In my last Practice Management Blog (click here) I talked about all of the OTHER things you have to manage in your practice!
Today’s acupuncturist is running a small business. As a small business, the most important thing you must do in your business is MARKETING.
Everything else is driven by this function. Of course, you have to do accounting, legal, regulatory, supplies, scheduling, billing, and so on. But if you don’t have patients, none of these other functions are applicable. Marketing is job one, now and always.
Does that make you uncomfortable? It’s OK if it does.
The purpose of this series of articles is to make marketing comfortable, understandable, and easy. You really can do this. And it’s not as bad as you might fear. In fact, once you understand marketing, you’ll find it can be one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of your practice.
So to begin our discussion of marketing, we first need to define the concept. And to describe what marketing IS, we must start by discussing what marketing IS NOT.
Marketing is NOT advertising – and advertising is NOT marketing.
As you might imagine, when I begin a coaching program with one of my clients, one of the first questions I ask is, “What are you currently doing to market your practice.” It’s a loaded question because I know the sort of answer I’ll get. And it opens up the discussion we need to have.
The responses I get almost always revolve around advertising. Here are a few:
– I go to a networking group
– I pass out business cards and brochures around the community
– I have an ad in the yellow pages
– I have a website and I pay for ranking on Google
– I put up flyers at the grocery store
– I rely on foot traffic that sees my sign
– I work with other practitioners to get referrals
– I have an ad in the local paper
– I have an ad on Craigslist
– I have an ad in Valpak
– I did a GroupOn
– I do health fairs
– I do public speaking
– Etc.- Etc.- Etc.
I’ll bet you’ve done some of these. Maybe you’ve done most. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with any of these activities. But these are NOT marketing. And until you do your marketing, you may be wondering why none of these activities are working.
The worst part about all this is that its possible to spend LOTS of TIME and MONEY on these activities with little to show for your efforts. Nobody likes to waste time and money, yet nearly every practitioner I talk to is doing just that.
So just to be clear, advertising is the process of communicating your message. It is HOW you get the word out. All of the activities in the above list are really just methods of communicating something to others, in hopes that they will be attracted to become your patient.
Think of it this way. All of the above activities are applicable to nearly ANY business. What if you were a plumber? Would the above list change much? What about for an attorney? Roofer? Dentist?
There’s nothing magical about that list. Advertising is really pretty simple when you get to that point. And it’s also the LAST thing you should do. Marketing must come first.
So What is Marketing?
To truly understand marketing, we must first think like a customer. Notice I said “customer” and not “patient” because, from a business perspective, that’s what patients are. They’re your customers. And no matter what business you’re in, customers always buy for the same reason.
While we’re thinking broadly, let’s get into the tire business. In the tire business, you sell tires. And tires are the item of value you are providing to your customers in exchange for their money. Right?
This may seem strange but stick with me here. Tires have NO value. Seriously. None.
So why are they so expensive?
Because people who buy tires are NOT buying a product (tires). They’re buying a solution.
The first rule of marketing is that customers NEVER buy a product. They buy a SOLUTION to a PROBLEM that MATTERS to them. Let’s break it down.
If you’re stranded in the desert, miles from any civilization, and you’re dehydrated, overheated, exhausted, and perhaps dying, what matters to you? If a tire salesman happens by and offers you a great deal on some radials, are you interested? What if it’s REALLY a great deal? 75% off. 90% off. At what point will you buy those tires?
The answer, of course, is you won’t.
But if a water salesman happens by, what will you pay for a bottle of water? $5.00? $10.00? $100.00? The answer is likely yes.
But it’s not the water that has the value; it’s the outcome. You have a problem (horrible thirst, dehydration, perhaps death) and that problem matters to you a great deal (you are in agony). Water provides the solution to that problem, and therefore it has great value to you. And it would be much less valuable to you if you were drowning.
So what about tires?
Last summer my daughter was heading on a trip with friends. She needed to travel about 700 miles round trip, so I took her car into the shop to have the alignment checked. Once the car was up on the rack, the mechanic showed me that her tires weren’t just worn, but they were worn out. Steel belts were showing through on the edges of the tires, and I knew they were not safe.
I also knew she had to leave in a few hours for her trip.
So, do you think I started a long bargain-hunting process, going from store to store, looking for the best deal? No. The problem was too important and time was too short for that. I bought the tires that were in stock at the repair shop and solved my problem right then and there. Maybe I could have saved some money by shopping around, but the problem was too important and had to be solved right then.
I bought the tires because they solved my problem.
As long as you view yourself as selling a product, you’ll never market effectively. Especially if that product is acupuncture. I mean, at its most basic level, the service you provide is that you stick needles in people’s skin. Sound appealing? That’s your product.
“So what do you do?”
“Oh, you know, I stick needles in people’s skin.”
“Really? That sounds great! Where do I sign up?”
I know, it’s silly, but if you go around telling everyone you’re an acupuncturist and you think that’s magically going to bring in patients, you’re sorely mistaken. They’re already associating you with pain, fear, and frankly weirdness.
And you go around handing out cards that say this?
It’s time to think about solutions.
What IMMEDIATE problems can you solve for your patients? What are they struggling with and how can you help them? These are the kinds of questions I’ll address in my next “SOLUTIONS” article.
One solution I recommend – start learning about the AcuGraph. I have been coaching practitioners for years…and there’s simply no better ‘Patient Attraction and Retention’ tool.
Enjoy this short 3 minute video and click on the more comprehensive 8 minute Demo video as well.
This video introduction will prepare you for our next Marketing discussion!
Have a Great week!
Part 3 of 6 continues – Just Click here!
Alan R. Gifford