21 Practice Growth Nuggets for 2021

Almost to the day, I’ve been working in the dental & healthcare sectors for 21 years now, so to mark this and with 2021 in mind, I’ve put together 21 top tips or pieces of insight to share.

  1. Having your “ideal patient” in mind is a vital part of your Marketing Strategy. Knowing (in detail) who you want at your practice helps to frame your practice proposition, tactics, media selection, creative approach and messaging.
  2. How many practices do not have a Business Plan? Lots. Having a roadmap to growth, acquisition or exit doesn’t need to be a long, complicated process but those with a plan seem to do better financially.
  3. First impressions count big time. From updating ‘tired looking’ signage to ensuring any litter outside is picked up at least once a day (often more often in cities), the most important impression is the patient welcome, what is said as part of the greeting and how it is conveyed (an engaging tone of voice). These make a huge difference.
  4. Build your practice brand (and brand equity) with your own membership plan, not someone else’s. Privilege Plan allow practices to use their own brand and I recommend having an initial chat with Lesley Bailey.
  5. A motivated team is as obvious to patients just as an unhappy one is. I’ve visited hundreds of practices and can ‘detect’ the atmosphere within a few moments after walking in. Is it a happy team? Are square pegs in round holes? Are there training needs? Ask your patients for feedback regularly because understanding where you need to improve is gold dust.
  6. Many owners find it difficult to create USPs for their practices. “What do we offer that is truly unique and what’s the proof to back it up?”. A closer look at your services can help to reveal a USP. For example, do you have any unique clinical skills? (such as laser dentistry), is there anything different about your patient experience? (e.g. concierge service for elderly patients); is there a convenient tool used for patient consultations? (e.g. Smile Mate).
  7. I prefer ‘patient experience’ to ‘patient journey’ as ‘journey’ suggests there’s a natural end or destination whereas ‘experience’ means the communication never stops. Aftercare and keeping in touch with patients are part of the experience. Document, review and refine each step before you invest anything in patient acquisition.
  8. Ensure practice investment focuses on the whole patient experience, not just the surgeries. Patients won’t notice the difference between a £15k dental chair unit and a £30k unit, but they will notice a scruffy or messy patient waiting area, a reception desk design that creates a perceived barrier, stained carpets or flooring, out-of-date magazines, poor WiFi and no water dispenser.
  9. Don’t be afraid to price your treatments in line with the skills, experience and service you provide. Review your price list and charge a premium if your patient experience is exceptional. Remember, some people buy because it is more expensive.
  10. The only metrics that really count in patient acquisition are the cost per quality lead and the cost per new patient or agreed treatment plan. Everything else is vanity, just as ‘likes’ on Facebook.
  11. Lead conversion always improves when there is a dedicated, knowledgeable Treatment Coordinator who enjoys calling prospective patients, follows up promptly and is tenacious. ‘Consultative sales’ skills are a given. The cost of a TC pays back quickly, and then some!
  12. Radio advertising can be very effective for launching a practice or promoting a high value treatment. Yes, there’s ‘wastage’ because targeting isn’t precise but you can reach a lot of people very quickly and it increases response from other media e.g. Facebook ads when running at the same time.
  13. The clamour to ‘get good’ on social media is similar to the rush to get a website 20 odd years ago, often without the initial thinking as to ‘why?’. If time is precious, focus on one or two channels, the obvious ones being Facebook and Insta because of their reach and popularity but also because they can be easily scheduled together on tools like Later.
  14. ‘Mystery shopping’ – this is important and I make a point of personally walking into client’s competitors to get first impressions. Take this scenario. I enquire about registering with the practice and ask for some information to take away. The ‘welcome’ I receive ranges from the receptionist/PM going out of their way to engage in conversation and answer my questions to another treating me like an irritant and telling me all the information is on the website whilst handing me a price list! ‘Walk-ins’ are often a significant % of new patient enquiries and shouldn’t be overlooked.
  15. Social responsibility includes thinking and acting on ways to engage with and help people who may have conditions that make it more difficult to visit the dentist. Ensure the team is prepared and trained for patients who may be suffering from dementia, a physical disability or needle phobia or may be autistic, hard of hearing or visually impaired.
  16. TV advertising improves online conversion – SKY Adsmart can be targeted to household level and is proven to increase PPC conversion. With the brand and practice in full view, it’s not surprising.
  17. ‘No brainer’ internal marketing includes an A board, prominent display of key treatments on your frontage and strategically positioned posters within the practice, especially your membership plan. Don’t forget the surgeries and toilets where you have a ‘captive audience’.
  18. Avoid putting all media eggs in one basket. Some practices have stopped all off-line marketing and this misses key opportunities. Local village A5 magazines have had a resurgence in the last couple of years and are a good source of high value patients and advertising is as ‘cheap as chips’. You’ll get free editorial too!
  19. Media comparison – a good way of checking value for money is to look at Cost per 000, that is the cost per 1000 target patients you reach with your ad. You may think advertising on the London Tube is expensive. It is, but the cost/000 was very low and a campaign worked a treat for a Harley St practice recruiting new implant cases.
  20. A large number of dental websites look the same. Aim to add ‘personality’ with bespoke copywriting that conveys what is fantastic and different about your practice. Bespoke photos are better than library images, whenever possible.
  21. There are always unique local opportunities in all areas– bringing in a £100k+ ROI from a £250 annual investment in a 1 metre ad board (promoting implants) on a ferry is one of the best examples I can cite