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How does your practice grow?

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TopTips2Jane Braithwaite’s latest article in her series about managing your private practice puts the spotlight on the broad area of business development.

 

We often see or hear the term ‘business development’, but it is little understood and often it is confused with sales.

Well, I see business development as all the activities that lead to developing your practice or clinic in terms of growth and expansion.

Anyone who has their own private practice or medical company will understand that the healthcare landscape changes all the time.

To grow and develop, we need to change with it. One of the key reasons for business decline is a failure to spot change and exploit the new opportunities that change offers.

Business development is broadly considering what we need to do to ensure we have insight into upcoming markets, services and/or technology that could make an impact on our current businesses.

This month, I am going to explore the various options that are open to all of us and I hope one or more of these ideas resonate with you.

Developing and growing your practice or clinic further might mean offering additional services to your existing patients or looking at new channels to appeal to a new set of patients for your existing services. It might be a mixture of both. In either case, there are numerous options.

Expensive overhead

top-tips-jigsaw-smallPerhaps there is a complementary aspect of healthcare that your existing patients would appreciate. You could enable this by inviting another practitioner to make use of your facilities.

Physical consulting space is an expensive overhead and it is always wise to consider how you can make better use of the space you have in a way that might complement your practice. Do some market research or competitor research to find out what your options might be.

You may feel there is an opportunity to grow by servicing a wider geography. Could you add another clinic at a hospital in a different location, if your schedule allows?

It might also be worthwhile considering different age groups and identifying the differing needs of each group. Consider the age range of your current population.

If the patients at your clinic tend to be 40-plus, do you need to review your marketing activities to attract potential patients below the age of 40?

A good understanding of the different requirements of differing age groups will assist you when it comes to marketing your services at a broader age group. Perhaps the message to younger patients is about preventive healthcare rather than specific treatment plans.

New offerings

Technology now offers us different ways to communicate with patients and this may enable new service offerings such as telephone, email or skype consultations.

Embracing these technologies may allow you to offer more frequent support to your current patients and allow you to reach patients who are unable to see you in person. There are several very successful companies offering only ‘virtual’ consultations.

There may well be a greater opportunity for doctors who are able to offer both face-to-face and virtual services in a complementary manner.

Regardless of how you decide you should develop and grow your practice, there are numerous ways in which you can ensure you meet your objectives.

Networking wins

top-tips-jigsaw-smallOne of the main ways to identify and research new opportunities for business development, and to progress them, is to invest time in networking.

It’s a core part of business development, as leveraging relationships is critical to success. How do you maintain relationships with patients, staff, suppliers, organisations, the local community, hospitals and other doctors?

Traditional networking is about communicating in person with patients, colleagues, suppliers and peers. There are numerous events that provide such opportunities and often provide valuable opportunities for education and reflection.

Do you arrange regular events at your practice and invite your own contacts to attend? This requires a real investment in time and effort, but can provide valuable opportunities for referrers, patients and prospective patients to get to know you.

You will also get some valuable feedback this way – people are far more forthcoming in person than on a feedback form.

Networking these days also includes your online network. Your practice may have several different social media channels that allow you to communicate with a wider audience. The most personal networking tool is probably LinkedIn.

It’s a valuable tool, especially for keeping in contact with your peer group. Most people check LinkedIn at least once each week to accept connection requests and check on messages, but you could maximise its power by contributing to conversations daily so that your name comes to mind at the right time.

Presenting at conferences and events only suits certain individuals, but if this type of activity appeals to you, it is a powerful way to reach a far wider group of people. If presenting is not especially attractive to you, then perhaps publishing articles is more realistic and enjoyable.

Powerful communication

top-tips-jigsaw-smallVideo is a very powerful way of communicating with your audience. Like presenting, you will either love it or hate it, but it is a very wise investment. Ideally, you would create regular videos, upload them on You Tube and link to your website. This is an area that is going to grow and grow in popularity.

Healthcare marketing is rapidly becoming more focused on digital, but still relies significantly on print advertising. Whether you’re handling your own marketing or outsourcing it, you must be clear on what your audience and goals are before starting.

Without an awareness of whom you want to reach and what you want to achieve, any money spent is wasted.

You also need to bear in mind the guidelines issued by the GMC and the BMA around ethics and confidentiality when it comes to marketing your services.

Below, I have highlighted some important marketing areas to keep in mind, but it’s important to get a full assessment of your marketing needs, as every business is different.

Business website

I suspect that anyone reading this has a website of some description, but is it doing a good job for you? Is your website helping you to reach your desired audience? Once potential patients visit your website, do they follow through to book an appointment?

A website should not be a static tool but should evolve and change over time to better suit your purpose. For a start, any website which isn’t enhanced for mobiles is not going to appeal to users – you may lose them before they have got past the homepage.

Does your website allow users to book an appointment online? If competitors have this option, so should you.

What capability do you have to record testimonials from your site or include reviews from other sites such as Trustpilot, Facebook or Doctify?

Patient reviews are key to build your reputation, and therefore your business.

Finally, a key way for new patients to find your website is a Google search, but this relies on your site being optimised for search engines (SEO).

Many people think that SEO is a one-off activity, but it’s best to review every six months to make sure that your brand is still appearing near the top. This is where it does pay to hire an SEO expert, as it’s a science which relies on many factors and changes often.

Business blogs

One of the main factors which affects SEO is ‘freshness’ of content – a website which never changes will not score highly and won’t appear on the first page of results. This is one of the reasons why so many businesses embrace regular blogs.

Blogs, if marketed properly and consistently, can attract new patients. But this is if they’re written to add value for the reader, rather than simply advertise the business.

One of the most successful blogs written for my business, Design­ated Medical, was about the EU’s General Data Protection Regul­ation. It contained helpful information for our audience and brought new visitors to our website. It wasn’t about the services we offer or salesy in any way. Writing content which is valuable for your audience is key for blogs.

Are you using GMB?

Don’t forget about Google My Business, which is an excellent – and free – way to boost your business online. GMB is basically your business profile on Google, where you can add your opening hours, photos and short posts.

It’s also where you can respond to Google Reviews. It’s quick work to set up your GMB profile, but well worth it to control your image on the biggest search engine.

Social media

Social media marketing is a very cost-effective marketing method, and for most private doctors it can be a very successful way to grow networks and attract patients.

As before, knowing your audience and goals is essential to make social media work for you. If you’re looking to establish more business connections or thinking of branching out to other markets, LinkedIn will be a key platform for you.

Twitter also works very well in terms of business relationships, as it’s more conversational and ties in well with events. Facebook is ubiquitous for businesses but using its low-cost, super-targeted advertising is the key to success.

You can also get impressive reach via free Facebook events listings. Finally, Instagram can work very well for beauty and aesthetics clinics, with image-driven high engagement.

 

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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