeps you frozen in place and makes it really difficult to execute these strategies. I’m not usually troubled by any of this stuff, but I can honestly say that avoiding the bad-news mania has made a real difference.

If you’ve got a question about how to implement these strategies or you’d like to share a few of your own, leave us a comment!

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2 Responses to “8 Strategies for Practice Success in Tough Times”

  1. Frank Prieto says:

    Excellent article Dan. I think all your strategies make sense, but you nailed it on number one, five and eight.

    I can’t agree with you more on number one– prospects vs patients. When you think about it, you’re actually getting a 90% conversion ratio from the free consultation. When it comes to conversions, it doesn’t get any better than that. Period.

    Number five– Give Google $1 and get $2 in return. I’ll do that all day.

    Number eight– Unfortunately bad news sells more newspapers than good news. But hey, just because there’s a recession doesn’t mean we have to participate in the parade.

    My best to you and Tara.

    Frank Prieto

  2. Dan says:

    Thanks, Frank. The prospects versus patient idea has really made a difference for us – wish we would have started out thinking that way! :)

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