One of the barriers to practice marketing is getting caught up in trying to make things perfect. You put things off because you need to figure out X, or get just the right Y, or get some advice from Z. And the time ticks by.

And, of course, you really can’t get things perfect. Trying to hit perfect is a recipe for a) not getting anything done, and b) feeling like a loser for not getting anything done. It turns out, aiming for perfect is really just afraid to screw up in different clothes.

To beat that, we’ve been trying to, in essence, fail faster. Essentially the opposite of getting things perfect.


Yes. Really.

What The Hell I’m Talking About

This idea can be a hard sell, so I’m always on the lookout for…well, failures. As it turns out, there are all kinds of them once you start looking. :)

Here’s one:

Each year we try to connect with our best referrers. Some of them are patients who are real champions of the clinic, others are health care professionals who tend to send people our way.

Connecting helps us discover why people refer. Or how we can do better. But always, it’s just nice to show our gratitude.

To shake things up this year, we decided to offer our best referrers some certificates for a free initial visit that they could give away.

We’d never done that before, but we have extra help at the clinic and it seemed like a good experiment to try. It gave our referrers a way to give something in turn to someone else, and a way to reduce the barrier to entry for what is a costly service for some.

Rather than spend a whole bunch of time figuring out the best way to do it, though, we just…did it. Just pulled the trigger with limited prep.

The Results

FAIL. :)

So far, it hasn’t worked out. Last time I checked, not one of the certificates had been redeemed. Nice.

But of course, the best part about screwing up is what you learn.

Lesson #1: Be Specific

There were a couple of simple mistakes we made.

1. We didn’t put an expiry date on the gift. I wouldn’t normally do that for gift certificates that people pay for, but why didn’t we do it for one’s we’re giving away? Oops. We should have limited the time frame. Never even crossed my mind, though.

2. We didn’t tell our referrers what we were looking for. This became clear when one person said, “Thanks. I know just the person. They’re really active, healthy, and into nutrition. I’ll give it to them.”

WTF? Someone who’s active, eating well, and healthy has no reason to come to us! We’re looking for sick people who can barely function, not healthy ones! We should have said something like:

Do you have a client, friend or family member with a chronic health problem that no one seems to be able to help? Please pass on this certificate with our compliments.

Or we could have gotten even more specific, identifying three health concerns that we have the most success with. We did neither, and as a result our gifts are now languishing in desk drawers, glove boxes and under fridge magnets filled with grocery lists and kid’s schoolwork.

Both of these mistakes were simply problems with not being specific. Easily fixed for next time. But of course, there’s a larger lesson here. (Isn’t there always? :) )

Lesson #2: Failing Faster Works

Part of sharing this with you is so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes, but also to point out something more important: that we were better off screwing this up, then not doing it at all.

Here’s why.

The stakes in health care are high. People are trusting you with their most important asset. Most regulated professions have a whole infrastructure to protect the public – accredited schooling, ethics and jurisprudence training, licensing exams, continuing education. There’s a lot that goes into making sure you screw up as little as possible.

Here’s the thing, though: the stakes in marketing your practice are low.

Marketing a practice is mostly cheap. A bit of time here, some paper there, a few bucks over here. Even in a fledgling practice, a lot of it is small potatoes – mostly time. But your training makes you risk-averse. And that can bleed into your practice marketing efforts.

It’s okay to screw up. In fact, it’s essential. When you try to not make mistakes, you start looking for perfect. But Perfect is a distant destination, somewhere out beyond Never and Ever. Looking for it is a recipe for not getting anything done.

Our whole experiment cost a few dollars and a few hours. It didn’t work – at least not yet. But who cares? It’ll work next time, because we failed forward. Now we can do it again, better. If we had waited for perfect, we’d have nothing done, and still not know how to get it right. And in the meantime, we’ve connected personally with our best referrers to say thanks. And that definitely works.

  • Been wanting to start a Facebook page for your practice? Just do it. It’s free.
  • What about that email newsletter? Just do it. Screw it up if you want – it’s free.
  • What about your Google Places page? Who cares if you make a mistake – it’s free.
  • Twitter? Why not? How badly can you go wrong with 140 characters? And it’s free, too.

Not all these may be a fit for your practice – that’s fine. But if they are, don’t let fear of failing hold you back – the stakes are low.

Next time you think perfection is holding you back, ask yourself, “What’s the real cost of screwing this up?” Most of the time the true cost is a lot smaller than you think, and what you gain in experience is well worth it.

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2 Responses to “Failing Faster: How To Avoid the Trap of Practice Perfection”

  1. Kathy Duncan says:

    I really like the idea of ‘failing forward’! It’s like giving yourself permission to risk to possibly screw up, just to see what happens, safe in the knowledge that you can gain from the experience. Even if all you gain is more knowledge.

  2. Amy says:

    Thanks! Just what I needed to ehar to get me out the door and marketing this week.

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