Try marketing to rejuvenate your practice

November 1, 2009

The reason why some optometry practices stay stuck in neutral, don't grow, or don't increase profits often involves the optometrist's lack of knowledge and application of one important business practice: marketing.

You are an experienced optometrist and an effective clinician. You are in a great location and business is steady. What's missing from this picture?

Maybe your practice could be doing better. The reason why some optometry practices stay stuck in neutral, don't grow, or don't increase profits often involves the optometrist's lack of knowledge and application of one important business practice: marketing.

Dr. Shaw-McMinn periodically lectures about effective marketing strategies at industry meetings. He also authored a book on the topic, Eyecare Business: Marketing and Strategy.

Questions to ask before you start

One of his seminar handouts asks seven key questions that help optometrists develop a marketing plan, including: What is your brand? When patients hear your practice's name, what do you want them to think about automatically? Do you want them to remember that you offer the biggest and cheapest selection of frames in town, that you are high-tech, or something else?

Other questions to consider focus on who your target audience is, what your marketing budget is, and what strategies can help you accomplish specific goals. All of this information needs to be part of your marketing plan, which will guide your activities and progress. Otherwise, your marketing efforts will be helter-skelter and send mixed messages to patients, which can hurt your practice, he said.

Dr. Shaw-McMinn said his two practices-Woodcrest Vision Center and Sun City Visions Clinic-both have a strong theme or brand.

"We always stress that if you come to us and do what we say, you don't have to worry about your eyes, we'll do it for you and you can have good vision for the rest of your life," he said. "Everything we do reinforces that concept."

Unusual strategies

There are hundreds of ways you can market your practice. Common, yet effective strategies involve developing messages for patients to hear when they are on hold, exhibiting at community events, and sending thank-you cards to patients or customers.

Among Dr. Shaw-McMinn's favorite, more creative approaches are:

Whatever marketing tasks or strategies you develop, assign them to specific employees, then hold them accountable for carrying them out. Dr. Shaw-McMinn said optometrists tend not to assign tasks and to let marketing go to the back burner.

Even if optometrists rely on traditional, word-of-mouth marketing, they still need to develop a brand or theme that best reflects how their practice operates and ensure that everything they and their staff do supports it. They must be consistent, accurate, and deliver what is promised.

"The number one marketing technique in healthcare has always been word of mouth," he said. "Patients have the mouth. You just have to give them the words."