Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND offer marketing strategies for practitioners to grow their practice by reaching more existing and potential patients.

by Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND

 As each year passes, I notice two major shifts in our practice marketing.

The first is that it’s getting cheaper than ever to reach more existing and potential patients. We can now reach thousands with the click of a button, as opposed to hundreds with the swipe of a credit card.

The second shift, which is even more encouraging, is that the less expensive marketing is quickly becoming the most effective. For the first time in many years, we’re beginning to decrease things like print advertising that, while still effective, simply aren’t reaching people the way they used to.

If you have more time than money in your marketing budget, here are four ways to attract more patients – both online and off – that cost nothing, and get the job done.

1. MailChimp.com
A patient email newsletter is still the easiest and cheapest way to reach your existing patient base. MailChimp.com makes the job not only relatively simple, but completely free for up to 1000 email addresses. There’s a never ending list of features, but even a newbie can be up and running quite quickly, without even entering a credit card number.

Getting Started:
Visit www.mailchimp.com and sign up for a free account. For most small to medium practices, the 1000-address limit will be lots of capacity.

Getting Help:
MailChimp offers great support, and lots of online help, but if you can also head to the MailChimp Jungle to connect with other users.

What holds most practices back from sending out a regular newsletter is the tendency to turn it into a big deal. Make your newsletter as short as it needs to be to get it out the door, and remember: it’s not about you. It’s about providing some useful content to your patients. If a one-paragraph tip, or link to a great book or video is all you have, then send it out. Short beats never, and it often beats long, too.

2. Article Writing
Our single most effective advertising effort of this entire year was a short article in a local paper called, “Making Sense of Thyroid Testing.” That one article, which you can read here, still continues to deliver patients after we published it first in a local paper, then again on our clinic blog.

(In fact, those articles are the main reason we continue to run print ads. The ads essentially buy us the right to submit editorial content.)

Our article is testimony to two things: writing don’t need to be long or fancy to work. In fact, most publications will limit both of those things. Don’t worry if you’re not Pulitzer material. Just get started.

And if writing’s really not your thing, or you need a “polish”? Hire a writer locally, or find one online at www.elance.com. There are many writers who will happily create a 200-300 word article, blog post or newsletter piece for very little cash.

3. Facebook
Facebook is quickly becoming our largest source of website traffic.

It’s easy to dismiss the social giant as youth territory, but it’s simply not true. Nearly a third of users are between the ages of 35 and 55, and more than half of those are women, making Facebook a worthwhile place for practitioners to spend their time.

And, of course, it’s free.

Getting Started
If you’re a little spooked by the whole thing, visit http://www.squidoo.com/facebookpage. You’ll get an overview of the entire process. When you’re ready, head to www.Facebook.com/Pages to start a page for your practice.

You’ll need to let people know about your page, and make some effort to have a regular presence on it. Link to your FB page from your clinic website, and ask your patients to “like” your page.

4. Google Places
Patients don’t often search for a naturopath in Miami when they live in Vancouver, so most web searches are for a practitioner in a specific geographic area.

This type of search – called “local search”  – is becoming increasingly important in Google search results. When you search for acupuncture in Houston, for example, Google delivers a map with business locations marked on it. Each of those locations is a Google “Place”. Yours should be one of them.

Getting Started:
Head to www.google.com/places to claim your business listing. In a few short minutes, plus a verification process, you can start editing your very own Google business listing, complete with photos, video, contact information and dashboard reports of how many people view your listing each month.

Getting Help:
The process is straightforward, but for some tips on optimizing your Places listing, Google has some extensive help on their website including a handy checklist.

Try to make your listing as complete as possible. And reviews, which Google scours from places like Yelp.com, make a difference.

Dan Clements & Tara Gignac, ND are the authors of The Practitioner’s Journey, a practice growth guide for alternative and integrative health professionals.