Ophthalmic practice marketing 101

October 15, 2007

In order to succeed in private practice, physicians have to think and act as business owners, which means learning to market themselves and their services. The first step in successful marketing is to create a set of "SMART" goals. A logo is an important part of developing a practice or corporate brand. Another action step for physicians is advertising through print, radio, and television.

Keypoints:

Atlanta–Physicians first and foremost are caregivers. But physicians in private practice, also are business owners.

To succeed, physicians have to think and act like other business owners, which means learning to market themselves and their services. That was the message from Donna W. Howell, JD, and Keith Ducoffe, president and executive vice president, respectively, of Atlanta-based Carnegie Wealth Strategies Ltd., in a discussion of marketing techniques based on personal experiences marketing their own firm.

"One thing they don't teach you in medical school is that, as a professional, you are also a business owner. You learn that the hard way after you graduate," Howell said. "Most successful businesses spend a lot of time and money on marketing. It's the only way to keep growing."

Marketing an ophthalmic practice is a process, Ducoffe and Howell said. The first step in successful marketing is to create a set of "SMART" goals for the practice:

Deciding on goals can be contentious, said Ducoffe. A good way to arrive at consensus is to have physicians in the practice vote on what the goals should be and their priorities. "The more you can get your physicians involved and take ownership of the process, the better off you'll be," he elaborated.

It is important, however, not to set too many goals, at least at the outset. "It's really much better just to focus on one or two at a time," Howell added. "If you have too many goals in too short a time, you will get discouraged and forget all about it. So you don't want to get overwhelmed, particularly at the beginning."

Once the goals have been agreed on, the next step is to develop objectives for measuring progress attaining them.

"You have to be able to ask in 6 months, 'Are we achieving our goals? Are we on schedule?" Ducoffe said. Success also requires a strategy for those things that need to be done immediately, such as developing a budget.

After devising goals, objectives, and strategies, it's necessary to plan specific steps for achieving the goals. One such step is branding.

"You want to create brand awareness, whether you have a corporate name or your own name," Howell said "The goal is that when people hear that name, they think of one thing."

Examples of people who have successfully branded themselves are Martha Stewart, Donald Trump, and Oprah Winfrey.

A logo is an important part of developing a practice or corporate brand. Creating one can be time-consuming, Howell said, because "you want your logo to reflect who you are and the message you are trying to convey. Then once you've got it, you have to stick it on everything. That logo really becomes you."

Another important-and very useful-marketing tool for a professional practice is a newsletter.

"One marketing theory is that you've got to 'touch' prospects or clients a minimum of 12 times per year," Ducoffe said. "A newsletter is useful as one of those touches."

Newsletter contents might include news and information on trends and new procedures, guest columnists, and even news about people in the practice.