I’ve met with several practice owners in the last few weeks as far afield as: The South East, Wales, Norfolk and Scotland, who complain that their practices are quiet, the phone has stopped ringing and:
- Their appointment books are getting ‘gappy’, particularly their hygienists and associates.
- Their existing patients are postponing their treatment plans.
- Their existing patients are cancelling their check ups and their hygiene appointments.
- Their new patients numbers are down
They blame: the recession, the election, the austerity budget, the competition, school holidays, probably all with some justification. However, none of these factors are new or unexpected (although sometimes they combine together to create the perfect storm). “We need more new patients” they cry. “We need some clever marketing, give us a plan”. This may or may not be true. For sure, they need more sales. For sure they need to reactivate their patients who have stopped coming to see them for whatever reason. For sure, they need to fill those gaps before their associates and hygienists leave them to find practices that are more buoyant.
The problem is that many of these practice owners are unclear about what they ‘sell’ and why their existing clients should come back or even why prospective new clients should contact their practice (hopefully, their existing clients go there because they are getting what they want). But before they rush into knee-jerk, expensive, possibly ineffective marketing strategies, they should consider two important questions and I suggest they might be useful for you to consider too:
- What is the (preferably unique) solution that your business provides to your clients, both existing clients and new ones?
- Is there a group of people within a 30 minutes drive who are willing to buy this from you at a price that you are willing to accept and that they are willing to pay?
All successful businesses exist because they solve a problem for their clients. That is, they provide their clients with a solution that they can’t (easily) find around them. So, how about considering your practice in terms of what solution it provides and whether it is a solution that is either unique in your area or at the very least a solution that is better than the competition. If the answer is that you are not clear about what you provide and why, then you are likely to be the owner of a practice that is slowly shrinking…
- The solution that McDonalds provides is that a group of buyers want fast, cheap, hot food.
- The solution that John Lewis provides is that a group of buyers want quality clothing and homewares, at the right price, with great service.
- The solution that Amazon provides is that a group of buyers want: easy, fast access to the book, music etc, they really want, delivered to their home quickly, at a good price.
Most practice owners don’t think in terms of the solutions they provide or are going to provide, they open a practice or introduce a new service because they want to provide it or even worse, because they like providing it! They cross their fingers and hope that their existing clients and prospective new ones will both want it and buy it. A strategy based purely on hope (and sometimes vanity) which may or may not work depending on their luck… And some of the unlucky ones are (currently) feeling the cold chill of providing a solution that not enough people want!
If you want to grow your practice (or stop it from shrinking) you have to accurately identify what the people (who are served by your practice) will buy. What is it that they cannot easily find on their patch that they want and will pay for? As far as the business of dentistry goes, the business model called ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t work any more. In my opinion, the right way to grow a practice or create a new aspect to your existing practice is to, ‘sell some tickets then build the show’! That is, test your market by taking some deposits!
A simple tactic to discover whether your practice is solution-focused is to type into Google every solution that a prospective client might be seeking. See whose websites Google finds and how often your practice comes up. Follow the links and ask yourself, if you were a new client looking for a solution, would you contact your practice?
And if you are going to provide the same or similar solutions to your competitors (think Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Costa), then you will have to compete in one of three ways:
- By adding value
- By being cheaper
If you don’t want to compete on price and value, here are some alternative strategies:
- Analyse what is being poorly provided or not provided in your practice’s catchment area.
- Identify a specific need that is not being addressed.
- Build a business model to address this need and
- Analyse the model, asking, is it profitable to provide this service? Do I want to build a practice that delivers this service? And~ would this be fun/fulfilling? Can I find the people to deliver it? Will it add to my income and wealth, without impacting on my time to a degree that throws me into overwhelm?
- If the answer is yes to these questions, put the business into place and grow it by,
- Marketing to the target group and then
- Collecting their feedback to determine whether you are fulfilling their unmet need and how well.
Here’s an example:
- Investigate how people in your area who are not registered with a local practice, can get access to private emergency dental treatment both within and outside of office hours?
- Is there an unmet demand for this?
- Consider how you might provide 24/7 Emergency Dental Care and,
- How you might convert a proportion of these patients into new long-term patients of your practice?
- How would you build this service into your practice and who would deliver it? At what price would people buy it? Does it make a profit?
- If you can answer these questions positively, build it!
If you are interested in what solutions people in your area might be searching for, consider these:
- NHS Dentistry
- Fixed price family dentistry (Denplan etc)
- Affordable Private Family Dentistry
- Boutique and Spa Dentistry
- Advanced restorative solutions including implants
- Cosmetic Dentistry
- A referral to a Specialist Dentist
You can of course put them all into one building. However, so as to avoid confusing your clients, don’t put all of these solutions into one brand!
If you want help because your practice is shrinking please contact Ernie on 0845 299 7209 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.