(This article is an 11-minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU’LL GET FROM THIS ARTICLE
1. A process for finding your own patients in a new practice
2. How much to pay for finding new patients
3. A timeline and response rate for email marketing
A great strategy for growing your dental practice is to purchase another one. It’s a quick way of finding new patients, and dealing with an established staff. But that strategy can also go horribly wrong. Picture this:
You’ve purchased the practice. The previous dentist is staying on on a service agreement, which will help you with the transition. You buy a pile of Google and Facebook ads offering a discount whitening service or something similar.
For a few weeks you sit there, knowing you’re paying out several thousand dollars a day in running costs, but no patients are booking with you.
You investigate, and find out there are plenty of patients coming in. But they’re all booking with the old dentist. Even the new patients. The front desk staff are all placing these patients with the old dentist because (a) they’re loyal to him, and (b) they assume the patients are loyal to him.
What are you going to do? And how much time do you have left to do it before you go broke?
Are you buying new patients or finding them?
This may not have happened to you. But if you’re planning on buying an existing dental practice, it could. So it’s best to be prepared. You have a couple of options for action.
You can ask the old dentist to leave. But he can set up around the corner and take all those old patients with him. You can sack the staff. But then you’ll have to replace them, and the whole process will be incredibly expensive and disruptive.
Or you can find a way to build up trust with that existing database that doesn’t alienate staff or the old dentist. All it requires is some free software from Google called Google Forms, and a bit of time.
Step 1: Check your patient database
All dental surgeries have more patients on their database than they actually see. Apart from your core of regular patients (who are loyal to the old dentist), there are people who have come in for one appointment and never returned. There are others who came in a few times but were never re-booked and no-one followed up.
There’s a good chance no-one ever asked those people why they didn’t come back. There may have been a myriad of reasons. To set about finding new patients for you, this is the best place to go looking.
Ask the front desk staff to give you the names and email addresses of those former patients who haven’t been back for 12 or 18 months. You want to send an email to all of them. But not to entice them back. Just to introduce yourself, make them connect you with the practice, and to ask their permission to send them your newsletter.
Step 2: Set up a Google form
Google Forms are web-based forms you can set up quickly, easily and for free. You want to set up a very simple form asking people for their first name, last name, and email address. That’s all the information you need. Add a button for them to click to say, “Yes, send me the newsletter.”
You may be tempted to ask for more information. But resist that temptation. The more information you ask for, the fewer people will fill out the whole form.
Why do this when you already have their name and email address? Because you don’t know how many of those old patients are still interested in being your patient. You can’t tell if they didn’t rebook because they had a poor experience, or were just lazy, or any other reason.
By asking them to opt-in the hearing from you, you’re creating your own database of patients who are willing to be loyal to you. Not to the previous dentist.
Step 3: Write your email
Now compose your first email. It should be short, sweet and to-the-point. Introduce yourself. Explain you’re now working at this new practice. Say that they have previously been a patient, and you would like to send them a regular newsletter which has any up-to-date offers and handy hints for keeping your smile healthy and beautiful. Maybe throw in a line about keeping their family’s smiles healthy and happy as well. Make your opening hours very clear.
End your email with a link to the Google form, explaining that they have to go there and give their name and email address to opt in to receive the newsletter.
I’ll warn you now, the response rate will not be fantastic. But don’t despair. Don’t try to offer an inducement to get a few more people in. Throwing in an offer of a free consultation or discount whitening service actually won’t help that much, because offers like that are for impulse purchases. A dental visit is almost never an impulse buy (unless you’ve got an emergency like a chipped or broken tooth).
But those people who do sign up are the beginnings of an audience. This is where you start to nurture them into becoming your most loyal patients.
Step 4: Plan your first newsletter
You should plan to send out one newsletter a month. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t even have to be branded with the practice logo. It just has to have three elements in it.
The first will be a link to an article on your website or blog about a problem someone might be having with their oral health. It may be a clicking jaw. It may be a toothache that comes and goes. It may be about snoring. Your article will talk about the problem, and suggest some things that may be causing it.
Don’t publish the whole article on your newsletter. Ideally, publish it on a blog on your practice website. By linking through, you’re hoping readers will hang around and read a bit more about the practice on the site.
Your second article should be an offer. Nothing over the top. Maybe a discount for teeth whitening, or an initial consultation. Make it clear the offer is only valid for the next month.
The third article should just be a link to your website, and directions on how to get to the practice.
When you send it out to your new database, you will get the most clicks on the first article, and only about 2 per cent or so of clicks on the offer. Don’t despair. That’s normal. And the fact that you offer these different services will be remembered, even if they’re not always taken up immediately. Not everyone buys on price. But everyone buys on trust.
Step 5: Repeat step 4 again. And again.
This basic process, repeated at the same time every month for the next year, will build an audience of people who feel they know you, probably like you, and are willing to trust you. They will feel that way because you are sending them honest, factual and helpful information. You are doing it while asking nothing in return. And you are doing it consistently, which makes you more trustworthy. Because you appear dependable.
The hardest part of this process of finding new patients is the bit where you write the articles. But there are ways to make that easier or more efficient, including hiring a content agency to help. The most important part is continuing to do it regularly. As soon as you stop, you are sending a message to that audience that you’re now too busy to talk with them.
There are other, more detailed ways to attract new patients to your practice. But this process is the starting point if you’re in an established practice. The way to build an audience of potential patients who like you and trust you enough to book an appointment is to start with asking their permission to talk to them.
Once you have that permission, you have to build trust by giving them information they want to know. They don’t want to know about your Cone Beam or how good you are at implants. They want to know the solutions you can offer to their problems. They want to know you understand why they have that toothache or that sore jaw, and whether or not it’s fixable. Or they want to understand what makes a smile better, and how you can help with that.
The process of building that trust takes time. You earn it by regularly offering them helpful information. But once you’ve built that trust, you have a loyal patient who will tell their friends and family to go to you. Which is the most powerful marketing you can ever get.