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Create a Marketing Strategy for Your Practice, Part 2: Budgeting

After conducting your research to see what competitors in your specialty are doing, and what is most important to your own patients, it’s time to create a marketing budget to guide you through at least the next two quarters.

Every healthcare practice needs to commit to a formal marketing budget that allocates its spending to the most productive programs. After conducting your research to see what competitors in your specialty are doing, and what is most important to your own patients, it’s time to create a marketing budget to guide you through at least the next two quarters.

Patient Acquisition Cost

There are two important metrics to consider when planning out your marketing spending. The first is your patient acquisition cost — how much in marketing dollars does it take to recruit each new patient? This number will vary based on the density of competitors around you (often requiring greater spending to penetrate the clutter) as well as the uniqueness of your specialty and the frequency of referrals you receive from other physicians.

You won’t, therefore, always know exactly how much it costs you to recruit each patient — perhaps one responded to a fairly expensive newspaper ad while the second was referred by a friend — but it’s a versatile metric that can be extremely valuable when allocating your budget. It’s helpful to ask each patient how they heard about your practice, regardless of whether your intake is done online or over the phone. This information is critical to helping you understand the effectiveness of your various marketing programs.

Return on Investment

The second consideration is the return on your marketing investment. If you spend, say, $300 per month to advertise your website through Google Adwords pay-per-click advertising, you can easily view the number of visitors your ad has generated, as well as the number that click-throughs the ad delivered directly to your website. Are you getting many visitors? Click-throughs?

To the extent possible, every dollar you spend on your marketing activities should track directly to new business, measurable by “sourcing” each patient, as mentioned above. There are exclusions to this rule, of course — your healthgrades.com and other professional listings, along with customer reviews, have a huge impact on your reputation for both existing and potential patients, and those are generally free.

So let’s take a closer look at a sample budget and how it might be spent throughout the year. For a simple example, let’s say that your small practice grosses $1 million per year and you have decided to spend eight percent of that total on your marketing budget — translating into $80,000 per year.

You can examine the elements of your marketing plan and figure out whether it is achievable based on your allocated budget. You may need to play around with your two documents some to get them in sync; you want to make sure you can fund the most important parts of your plan while leaving other initiatives for the future.

Establishing your digital profile should be first on your agenda. It probably doesn’t surprise you that over 80% of patients use the Internet as a first-line tool to research new doctors before making their first appointment. Of that traffic, nearly half of it is generated through a mobile device.

Do you have an attractive, effective mobile-friendly website that is optimized for search, intuitive to use, and offers online booking? If not, this is not only the highest ROI place to start, but you are also being penalized by Google if you don’t (Google penalizes sites which aren’t mobile-responsive and bases rank partly on a website’s user experience.)

The cost of a website varies greatly, so get multiple quotes. Ideally, your vendor will have experience in the medical sector and be comfortable designing mobile sites as well as full websites. A website should offer online booking for easy conversion, and integrate with your front office calendar for an optimal workflow.

Optimizing for local search search has the highest ROI of any marketing tactic — garnering the most clicks and the highest quality leads. Work hand-in-hand with a digital marketing expert that’s familiar with search engine optimization, or learn about it yourself online, and incorporate it into your strategy. SEO consultants range in price, so again, get multiple quotes and ensure you see results.

Once your digital profile is in place, your remaining budget can be allocated based on the goals of your marketing plan. Do you need greater visibility? Perhaps consider online advertising, such as Google Adwords. This paid search optimization is pay-per-click, so you only are charged if you get results (usually indicated by someone engaging with your URL). Much has been written about “pay-per-click” advertising, so if you have conducted your research, you can most likely manage this campaign on your own. If not, a savvy marketer can implement a plan that is both effective and inexpensive.

Perhaps your plan includes, say, marketing for two new physicians joining your practice. A press release or email blast to your patients may be the best way to promote them. Maybe you want to increase your communication and connection with current patients; initiating a monthly e-newsletter and a Facebook group might be the answer — both of which you can do yourself for free.

Your marketing plan serves as a guide to outlining a budget allocation that makes sense — even if you decide to change it mid-way through the year. In fact, your constant review of ROI and cost per patient acquisition should guide your actions throughout the year. If something isn’t working, by all means, make a change to something that is. Marketing isn’t easy — but it isn’t rocket science either. If in doubt, remember to check out your competitors’ marketing presence, and read and request your own patient feedback.

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