Tips that work for getting out and promoting your practice
You already know that your practice is an important part of the community, but take a moment to consider the full implications of that: You have the power to simultaneously help your community grow stronger and expand your practice.
Choosing one or more local nonprofit organizations to work with on a regular basis and making your practice a welcoming place for nonprofits of all kinds is not only a great way to do the right thing as you build morale, but it’s also a valid and vital part of practice growth.
If you haven’t already chosen a worthwhile organization or school to work with, bring it up at your next all-team meeting. There are almost certainly schools or organizations that have a special connection for you, your doctors or other team members. Make a simple plan to reach out to those groups on an ongoing basis if you haven’t already—participate in their fundraisers, offer their informational brochures in your office, and come up with some new educational and fundraising partnerships that are fun and easy to publicize through both organizations.
At the same time, consider doing some community-building of your own. Our practice has had tremendous success with offering a $1,000 college scholarship each year to the author of the best essay that’s submitted by our younger patients, past and present, on the subject of “Embrace Your Smile.” There are no other parameters; we know that topic means something different to everyone. We publicize the contest widely through emails, announcements on our website, posts on social media, and in flyers in the office and at all the schools we work with.
After the deadline, each of our doctors picks one essay they like the most; those finalists are then read by everyone on staff, and it’s put to a vote. We invite the winner to the office, where we present a check, take pictures and proudly announce the results everywhere we can. We even make it a surprise by doing a pretend “retainer check,” so the pictures are terrific.
This is one of the biggest events we have every year. It gets more “likes” on our Facebook page than almost anything else, and the news has been picked up by local papers. It’s a genuine “feel-good” moment that works for everyone.
It doesn’t stop with a single organization or a single scholarship, of course; plenty of groups in town deserve your attention. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little Leagues, Pee Wee Football, high school sports teams ... the list is virtually endless. In many cases, these groups will only want a little support—your participation in a single event, or perhaps purchasing a few boxes of cookies. If they know that your practice is a welcoming place that’s always willing to pitch in, you’ll find it not only helps your community but it also makes your practice more popular and all the members of your team proud to work there.
It’s the definition of win/win.
Appearances at live events
Technology is great, and it allows easier promotion of your practice. But, as it turns out, face-to-face contact through referrals, in-office conversations and events remains the most important, productive and engaging way to acquire new patients and keep established patient families coming back.
Every week, we create or participate in events that keep our practice top-of-mind and draw people into the office. Community festivals, summer camps, art walks, health days, music and performance get-togethers ... wherever members of the community gather for fun or education, our practice is there. At these events our office has a booth where we provide informational material that highlights our practice and services we offer. Our team members genuinely love the contact! We have standard giveaways and prizes we can offer at a moment’s notice, and we use our phones to take as many pictures as we possibly can that we feature on our social media all the time.
Our involvement in community events has become a standard, weekly part of our practice activity. They’re a major factor in growing the practice and establishing our reputation in town—so much so that many other orthodontic practices, as well as pediatricians, primary care providers and other health care professionals now show up at the same events and do the same thing. So here are a few hints on how to make community events marketing effective and, believe it or not, easy and fun:
Establish a “kit” that includes materials, signage, tablecloths, pens, crayons and banners that can be broken out, repackaged and replenished easily. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel every time you venture out.
Build a yearly events calendar that “rolls forward” for the next 12 months, so you know what community events are coming, what events you’re already committed to, and which team members or doctors are going to take the lead. Post that calendar in a prominent place, like the break room, so everyone knows what’s coming up next.
Create and refine the “elevator message,” the simple, 60-seconds-or-less “speech” that team members use to quickly and clearly describe the practice, its unique benefits and its most popular services. Make sure everyone who works at the events knows the message and has been trained to use it smoothly.
Design a simple form to capture names and email addresses, and have a “fish bowl” always available for potential patients to drop in their business cards or notes. Capturing email addresses from interested community members and knowing what to do with those is key!
Identify enthusiastic team members who truly enjoy public interaction. Train them in using the “elevator message” and schedule them for specific events, but to avoid burnout, don’t overuse any one person. Be sure to think about what you can do to reward your “star players” for their help—cash bonuses, extra days off, gift cards, etc. Their time and energy are essential, and they shouldn’t feel as though they are being taken advantage of or seen as “just doing their job.”
Have a standard email and a simple procedure for follow-up: an easily customizable message that goes out right after the events—within 48 hours, if possible—to the potential patient names you gathered, telling them how much you enjoyed meeting them, thanking them for their interest, and offering a deal such as a free consultation or dollars off treatment. Be sure to include a link to your website so they can sign up for their first appointment, and refer them to your social media, where they can view pictures of the event and possibly themselves! Be sure that the email “comes from” a specific person on your team, rather than from the practice overall to show more personalization. Even if that person didn’t craft the actual message, the less the email looks like a form letter and the more it looks like a personal communication, the better.
and field trips
School events are among the most important and productive tactics we use to bring in new families. These tend to be seasonal; we focus on two times of the year: February (Dental Health Month) and October (Orthodontic Health Month).
Schools in our local districts are required to do a lesson every year on dental care, so I approached the school nurses and offered to present educational programs to students about how to take care of their teeth, about sports and safety issues, and about healthy diets and drinks.
Make sure the presentations you offer are age-appropriate; nothing turns a kid off quicker than being talked down to. We have dental education materials for very small kids (puzzles of the teeth, lips and tongue) and more advanced materials for tweens and teens about diet and self-care—a different lesson for every age group.
Refresh the content every year. Kids remember, and although there may be favorite games or giveaways, they’ll expect something new each time they see you. Don’t go in and preach the same lesson every year to every kid; you want them to be looking forward to your visits. (I learned this the hard way when I made a visit to a K–3 school in our area with the same program I’d taken a year ago, and was greeted with a chorus of “We’ve already seen this!” in a room full of bored and restless kids. Never again!)
Similarly, pay attention to the “treats” that you leave behind. Some are perennial favorites, but keep switching it up. Parcel them out as you go: prizes for asking questions, pencils to write down a time for tooth-brushing, water bottles when you talk about hydration. And everybody gets a treat bag at the end of the presentation with a new toothbrush, paste, floss, and a discount card for them to pass along to their parents. (The discount card works as a tracking device, too, so you can gauge just how successful and productive the event really is.)
I can’t emphasize how valuable school visits have become for us. Today, these visits are one of our four largest sources for new business. We work with more than 17 schools and present to more than 3,400 children. (I know that for sure, because that’s how many treat bags we distributed last year.)
Field trips to your office are important, too. Inviting classes of students into the office provides students with a hands-on approach. Kids can meet the doctors and team members, see and touch some of the exciting technology, and walk away with “door prizes” and dental hygiene kits of their own. This experience can make a huge impression on the kids, teachers and parents. One that they may talk about (and remember) for a long time!
We reach out to home-schoolers through websites, Facebook groups and other social media to set up specific office visits just for them, and the results have been highly productive.
All this means that you have to plan in advance. I set aside time in the summer to set up the program for October, and budget time in the fall for the February events.
You’re one of a kind
Every single practice is different—and that’s a good thing, as challenging as it can be sometimes. The plan you build and execute is yours, and nobody else’s.
You can learn from other people’s success, but the success of your plan and practice will be based in large part on what makes your practice unique. Don’t be frustrated by that—celebrate it. Your practice is special, so it’s time to act like it and set yourself apart.