I wouldn't consider myself a savvy entrepreneur. I'm a dentist. But I realized they were one and the same shortly after I left dental school and was forced to think about things such as patient acquisition, overhead costs, and employee policies.
Like many practices, my office experienced slow, steady growth for a number of years based on a steady diet of creating stellar relationships with my patients and hoping they could help with referrals. I never invested any significant sum of money into advertising or dental technology, and I was content with my slice of the pie. That was a mistake.
I'm about 10 years away from retirement and wanted to make a solid push before transitioning into my golden years. I had used business consultants in the past and have integrated many of their customer-relationship tips and tricks, but never saw any significant long-term improvements.
This time around, I wanted to use a different tactic and invest in diagnostics and treatment. I had recently seen Convergent Dental's Solea laser and thought it could help me improve the patient experience at my practice. What I didn't count on was that it would completely change my business strategy.
I had been using a 10.6-micron CO2 laser for about four years, so I thought I had a solid understanding of lasers. However, after purchasing my new laser, my thinking changed immediately. I was amazed at how many additional procedures I could do
What I discovered was that this product was the key to dealing with my stagnant revenues and that it would be the catalyst to help my practice grow rapidly. I was the first and only dentist in Minnesota that could provide a treatment with this laser to my patients. I wanted to capitalize on this, so I rebranded around it and even changed the name of my practice to Laser Dentistry.
3 marketing tactics
The first thing I did was hire a marketing agency to help me with the rebranding. A number of items needed to be carefully planned, managed, and executed, and I wanted my practice's transition to go smoothly. My agency handled everything, including a major website redesign, video production, newsletters, and all of my collateral. They even helped me create a new tagline for my practice: Timeless caring. Painless technology.
Working with a marketing firm was an excellent investment as the team understood the full depth and breadth of the project at hand and was able to guide me through the entire process smoothly.
Now that my practice was ready for prime time, I needed to get the word out to potential customers. My patients were raving about the patient experience and began referring new patients in greater numbers. One of my patients was so enamored with her anesthesia-free procedure that she wrote to one of Minnesota's largest newspapers, the St. Cloud Times.
A reporter came to my practice and put together a giant feature story and video for the newspaper's print and online editions that featured testimonials from some of my patients and me. In one fell swoop, my practice reached some proportion of the 370,000 print and online subscribers of the paper. The article appeared in February 2015 and is still drawing patients to my practice. Never underestimate the power of the press in attracting new patients.
I also wanted to capitalize on my patients' excitement through a revamped patient referral program. I had tried providing patients who referred their friends and family with gift certificates and sporting event tickets, but those efforts tended to fall flat. Instead, I decided to let money do the talking and began giving patients $50 credits for their dental work for each referral.
This tactic works on two levels:
- People are motivated to make referrals, because it helps reduce their bill.
- Patients are more likely to come in for procedures if they have a credit in their account.
In the same way that retailers love to give away gift certificates, because customers tend to spend more than the amount they've been given, patients are coming in to have more dental work done, which raises my revenues.
I've found that in marketing my practice, it's important to make sure you're doing everything with a purpose. Facebook is an interesting marketing channel, but it requires a well-thought out strategy to reap significant return on investment over the long term. Local newspaper ads are great for building up awareness of your practice within the community but likely not a big moneymaker.
Making investments in my practice through innovative technology and sound marketing initiatives was worth every penny. I've increased patient referrals and seen my revenues increase. None of this would have been possible if I had been satisfied with the status quo. I'm happy to report the returns I'm seeing after purchasing the Solea laser have justified my actions, and I look forward to seeing the new heights my practice can reach now.
Michael Contardo, DDS, opened his practice in St. Joseph, MN, in 1979. He is certified in both soft- and hard-tissue lasers through the Academy of Laser Dentistry. He works with a Solea laser from Convergent Dental.
Disclaimer: The comments in this article are not meant to be taken as financial advice. You should always consult with your financial planner before making any significant changes in your financial situation.
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