Note: Apologies if any of you are receiving this twice. Strange things afoot on the site this week. -Dan

With this year closing out and next year looming, we thought we’d share a couple of things. First, a look at our marketing plan for next year, and second, a 4-step process for creating your own.

Part I: Our Marketing Plan for 2011

This isn’t the final state of our plan – more on that in Part II, below, but it’ll give you an idea of what makes our marketing tick.

I’ve chunked these pieces into functional areas because it seemed easier to read that way, but that’s only part of the actual plan – what we do next with this list is the important part.

PRINT MEDIA

  • Advertising: In 6 magazines / newspapers. We negotiate the rates for a whole year so that the prices are little cheaper. (Monthly)
  • Yellow pages: Our ad still continues to deliver new patients, even though the directory itself seems to be dying a slow death. We’ll continue it for another year. (Once)
  • Articles: Health editorials for 3 local publications. We’ll also approach two other publications to see if we can contribute regular health articles. (Monthly)

ONLINE

  • Blog posts: We post a short article each week. Sometimes a repost of a print article, which reduces the workload. (Weekly)
  • Website optimization: Check Google rankings each month. Tweak content as required. (Monthly)
  • Local search: Update / tweak Google Places listing. (Monthly)
  • Google Adwords: We run some Google ads, but the results are minimal in our area because there’s not enough search volume. It’s cheap, though, and pretty much on autopilot for now. (Ongoing)
  • Facebook: We’re dabbling in social media. Right now our blog posts are submitted automatically to our FB fan page. Still uncertain as to whether this will get more attention this year, although I’m seeing it as increasingly important. (Weekly)

PATIENT OUTREACH

  • Email newsletter: Goes out the second week of each month. Usually has a health tip, recipe, book review and a link to our events calendar. (Monthly)
  • Print newsletter: Sent out in the spring and fall. This could be the last year for this one. It costs us nearly $1000 each time, while the email newsletter is less than $20. It never fails to bring in far more than it costs, though. (Twice)
  • New Patient Bailouts: Each week we contact new patients who missed their first appointment for some reason. It’s a “crack” that a lot of patients fell through last year. Our processes were good for existing patients, but there was a “limbo” where a lot of people ended up if they never made it to their first visit. (Weekly)
  • “Patients We’re Thinking About”: We’ve had some really great success with this. When a patient pops into mind. “Hey. I wonder what happened to so-and-so?” we email them to check in. Works far better than our reactivation letters, which we’re dropping this year. (Ongoing)

PROFESSIONAL REFERRALS

  • Self Care for Health Care Pros: Monthly. We’ll be offering free yoga classes to anyone in the health care industry, courtesy of the clinic.  We don’t offer yoga, but will pay for a local studio to provide the class. Health care pros of any stripe can drop in for a free morning yoga class. (Monthly to start)
  • Referral letters: Print letters to our existing referrers with updates on new services, and which also include 15-minute complimentary visit cards. (Twice – spring/fall)
  • Comp card distribution: We drop off 15-minute complimentary visit cards to health care professionals (and related) who currently don’t refer. (Ongoing)
  • Lunch meetings: “Doing lunch” with a colleague or new face in town. Far less schmoozy than it sounds – mostly about connecting with friends in health care. (Monthly)

EVENTS, PUBLIC OUTREACH

  • Movie Nights: We show a health-related movie at the clinic. Free organic popcorn and tea. (Quarterly)
  • After 5: Networking events hosted in different business by our local Chamber of Commerce. Cheese. Crackers. Wine. Schmoozing. (Monthly)
  • “Weed Walks”: Educational walks about local medicinal herbs. Hosted by another business, with Tara guiding. (Twice in season)
  • Info sessions: In-clinic evening presentations on a local health issue. (Quarterly)
  • Speaking Gigs: Presentations to local service clubs, health groups, special interest groups. (Quarterly)
  • Cooking Classes: Held at a local grocery store that has a community kitchen space. (Quarterly)
  • Health Fairs/Trade Shows: As many as four this year, depending on which communities offer them in our area. (Quarterly)
  • Corporate Wellness: We’ll be kicking this off in 2011 with a “lunch and learn” for public school teachers. They fit our demographic well, and have great insurance/benefit coverage. (Ongoing)
  • “Big Public Event”: One free public event centered around a health issue. It’ll be in a larger public venue, with speakers, etc. This year will be on either environmental medicine or cancer (or both, given the connection). (Once)

PART II: Creating Your Own Plan

Before you begin: You don’t have to do all these parts at the same time, but it’s helpful if you can – the whole process should take you less than three hours. If that’s too much, do steps 1&2 together, then 3&4 later.

You’ll find it easier, funner, and less stressful to work with someone on this. Any colleague, friend, family member who’s bright, optimistic, and has some marketing sense will do. Another practitioner, regardless of their area of focus, is a great bet. Tara and I do this together, but there have been great ideas that have come from sitting down with other practitioners.

Regardless, doing it alone can suck. Be wary. :)

1. List Your Ideas (30 minutes)

We start with a big brainstorm, firing out ideas, new and old, and just list them. No critiques at this stage. The goal here is to capture everything you’ve done last year, plus any new ideas that might be circulating.

In 0ur case, new stuff was about 20% of the list at the most. I think we could probably have upped that by getting more creative, but much of our stuff is ongoing, and has been for some time.

2. Identify the Keepers (3o minutes)

You’ll know if you’ve done a good job in the first step if you’re staring at a list of marketing ideas that you’ll never accomplish next year. :) Now the job is to identify what’s actually going to happen. Here are a couple of criteria for picking from your list.

What Works: What worked for you over the past year? What didn’t? Our reactivation letters, for example, worked okay, but not well enough to keep going. What do you think will work?

What You Like: Marketing you like to do is marketing that tends to actually happen. If you like connecting with people, then make sure that your list has lots of it. If you like online work, then make it part of your plan.If you’re excited about it and it won’t break the bank, then keep it – anything you’re jazzed about is worth a shot.

For each “keeper”, identify how often it will happen. Daily, weekly, monthly, etc.

If you’re having trouble prioritizing the list, use our Low Hanging Fruit process to help you identify what’s going to get you the most return for the least effort.

3. Step Back and Take a Look (30 minutes)

Once you’ve got a list together, stand back and have a look. Is it doable? Sustainable? Enjoyable? Before you lock in (step 4), take a look at the list with an eye for the following:

New things: You can only tackle so much change in a year. If you’re planning on launching a new blog, an email newsletter, a Facebook fan page and a bunch of speaking gigs for the very first time, make sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Unless your practice is brand new, you should see a reasonable amount of “old” on the list.

Gaps: It’s important to do marketing you like, but are there any big holes? Are you completely ignoring online marketing, for example, because you don’t like it? If that’s the case, you may want to consider filling that gap by having someone else help with the load. Are you hiding from the world? You might need to start getting out there and connecting with people face-to-face.

Overall balance: A small, sustained effort is better than some big noise for two weeks and then nothing. You can probably do more than you think, but can you really do everything on the list? You might need help, or you might need to cull your list further.

In the past, when Tara was in solo practice, the things that generally got slashed were the public events – speaking gigs, health fairs and networking, etc. Our plan then was to not have more than 1-2 evening events in a month in order to keep family time balanced. Now that we have more help, a lot of that stuff is coming back online.

4. Calendar Everything (60 minutes)

One of the hardest parts of growing a practice is to actually get stuff done. It’s easy to fall into the trap of lofty goal-setting and strategic planning without a plan for doing the actual work.

Everything on your list should end up on a calendar. You can use paper or digital, just make sure it’s a medium you’re comfortable with. If you’re going to write a health article once a month, for example, then pick a consistent day that you can make that happen, and stick it in your calendar 12 times.

Even things that are “ongoing” should get a specific deliverable day.

There may be things that you don’t have dates for yet. We don’t know, for example, when all the local health fairs are yet. Instead, the calendar gets an entry to call our local municipal office and find out.

The End Result

The outcome of all this should be a calendar that you can easily see your marketing efforts month by month. I have a digital version of ours on my computer, but it also will go on a large office calendar where everyone at the clinic can see what’s happening.

Happy growing!

-Dan

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