SEPTEMBER 7, 2022 (29-MINUTE READ)

 

Mike Shoun:

A dental practice, a medical practice, a veterinary practice, it is a business and one of the most important elements of the business side is gonna be the marketing. Doctors' offices that can kind of comprehend that are the ones that are going to be the most successful with the least amount of stress. It's just a massive opportunity.

Corey Brown:

I'm Corey Brown, and this is Provides, The Path to Owning It podcast, where I sit down with trusted industry experts and Provides network to give you the tools and advice you need to take your practice ownership dreams into your own hands. From owning your own practice, to expanding or improving an existing practice we'll help pave the way for you to achieve your dental or veterinary career dreams and guide you through all the nuances of the practice ownership journey. Please make sure to follow us on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you listen. On this week's show we're discussing different marketing strategies for your practice. How much they cost and which ones will most positively affect your patient volume. We're joined by Mike Shoun, president and CEO of Affordable Image Marketing Agency. AI is a creative marketing solutions company that has been helping dental, aesthetic, medical and veterinary practices grow and prosper since 1996. Their goal is to provide top of the industry services like innovative branding, strategic marketing, creative tools, and marketing campaigns, all at affordable prices. Mike, thanks so much for being on the show today. We really appreciate it.

Mike Shoun:

Thank you, Corey. I appreciate you guys.

Corey Brown:

So let's just start with some of the basics. Can you tell us why a new or established practice owner should be marketing their practice?

Mike Shoun:

Absolutely. The most basic answer is a dental practice, a medical practice, a veterinary practice, it is a business. There's a clinical side and that's what all doctors a hundred percent focus on. That's what they focused on in their training for all those years that they went to school. Most places don't teach the business side so there's this whole business side of a practice and one of the most important elements of the business side it's going to be the marketing.

Corey Brown:

And since doctors don’t typically learn that in school, like you said, are there any typical marketing efforts that are universally more successful than others in your opinion?

Mike Shoun:

For sure. SEO, search engine optimization, that's getting found on Google specifically, search engines in general, but we know that Google is by far the number one place where people are looking for that information. Pay-per-click marketing, we call it online advertising. We also look at Facebook advertising as well is another great place for that and then believe it or not direct mail is still really strong in many markets.

Corey Brown:

That's interesting. Most people I would think would consider direct mail to be maybe not one of the more successful avenues to pursue. How have you seen the ROI on direct mail positively affect the practice owner?

Mike Shoun:

So the one thing about direct mail is we know that it works because we put phone tracking numbers on our postcards that we send out and the different mail pieces that we send out. So we know when calls are coming in people are still going to their mailbox for bills and for other random things, believe it or not. There is a demographic that looks for their mail, the older demographic generally, but the younger generation is also looking at their mail as well. It's a quicker response time than say SEO, search engine optimization. It could take six months to a year, depending on the competition that a practice is involved.

Mike Shoun:

So while that SEO is working and building and growing we like to have more aggressive strategies, direct mail being one of them. If you drop a mail piece, send out say 5,000 postcards, depending on the area we could see calls within a couple of weeks and so that's one of the things that we love about direct mail. It's also reaching people that are not necessarily looking for a dentist, which we find that those can be really, really good patients because they're not price shopping per se. There's just a lot of different ways to utilize direct mail in a marketing strategy.

Corey Brown:

So we have direct mail, SEO, pay-per-click and social, these are some of the ones that you've mentioned. With all of these tools in one's marketing strategy are there any tactics that you would recommend not utilizing?

Mike Shoun:

How we look at it, every practice is different, every competitive area is different, every demographic is different so we're going to look at it from a completely individual situation when we're putting together a campaign and try to figure out how to do the best campaign to bring the best type of patients for the doctors to be able to have the best opportunity to have the ROI that we were just talking about.

Corey Brown:

Let's discuss a couple scenarios for our listeners. Let's say I just acquired my first practice after a few years working as an associate at another practice. When should I start to market this new venture and how would you recommend I go about doing that?

Mike Shoun:

So on a acquisition we kind of look at two things. So when you're buying a practice, you're buying the existing patient base and so we don't want to disturb that. We like to see at least the one year's worth of recalls, appointments coming through before you would do anything to disturb that. Kind of traveling parallel with that is most doctors that are buying practices, the practice marketing or the branding doesn't match the vision of that new doctor and so what we would recommend is getting started actually right away, bringing your vision into it and then creating an updated brand, an updated website while you're going through the existing patients, that at least the first time building a relationship and so on and so forth, because it takes time to put together a really good brand and a really good website and get a campaign going.

Mike Shoun:

It could take six months, it could take a year to be able to do that and so we would recommend in an acquisition case that they get started right away and they could start bringing in new patients through the new brand and then at some point in the future, once all the patients have gotten seen and you got the relationship going, then you can announce to the patients, hey, we have a new brand, we have a new look. Maybe sometimes you have a new name and then they kind of come together and merge together.

Corey Brown:

That's fantastic advice. How would your advice be different for someone who started a brand new practice rather than acquiring an established practice?

Mike Shoun:

So that's going to be even before they pick a space, whether they sign a lease or buy a building, it's great to have conversations with someone from our marketing team. What we want to do is try to get that vision of what the doctor wants for their practice and being able to make sure that part of that vision flows through for whatever the external marketing that we're doing. We want it to flow into the practice itself and making sure that the doctor's on the same page and we're on the same page with them on how that marketing is going to flow together because when you get a new patient the first time they walk on the door we want to make sure that the feeling of the office is going to match what it is that we're talking about to bring that patient in there. So once you sign your lease and for sure you're going to move forward, that's the perfect time to look, get started with everything.

Mike Shoun:

Because again, it can take a logo, a brand, a website is a good three to six months process depending on how much time that client has available, that doctor has available. We like to have as much of their brain capacity available when they're talking about this. So if we can get them to do it at that point before they've got all this other stuff happening with construction and equipment and things coming in, we find that's the best because in a perfect situation we're already starting to market for them three months before they're opening, even six months depending on what we're doing. So SEO, we talked about as a long term build and in a perfect world we could get their website up and running. We could have a coming soon and build this anticipation like you see other businesses do. We see other businesses doing it all the time.

Mike Shoun:

Why can't our doctors do it? Well, they can. It's just a matter of if they see it and they want to do it. So when they actually open the doors they're already being found, they're already on the first page for some of these search terms and then I would recommend in most markets, in most places sending direct mail four to six weeks before the practice opens so they could start booking appointments for the first week that the practice opens. The ultimate goal is to be booked out when you open, just be booked depending on how much your availability is, book it and keep going and growing from there. The acquisitions doesn't really work like that because most of the time when a doctor's buying a new practice the existing doctors who owns the practice doesn't necessarily want their employees to know that they're selling it and they don't want to let the patients know because we don't want to scare the patients away to go find another doctor before they get to meet the new doctor so we would never, ever recommend marketing in advance for an acquisition, but for a startup, absolutely.

Corey Brown:

And finally, what would you recommend to an established practice owner who is expanding their operation maybe by opening an additional location?

Mike Shoun:

We'd want to find out, does the doctor want to carry the same brand, even the same name? We also have certain clients and certain doctors that do part of their branding as part of the community. So if they're opening up another practice in a different community, that branding may not work and the marketing strategy may not work because it's built for a specific community. And then we would have to look at, okay, we could use the same concepts, we can use the same strategies, but we would have to do something completely different for that community. I love the concept of creating a brand within your community and making that community feel like you're part of them. It does make it more difficult potentially to expand, but there are ways to do that. We've had clients where we create a logo and the logo has a very similar look and feel so we can still take advantage of that. But I do love the concept of being able to have that community connection.

Corey Brown:

Yeah. I think that's important to make him feel like the new doctor coming in is part of where they live. I totally agree with you. And I imagine when many of our future or existing practice owners think about marketing in general they're probably thinking new patients, new patients, new patients. How much of their efforts should be centered around attracting new patients versus retaining their existing patient base?

Mike Shoun:

So it goes back to that business part of your practice. So you got the clinical side, you got the business side and inside the business we have marketing and underneath marketing there's a number of different things that we look at, external marketing, new patients, and then existing patients. So the existing patient marketing strategies will be completely separate, like almost a different department that's focusing on the retention and trying to even get referrals and things from those patients. I would say it's extremely critical because one of my mentors taught me early on you can't have your back door open where you're losing patients because you're never going to be able to get enough new patients and then replace the old patients. So you got to make sure that door is closed and that you're retaining those patients so it's absolutely, extremely critical. That's something that's going to really involve your entire staff. It's not just going to be a marketing strategy per se. It's going to really involve your entire staff to be able to keep those patients coming back.

Corey Brown:

With that being said is there a new patient attrition rate that doctors should pay attention to when they're studying their practice?

Mike Shoun:

I listen to different podcasts out there and I hear people saying 1%, 2%. This is the way I look at it, the goal is to have a 0% attrition rate on what you can control. So there's things you can't control. You can't control people moving out of the area, but you can control your overall patient experience, when the patient comes in the office, there's a lot of things you can control to maintain patients and retain patients. I look at it from the standpoint of we want to retain a hundred percent of our patients that we're able to retain.

Mike Shoun:

Now, I also say that there's certain patients and people that are going to come into your practice, no matter what you did, they're just not going to be happy. And even those I don't count as part of that, like okay, you do your best, you got to let them go. Learn from it what you can, but also understand that there's certain people there's nothing you're going to be able to do to make them happy. So the rest of those, people that we can make happy, keep them in and then build from that, the referrals, build your referrals from all those type of patients.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, absolutely. Should practice owners or aspiring owners think about marketing differently in this age of COVID-19?

Mike Shoun:

So a couple things there. One, marketing is a message and one of the messages, I think that a lot of specifically a lot of the dentists missed out on was how highly educated doctors and dentists are in cleanliness, in sterilization and so as a patient I want to know that, I want you to tell me that to give me comfort that you are not scared of this virus from that perspective because you know how to deal with viruses. You've been dealing with it for your entire career. The other aspect is don't hunker down, keep moving, keep growing because there's still so much opportunity out there for growth. I'm going to say there's still a lot of uneducated potential patients. It's really about changing the message during certain situations like a COVID, that's kind of how we would recommend to our clients.

Corey Brown:

And based on doctors that you did work with during this time that maybe did do that, does their future look positive in attempts to grow their practice today?

Mike Shoun:

Oh, absolutely. And I'm going to go back to there's businesses that grow in the worst economies and there's businesses that fail in the best of economies and the things that I see that are consistent there is the ones that slow down that, I'm going to go back to use the word hunker down, I've been hearing that like, oh, it's time to hunker down. It's time to, no, it's not time to hunker down. It's time to get even better at what you do. It's time to even get stronger. It's time to learn more. It's time to re-look at our systems. It's time to step up our customer service game.

Mike Shoun:

It's time to educate more. And I love that word education, giving information and education to your prospective clients and patients and those are some things that could be done during this time and those doctors that are doing that are extremely successful. If you think about it, most people that hear what's going on in the economy, most clients, and a lot of doctors, they are hunkering down. They are getting smaller. They're not growing during that time, which is a massive opportunity for the doctors and the clients that they get that concept and can stay focused and can keep that mentality of growth. It's just a massive opportunity.

Corey Brown:

That's great advice, Mike. After hearing about all the ways you can market your practice I'm now curious about the financial commitment it takes to implement these efforts and what return you can expect. We'll hear more from Mike after the short break. I'm Corey Brown and this is Provide's, The Path to Owning It podcast. We're back with Mike Shoun, president and CEO of Affordable Image Marketing Agency. Mike, now I'd like to discuss what kind of financial commitment a doctor should plan for when marketing their practice and I'm sure this is a question you get all the time, but how much money should I set aside for my marketing budget?

Mike Shoun:

Sure, let's just get right into it, Corey. Maybe we'll start with a brand new office, a startup. A startup practice is going to need a logo. They're going to need a website. Those are, we call it the foundation of marketing and the content. So there's going to be a lot of content that needs to be written for the website, the information for brochures and things like that. On average, I would say probably about a $5,000 budget for a logo, a brand, a website, and the content, something in that range. We need someplace to send all the people to go look at and to learn about your practice and to be able to make appointments and those kind of things. So that's why it's so important to have your website done with a lot of thought, a lot of effort, with skilled people that understand the industry, know the market that you're dealing with to capture ultimately those patients to be able to come into your practice.

Mike Shoun:

And even an existing practice, if we look at a practice and that website was older and needs to be completely redone, or even if it's newer, we see a lot of new ones where doctors, again, they're not educated in this part of the business and so they're going to be price sensitive and price conscious and they're going to go to maybe for something that's not as quality. We could take a look at that and we do an analysis and we use some of the Google tools to be able to analyze the website and tell us the quality of that website, the quality of the content and we find that website may need to be completely redone. From our perspective if we're going to build a campaign and we don't feel that, that website's going to convert and help turn those opportunities into patients we strongly believe and we always are going to strongly recommend that the first chunk of money is spent on making sure that, that is correct. You got to have that strong foundation.

Corey Brown:

So once that foundation is done, what are we looking at or what would you recommend at a month to month ongoing marketing effort look like? Is that based off of a percentage of my production or collections or is there a set amount or minimum that doctors should expect?

Mike Shoun:

So again, when I listen to different podcasts and different people, different speakers talking, they usually use a percentage. And I always say a percentage of what? A percentage of what number and really where you're getting these percentages from. For some reason when these percentages are given to medical and veterinarian and dental, they're not the same percentages that are used in businesses. And so I look at that and I say, okay, these doctors offices, dentist offices, veterinary offices, these are businesses. They can't survive as a clinical aspect if they don't have the business part working. And so you have to make sure that you have enough, not just capital set up for the brand new offices to be able to get that rolling, but enough set aside for your monthly marketing to be able to grow because you don't necessarily know what's happening on the back end of that.

Mike Shoun:

We were just talking about attrition earlier, you don't know what's happening until sometimes it's too late and if you want to be able to grow you have to have that continuous cycle of business coming in and because it's not an immediate spend money and you immediately get a result, it takes time, you don't necessarily know what's going to happen. So I look at some of those numbers, if I was going to try to use percentages, I would say if you want to use a percentage use it on the number that you want to be. So for instance if you're a practice that's doing $300,000 and you're going to be a million dollar practice, you absolutely can't do a 4% of your $300,000 and expect to become a million dollar practice. If anything you need to look at that 4% of what your million dollars in revenue is going to be.

Mike Shoun:

And really it needs to be a higher percentage to be able to get those kind of numbers. Because now you're starting to have more competition. Whenever you have more competition things cost more money so there's always an incremental increase. To use a dollar amount, I mean an average practice, we're going to see a two to $3,000 a month budget, and then it all that just changes based on the areas that they're in, a highly competitive office may need to spend 4,000 or 5,000 and maybe an area that's not as competitive could get away with 2000. And then also depends on what the goals of the practice is. The other part of the, when we use percentages and things like that, well, how fast do you want to get there? Do you want to be a million dollar practice in a year, or do you want to be a million dollar practice in five years? Those kind of things. Okay. Then it is going to take a little more money to spend on that and then the other aspect of that is are you ready for that?

Corey Brown:

Are you built for success? So let's say that I'm spending that average. I'm in an average area, I'm spending maybe $3,000 a month ongoing with marketing, is there a certain type of return I should expect on that investment?

Mike Shoun:

ROI is an equation and there's so many factors and a limited number of factors that are involved in getting that equation. So are we spending enough money to compete in the areas that we're at? Then say we are, if we are spending the proper amount of money to get the right amount of patients within the timeframe that we're looking for those patients, do we have the systems built to be able to handle these patients? Are we answering the phone calls? Are we answering every single phone call that comes in? Did we spend money on training the person answering the phone? Because if you think about it, the person that's answering your phone, that's literally the lifeblood of your practice. The person that's talking to the potential new patients and your patients, have they been trained? Do they know how to build a relationship quickly?

Mike Shoun:

The best offices that know how to have ROIs that are off the charts are the ones that understand these concepts. And these are business principles. Having your front office trained in sales, ultimately, because really that's the sales part of the business. That's where the ROI can be massive versus if you're just hiring people and putting them in positions that they really shouldn't be in and you didn't do the training and you're not doing the follow up management, your ROI could be horrible. And that's the tricky part about that. The investment part, the marketing part, that's the part that we can help control. What we can't control as a marketing company is we can't answer your telephones.

Mike Shoun:

And in today's role it's not just answering telephones, it's actually making phone calls out when you get an inquiry on your website, because a lot of people today prefer just to send their information by email and then expect you to make a phone call to connect with that particular patient. And a lot of offices we see either don't have enough time to do that or don't have the people trained to do that, don't enjoy contacting and talking to people and that's where the failure comes in and that's where the ROI is going to be reduced where the return part of that equation is going to be reduced when you're not calling every single person.

Mike Shoun:

Here's the next part of that is, when you have qualified people that are trained and have passion about the position every new patient can turn into a referral and sometimes multiple referrals. Now your ROI is going even more off the charts because now imagine every new patient that comes in, you get one to two referrals and then those referrals you get a referral. That's where this massive growth can come in, when you have all the parts and all the pieces working together. And I think one of the things that has been missed specifically in the medical community and the dental community overall is that part of what marketing is and what marketing isn't. Marketing is getting your message out there and getting opportunities. Then there's a whole sales part of the business.

Corey Brown:

It's like the dirty word that you don't talk about in the practice, right?

Mike Shoun:

Absolutely. But it has to be talked about because that's, what's happening. You got to get your team excited about it and make sure that they're trained properly on how to answer questions. The other thing I was just thinking about, we actually do call tracking and we have a team that listens to the calls. There's a lot of feedback that we get where people that are answering the phones are either giving prices out over the phone, which is a no-no, or sometimes sending them to their competitors. They don't even realize all the services that the doctor provides. They don't even realize they do ortho and so they send them to the orthodontist up the street. So there's just so many places where that ROI number can get affected that the marketing company has zero control over. So it's literally a partnership of marketing and sales, which is ultimately the team that creates that ROI number.

Corey Brown:

Well, let's talk a little bit about ROI while I do have you. How does a doctor measure that easily or is there an easy way to measure that?

Mike Shoun:

Well tracking of course, making sure in your patient management system that you're having your staff trained on asking were the patient came from and then making sure that's notated in the management system. Now also understand that, that's not going to be a hundred percent accurate either because what we find and what we hear when we're listening to some of these calls is people say, oh, I saw you on, or I found you in Google. I saw you in Yelp sometimes when actually it was the postcard that generated that opportunity. Then what happens in today's world for a lot of people, they get something in the mail, they look at it, they go right away and do some research.

Mike Shoun:

They go check out the reviews and people will tell the person answering the phone oh, I saw you on Yelp or I saw you in Google when it was actually the postcard that did the job. We know when we look at that we're not going to have a hundred percent accuracy on there. Some things that we can see when we do it, we know when the postcards drop. We know when calls come in during a time when postcards go out, chances are it was the postcards, if the postcard didn't get the direct credit for it, or hey, we're not doing any Yelp advertising so obviously it wasn't Yelp that drove that call. Things like so we're able to make adjustments on that when we look at those reports.

Corey Brown:

It's about educating your staff too about what are our current marketing efforts that are out there that way they know what's coming in. How long should a provider allow a campaign to perform before they decide if it is doing well for them or if it's something they should abandon? Any advice there?

Mike Shoun:

Kind of depends what it is. So a direct mail campaign, we'll talk about that real quick is if you're dropping one set of postcards a month, three months or so you at least want to see three touches typically versus an online campaign. You still want to give it time because there's many, many factors. I could spend a whole couple hours just talking about how the online campaigns work. An SEO, just it's six months, minimum. A lot of that is there's nothing you can do to make it quicker because Google has to trust you. There's a whole lot of trust things that are happening on Google's end, looking at what you're doing with your website, what content you're putting up and things like that.

Corey Brown:

And that changes every so often too, their algorithm.

Mike Shoun:

Technically daily it changes, which is again a whole other conversation, but SEO is definitely a long time. You can't make massive changes on SEO.

Corey Brown:

Yeah. And do you recommend along with this kind of evaluation process, do you recommend split testing? Is that a good idea?

Mike Shoun:

Absolutely. I would love to see that as often as possible. I mean that generally it can cost a little more money to do it in the beginning. If you have it in the budget and you're able to do that the long run you're going to be better off for it. We talked about practices that do well with younger patients versus older patients and we like to see targeted messaging where you do a targeted message to say the older patients and the targeted message to the younger patients and have two different sets of tracking on there so you see which campaigns doing better.

Corey Brown:

So for a provider who maybe doesn't have a lot of money right away to heavily invest in marketing, what are some little things that they can do to kind of get themselves started?

Mike Shoun:

I'm going to say the old term was guerilla marketing and the newer one is ground marketing. Getting out there on your feet and going and meet your neighbors, depending where you're at. If you're at a strip center versus an office is definitely going to be a little different, but having an outreach to your potential referral partners. Urgent care actually is really good one, is get to know your urgent care providers because a lot of times people come in there with a pain or even tooth pain, because they don't know what, they're not educated enough to know what to do if that's my jaw or that's my tooth. That's a great place to go. And then of course, places like gyms and spas and things like that are really good opportunities for referring patients and creating some kind of handout.

Corey Brown:

That's great advice. Lastly, let's just say if you had one piece of advice for our listeners when it comes to marketing their practice, what would you tell them?

Mike Shoun:

I'm going to go back to the very first thing that we talked about and that is look at your practice as a business and I'm going to expand on that just real quick is look at your patients as customers because they are customers because they do have a choice on where to go and all of the marketing data for all the years show us that your patients make decisions as a consumer or as a customer. And so doctor's offices that can kind of comprehend that and put all the business models into place are the ones that are going to be the most successful with the least amount of stress because they're treating those people as customers from a marketing perspective.

Mike Shoun:

And then from an intake, from a sales perspective as we talked about, using the same principles. In sales, you don't have to be salesy. We never want our doctors to be salespeople necessarily. We look at it as education. The sales part of it for medical and dental is going to be education really is because the public just doesn't know. They don't understand what you do and getting that information out is going to be the best way to get them to become patient of yours.

Corey Brown:

Well, Mike, it's clear your wealth of knowledge on this topic. If our listeners would like to partner with Affordable Image for their marketing needs, how can they reach you?

Mike Shoun:

Make it very easy. They can email me, mike@affordableimage.com. I'll connect you with one of our amazing marketing consultants, Ingrid Snow and Ali Patton, and they'll spend time with the conversation educating and teaching and talking about marketing and just asking you questions and getting to know you and your vision and being able to help you in that way.

Corey Brown:

That's fantastic. Mike, I hope our listeners were taking notes. This was really a great insight into how to implement marketing efforts successfully to grow one's healthcare practice for both aspiring and established owners. So thank you again so much for taking your time and sharing your expertise.

Mike Shoun:

Thank you Corey for having me. Appreciate you.

Corey Brown:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of The Path to Owning It. If you are ready to take your practice ownership dreams into your own hands, be sure to visit getprovide.com to pre-qualify and browse our practice marketplace, or check out our news page for more helpful resources. The Path to Owning It is brought to you by the team at Provide with production assistance from Sarah Parkey, Jessica Armbruster and Liv Connaughton, and it's produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com. Producer Dusty Weiss, editor Larry Kilgore III. For Provide I'm Corey Brown. Thanks for being on the journey with us.


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