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Private practice: prospering in uncertain economic times

Like other business sectors in the post-economic meltdown, Australia’s private physiotherapy clinics have had to cope with a treacherous economic climate and sceptical consumers less willing to spend on what is still widely perceived as a non-essential service.

Despite an unprecedented number of visits to private clinics in 2008[1], it’s clear many Australians are reluctant to follow through after their first physio appointment.  Understandably, those who have recently lost employment are wary about any health spending, especially if they are unsure about coverage.  Perhaps they have convinced themselves self-healing is not so bad after all, in spite of the inherent risks.

To combat the fear and apprehension of uncertain economic times, going back to basics is often instructive.  You remain convinced of your physio clinic’s business viability – not to mention the quality of the services you offer.  Now is the time to act: your recession-busting, physiotherapy marketing plan must start with education and a solid relationship-building strategy.  It all starts by asking five (5) good questions:

1. How effective is my offline physiotherapy marketing today?

Perhaps, just perhaps, the worldwide recession is masking the ineffectiveness of traditional advertising tactics that worked quite well in the past.  If you’re not quite sure of your clinic’s customer metrics (i.e. knowing where your paying customers came from), consider taking a hard look at your advertising budget.

On a piece of paper or computer spreadsheet, list where your offline ad spending is going and how many leads and/or customers each method is generating for you.  Leads may come from personal solicitation, phone directories, ad mail inserts, seminars, doctor referrals, etc.

Unable to track where your patients came from?  You’re not alone, but chances are that most of your offline advertising dollars are not delivering the results you deserve.

2. If Australians are staying home and going online more, what am I going to about it?

Uncertainty means people are staying home, either in front of the television or, increasingly, their computers.  More people turn to the Internet as a first point of call to research treatment for a physical ailment.  Why not become a source of reliable online health information?

It’s hard to measure how much business offline advertising creates for your clinic, even in the best of times.  By contrast, a dedicated website promoting your services brings the power of clear and concise metrics to your marketing effort.  As an owner-manager, you will have the exact return on investment of each online marketing campaign at your fingertips.  In addition, you can tweak and adjust your message within hours at a fraction of the cost of most offline efforts.

3. Do I have a “loss leader” strategy to attract new clients, keep repeat customers?

It’s in people’s nature to accept freebies, especially when they don’t have much discretionary income.  Sometimes, even physiotherapy clinics need to be creative with their marketing strategies to attract new patients.  So, without giving away your core services, consider something like online discounts in exchange for registering as a member on your website.  Once they’ve registered, you’ll have permission to market to these prospects on a continuous basis with a monthly e-newsletter.  It takes an average of seven e-mails to initiate any type of sale, so with a little patience, you will reap the rewards of this long-term, relationship-building strategy.

4. Recessions are a great time to clean house, right?

All too often, physiotherapy clinic owners are frozen by fear in bad economic times –  Just stay the course and hold onto the customers you have for dear life!  Forget about any bold moves, especially if it relates to Internet marketing.

In fact, the time to overhaul your brand and upgrade your web presence is now.  Is that website you put up five years ago costing you revenue?  You bet it is, especially if it does not match up with your excellent bricks and mortar operation.  Just imagine potential customers who are excited to visit you, only to be dissuaded by a website with outdated content, unresponsive customer service (e.g. no online appointment facility), and poor navigability.  In that case, it’s better to have no website at all.

5. How can I best demonstrate my physiotherapy expertise online?

These days, all companies are Internet companies, because the first point of contact between you and a prospect looking to alleviate joint pain or muscle tension increasingly occurs in cyberspace (see 2.).  You’re a proven physiotherapy establishment with much to offer, so use tough times to gain the trust of patients with a positive attitude and real solutions to their health problems.  Find the web specialists who understand your business, and are in the best position to:

  1. Highlight your clinic’s services.
  2. Deliver fresh, credible content on a regular basis
  3. Manage visitor interactivity in the most professional manner possible.

You know that tough times call for creative marketing and service innovation.  Now is the best time to invest in the future by planning how to encourage more visits and benefit-oriented spending, not just meet patient expectations.  After all, it will be the visionaries of today who are best positioned to prosper in the “physiotherapy” boom of tomorrow.

[1] Elston, Danielle. “Private Physiotherapy Essential to Public Health.” 14 May 09