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How to Market OT & PT Services If You Are a Small Clinic with a Small Budget

by Rafael Salazar II


Where do patients come from? It may seem like a funny question to ask. But if you think about it, it’s a very important question, especially for those that either own, hope to own, or manage a rehab clinic. Clinicians often take for granted the fact that their schedules get filled with appointments every day. They show up, see their patients, and go home. But how do those schedules get filled?

The answer is that those schedules get filled because patients and referral sources heard about that clinic, department, or even clinician and decided to book an appointment or make a referral. How did they hear about the clinic or provider? Because someone, somewhere did the marketing.

It’s unfortunate, but clinicians rarely learn a lot of the business side of therapy while in school. That includes how to market and sell your particular services. For us, that would be occupational therapy, though these principles work for any clinical service.

What is marketing?

Before we begin talking about how to market rehab services, we need to understand what marketing is (and what it’s not). Let’s start with what marketing is not. Marketing is not branding, logo design, website builds, advertising, campaigns, promotions, copywriting, or even PR. These things fall under the umbrella of marketing, but in truth they are what it looks like when you execute a marketing strategy.

As Allan Dib writes in The 1-Page Marketing Plan, marketing is a “strategy that gets your ideal customer to know, like, and trust you enough to become a paying customer.” While it is important to execute the tactics listed above well, before you can begin advertising, you need a strategy.

Why is marketing important?

It may seem like a question that doesn’t need answering, but many professionals —including clinicians — do not truly understand the importance of marketing in healthcare. In fact, many of the clinicians I speak with have an idea that selling their brand through marketing is “dirty,” “manipulative,” or simply not necessary. They think that clinical skills and expertise should be and are enough to attract business to their clinics.

I can see why that would make sense. If you’re good at your job and your patients get good results, you’ll build a good reputation and referrals will start coming in, right? That’s true in a sense. A good reputation allows you to seek referrals and testimonials from happy patients. And that can increase referrals to your clinic. But again, unless that is specifically part of your marketing strategy, then you’re likely not going to get the most benefit out of those happy, satisfied patients. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to build a reputation of authority and expertise in your chosen field, but that should be an intentional part of your marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy is ultimately what gets new patients into your clinic’s door. If you have a job as a clinician treating patients, it’s because someone did the work of marketing you, your clinic, and/or your services. So keep this in mind: marketing plays a vital role in the long-term viability of any clinic or practice.

What makes an effective marketing strategy for a small business?

Now that we’ve established the importance of marketing for healthcare clinics and practices, the next step is to determine how we should go about marketing our clinic or practice. This can be especially difficult for small practices or clinics that have budgets and money constraints that limit the amount of dollars that can be spent on marketing. That means we want to spend those precious marketing dollars wisely and get the biggest bang for our buck.

Two main strategies exist in the marketing world. The first is generally what comes to mind when people hear the word “marketing.” That word conjures up images of huge advertising firms, billboards, and branding. It’s the strategy taken by large companies like Coca Cola and Nike. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and they use them to flood the market with their image, brand, and message. That is Big Company Marketing. It may go without saying, but big company marketing will not work for small or mid-sized business, and that includes healthcare clinics and practices.

Big Company vs Small Company Marketing

Because larger corporations and companies have millions of dollars in their advertising and marketing budgets, they spend their marketing dollars more liberally than smaller companies are able to. Big companies also have different marketing goals than smaller companies. These goals range from something as wide as wide as winning advertising awards to making a profit off of that particular marketing campaigns.

Small and mid-sized companies really only have one goal with marketing: make a profit. At the end of it all, a smaller company needs to end up with more money in their pocket after spending their marketing budget.

Because smaller companies need to make sure that they’re making a profit from their marketing dollars, they need to be able to measure how their marketing campaigns perform. How do you do that? By using a marketing strategy that allows you to track responses and measure the outcome. This marketing strategy also needs to focus on making a profit. Instead of focusing on vague notions like “brand awareness,” marketing strategies for smaller companies need to focus on an identified and measurable goals (similar to setting treatment goals in the clinic). For these reasons, direct response marketing can work well for small and mid-sized businesses!

Direct Response Marketing

Direct response marketing is a branch of marketing that focuses on motivating an audience to action. Action lays at the foundation of this marketing strategy. Whether it’s getting prospects to sign up for an email list, call your clinic for an appointment, or buy a product, direct response ads attempt to evoke an immediate response from the person viewing the advertisement.

Here’s are a few characteristics of a direct response marketing strategy:

  • It includes trackable information
  • It results in measurable data to track performance
  • It uses compelling headlines and copy to motivate readers to take a defined action; it does this by making specific offers in each piece of content
  • It is focused on a specific audience or niche
  • It includes a follow-up strategy

Direct response marketing is more deliberate and calculated than large scale brand marketing. Afterall, the goal is to make a profit from the advertising or marketing dollars you spend.

On a side note, learning how to write effective headlines and copy is a necessity for this type of marketing. I recommend reading books like “Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich” or anything by Dan Kennedy or David Garfinkel as they are both accomplished and notable copywriters in the space.

Incidentally, direct response marketing strategies can be an effective strategy for small and mid-sized rehab clinics looking to acquire more patients, build reputation in their local market, and make more money. This is due to the fact that, for the most part, patients these days are taking a more consumer-like role in how they search for and use healthcare services. A doctor may write an order for PT/OT, but the patient can decide which clinic —or even clinician— they want to see. Direct response marketing is perfectly tailored for this direct-to-consumer (or in our case, patient) marketing.

How do I implement marketing strategy into my business?

Now that we’ve covered what marketing is, and the most effective way to market smaller sized businesses and clinics, let’s take a look at how we go about implementing some of this information in our own clinics and practices.

The first step in implementing this type of strategy is obviously determining who your clinic or practice’s target market or niche is. Contrary to the popular idea that trying to appeal to everyone is important, the reality is that it reduces profitability and leads to more work and wasted money. An effective strategy involves selecting the specific target market you will serve and then setting out to own that space. Your market might be as general as athletes or sports injury, but it may be something as specific as amateur athletes who do crossfit.

Once you identify your target market, the next step is to determine what your message will be to your target audience and how you will communicate it to them. That involves crafting your origin story, building authority in your field, and clearly understanding your practice’s higher purpose or mission.

Authority, Influence, and the Power of Stories

I’ve recently written about this subject here, but I’ll give a quick recap. Direct response marketing strategies work best when they come from a company or professional who has established credibility, authority, and influence in their given niche. There are books and courses written on this subject, but here’s the big idea: people make decisions emotionally and justify them rationally. Additionally, people tend to buy services or products from organizations or professionals they know, like, and trust (which all tend to be emotionally driven rather than logically considered).

So how do you get people to know, like, and trust you? You have to start by telling them who you are, that you understand their problem or pain. You have to give them reasons to trust you. Part of this comes from you telling them why you do what you do.

Think about your background and tell your origin story. Highlight certain experiences, skills, or expertise you developed that make you an authority in your field or niche. The best origin stories result in the main character (you or your clinic) undergoing with some transformation, gaining some insight or knowledge, and then discovering a mission (higher purpose).

The next step is to establish your higher purpose that arose from your origin story. Using the example above of a clinic serving amateur athletes, a simple origin story and higher purpose may go something like this:

The owner, Steve, used to be an amateur athlete himself. While training for a bike race, he injured himself during a crossfit session. The injury almost ended his amateur cycling career. He saw several therapists, but none of them understood his unique needs for recovery. He makes a full recovery, and then decided to go to school and become a licensed therapist. After graduation he started XYZ therapy with the sole mission of helping other amateur athletes perform at their best by leveraging his unique knowledge of that population.

This story gives some background about Steve. It explains why he opened XYZ clinic (to help his specific audience of amateur athletes). It also gives his audience a reason to trust him: He recovered from an injury while training for amateur events and understands the difficulty of trying to find a therapist that was able to help him. This is a very simple story and may be a bit on the nose, but you can clearly see the therapist’s and the clinic’s reason for serving its patient population.

After crafting your story and higher purpose, the next steps involve selecting an offer of some kind (could be a free resource or exercise program), establishing your lead capture system, and creating your lead nurturing system. Going over each of those topics could fill another couple hundred pages. Maybe there’ll be a part II…

At the end of the day, we as clinicians need to understand the importance of marketing in our clinics and practices. We need to learn the most effective methods of marketing directly to prospective patients in a way that lets them know who we are, gets them to like our brand, and trust us to provide the best care for them.

And then, after all the marketing, we need to be able to deliver uniquely impactful experiences in our clinics. Because all the marketing in the world won’t help if you’re unskilled, inept, or impersonal. Once those patients have a great experience, then they become marketers for you, telling their friends and family about how awesome you and your clinic are. So let’s get started!


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