Will your ’blue daffodil’ grow this year?

To ensure the growth of your practice, you must stand out from the crowd, says Dr Lester Ellman

If you are just about to take a summer holiday, or have just returned, you are probably already focusing your mind to the post-sun period. How will you make your practice prosper this autumn and winter in a very tough economic climate? I have recently written a white paper on practice success and here I outline just a few of the key points discussed in it.

It is essential that you take a proactive stance when dealing with the growth of your practice. Most dental practices tend to be passive, hoping that patients will see their sign and flock in to their practice. This rarely happens.

Why your practice? What makes you distinctive? What do you offer which is different from your competitors?

Somehow you need to make sure that your practice stands out from the crowd – yours needs to be the ’Blue Daffodil’.

Make sure that your patients do not forget you between visits by maintaining contact. Keep them up to date with what is happening in your practice and what new equipment has been acquired via email newsletters. These do not have to be long. They should be brief and almost bullet point ’punchy’. Lengthy unsolicited newsletters rarely get read as they take too long and the attention span is short.

Ask patients for referrals of like-minded people who will want similar types of work done. The best time to ask is when the patient is at their happiest, which is usually when the treatment has been successfully completed and the results are extremely good – before the enchantment subsides into the ordinary.

Paid-for marketing is largely a waste of money because advertising rarely gets the results unless one is promoting a particular product as a special offer e.g. teeth whitening for a limited period.

Direct response marketing is an effective way of building a list of email addresses or postal addresses. This can be achieved by getting patients and prospective patients to give you their details and their thoughts and comments on services which you provide, for example, implants or teeth whitening, in return for a small free gift. You ask simple questions and receive some replies. This can also be a useful tool to get to know whether providing a new service will have a market. Primarily, this enables you to build up a database to which you can advertise. This is a targeted market because these are people who have responded to a particular stimulus created by the request for relevant information. The free gift can be anything you choose – a discount on a particular type of treatment or a free ’cosmetic’ consultation to advise what might be done to improve their appearance.

The advantage of this type of approach is that it enables you to market to them and not wait until such time as they approach you – which might never happen – making a positive step to keep all contacts in the loop.

Make use of the local media by giving news stories to the reporters. A reporter’s story is inexpensive and is much more effective than paid-for advertising. Newspapers all need stories to fill their space and local papers are usually desperate for local news. A journalist’s article has much more credibility than a paid-for advert.

But beware of giving freebies to journalists as they might perceive these as bribes (though they may seek a freebie) to get the article into the paper and sometimes, if they think they are being used wrongly, they may turn on the giver and write articles which are adverse. It may be true that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but I do not wish to test that theory.

Growing your practice

Practice growth is achieved in different ways:

a) More patients

b) Same patients spending more money

c) More of both.

The old business adage “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got” is as true today as it has always been.

If we examine in a little more detail each statement:

a) We need to ask ourselves if the patients we have are the type of patients we want more of, or are we actually wishing to be rather more selective in the type of patients we would like more of? Do we really mean that what we want are more patients who will appreciate the advanced skills we possess and who will be willing to purchase those services – the services which are at premium charges and most profitable from the financial viewpoint and the job satisfaction aspect? Both things are important, but job satisfaction is often ignored. It should not be disregarded, as this is an aspect which is reflected in the practice ’atmosphere’.

b) If the types of patients who normally attend at your practice are your idea of the ’right’ type for you, then these are the ones who will appreciate your care, attention and skills. These are the patients who buy your services. To improve the profitability of the practice, you need to encourage these patients to spend more money with you.

You can do this by raising your fees or by adding new services of which they can take advantage. Before acquiring additional skills, which might come at a fairly hefty cost to you and the practice, make sure that these services are ones which you can sell. There is no point, for example, in learning about advanced techniques in prosthetics if very few of your patients wear dentures. The time, effort and money spent perfecting these skills would not reap sufficient rewards.

c) In many respects, more of both is the ideal answer. All practices lose a number of patients as they move away from the area or pass away or just desire a change. On average, the life of a regularly attending patient in a practice is about 10 years. To be able to retain a patient for a number of years and at the same time add services for them to benefit from is bound to be the most desirable solution.

The essence of retaining patients for some years and getting them to refer likeminded people to you is building a working relationship with the patients. Once this is established, then you can advance along the path which leads to them trusting you. Trust is the belief by the patient that what you recommend for their treatment is in their best interest.

You must never take the short-cut route to a quick profit by betraying that trust for gain, or it will be lost. Once lost, it is almost impossible to regain. When trust is created between the patient and you, then selling a service which is in the patient’s best interest is not like selling at all, but is like offering advice to a friend.

Most dentists do not like selling, although we all do it all the time, but once the patient has trust in you, there is effectively no selling at all but merely recommending the best treatment for a particular situation. Most patients are keen to know what is available that you can provide and what the pros and cons are – which leads us to another aspect of our role which is to inform and educate our patients. If we carry this out correctly, they will gain the benefits and so will we.

You must grow the profitable side of your practice

The costs of running a practice are on the increase, with energy costs, material costs and staff salaries all rising, to mention just a few things. The profitability of a practice is being squeezed, but many of your colleagues do not really understand what is happening. It has become essential for you to know how much it costs to run your practice on an hourly basis. It is vital that you know how you might reduce these costs by various means.

Do you know how your expenses compare with the national averages? Knowing might assist you to address any discrepancies and enable you to increase the profits. There are some pressures from patients to be ’cheap’. Resist this, because the long-term success of your practice depends on the type of patients you can retain. These are the patients who will appreciate the quality of care you and your team provide.

You are giving healthcare treatment – health is beyond price! The patient who is entirely motivated towards ’cheap’ should be gently referred elsewhere to a practice, which will be happy to provide that kind of service. But we, you and I, provide high-quality care in all aspects. It is this which distinguishes us from the others – makes us the ’Blue Daffodils’. For our loyal patients who appreciate the best, there is no substitute, but be sure not to break that trust by providing something which is cheap and nasty.

You should provide high-quality care throughout the patient journey each and every time they attend so that each patient feels special. It is the demonstrably caring approach, which makes practices stand out and wins loyalty and trust.

The ’Blue Daffodil’ wins the day.

About the author

Lester is a working GDP owning several NHS and private practices. He was Chair of the General Dental Practice Committee for six years and was with the BDA and as former Dental Practice Advisor to Manchester PCT. He is a director of LR Orthodontics. To contact Lester telephone +44 (0) 7973 875503. To download the full whitepaper please visit http://www.lrorthodontics.com

Published: 15 August, 2012 at 10:25
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