They say wisdom comes through experience. And when it comes to physical therapy marketing, there’s no one wiser than the PTs who’ve struck out on their own and built successful businesses. If you’re just starting out on your physical therapy business journey, you probably wish you had some of that knowledge. Well, we happen to know a few PT pros who were more than willing to share their sage marketing advice with us (and you). Read on for tips and tricks from physical therapists who have made marketing work for them.
Know your audience.
Ask any marketer what the first step in a marketing plan should be, and you’ll likely hear something along the lines of, “Build a buyer persona.” According to Josh Funk, PT, DPT, founder and CEO of Rehab 2 Perform, you should start by determining your ideal client types: “These ideally are unique to everything from age and gender to offspring and earnings as well as where they are spending their time and money.”
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, Founder of The Non-Clinical PT, agrees: “Understanding your audience is key. If you can determine who you want to reach (and why they need to hear what you're saying), you can design your messaging and tactics accordingly.”
Invest in multiple digital platforms.
These days, social media has taken center stage in the marketing arena, and as such, every physical therapy practice should have a social media presence. Not only does it allow practices to engage with potential, current, and past patients, but it also enhances search engine optimization (SEO) for those practices, thus making it easier for patients to find them online.
However, today’s social media environment is definitely more “pay-to-play” than it was in the past. So, you must be willing to spend some dollars—as well as stay on top of the ever-changing algorithms for each platform—to ensure your social media posts are seen by the most people possible. For this reason, Castin recommends supplementing your social media efforts with email marketing. “Social media is guided by algorithms, but email is a direct vein into people's lives. If you can get people on your email list, you'll have the best shot at reaching them without the static or confusing algorithms you'll find on the social platforms,” she said.
Create a website.
Speaking of social media, remember that a social media page should never double as a website. In fact, forgoing a clinic website is a fatal mistake that too many small-to-mid-sized practices make. But according to Scott Hebert, PT, DPT, WebPT Director of Product for Reach, your clinic’s website is crucial to your marketing success. “This doesn't have to break the bank,” he advised. “Today, building a website is simpler than ever. Sites like Squarespace and Wix allow you to quickly create a great website without having to know how to write a single line of code.” For a complete guide to creating a clinic website, check out this free resource.
Stay on top of your local listings and reviews.
Patients, physicians, prospective employees—they’re just like you! They consult Google to find local businesses they want to visit, and they read online reviews. Thus, you need to make sure that when they search for physical therapy providers in your city, your practice shows up on the first page. “To do this, claim your Google My Business profile and implement a local listing management tool like WebPT Local to make sure your information is consistent around the Web,” Hebert explained. (Learn how to set up your Google My Business page.) From there, you need to have a steady stream of five-star reviews on Google and other review platforms. “If you do these two things and you're still not ranking, it might be time to review some SEO best practices for your website, as that's likely the missing link,” Hebert said.
Develop a distinct brand.
Now it’s time to flex your creative muscle by developing your clinic’s brand, which includes things like your clinic logo, the colors you use on your website, and the manner in which you talk about your services online. “Try to hone in on a brand sooner than later,” Castin advised. Specifically, she suggests using “no more than two font families and [sticking to] just a few key brand colors.” She also recommends picking a specific "tone of voice" for all of your communications and sticking with it: “You can be casual, serious, educational, or whimsical, but try to keep it all consistent. It seems like overkill sometimes, but brands that stick to a specific brand aesthetic and voice from the beginning have an easier time with marketing. You'll have an existing palette to choose from for your graphics, and you won't be as likely to get stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’ when crafting your messaging.”
Set a marketing budget.
If you’re a new practice owner, perhaps one of the trickiest parts of marketing is deciding how much of your operational budget you’ll devote to marketing. According to Hebert, when you’re first starting out, you should simply make sure you’re spending more than $0. “Our industry survey has shown organizations committed to growth are spending 1-3% of revenue on marketing,” he said. “‘Build it and they will come’ is a dangerous precedent for any business—especially in PT. So, invest in easy-to-implement marketing strategies if you're looking to grow.”
Leverage direct access.
Although some form of direct access now exists in all 50 states, many PTs forget to take advantage of it. However, Mike Manzo, PT, MPT, Co-Founder and CEO of Atlantic Physical Therapy Center, is a big proponent of taking full advantage of direct access. “We leverage direct access in all of our marketing efforts. We have signs in all of our offices hanging from the ceilings that read, ‘Try PT First,’ ‘Ask Me About Direct Access,’ and ‘What is Direct Access?’’ This helps get the direct access conversation started, and it exposes the concept of direct access—as well as its benefits—to current patients and, through word-of-mouth, their personal networks.
Hebert agrees: “We find that practices that excel at marketing are able to attract more patients directly than they do through physician referrals. This puts your practice in an advantageous position, as you control your own destiny and are not subject to challenges presented by volatile referral sources when trying to keep your schedule full.” While there are many different options when it comes to direct patient acquisition strategies, at a minimum:
- ensure you have a form on your website that potential patients can use to request an appointment, and
- create a few simple landing pages to use for specialty programs and to capture prospective patient information at community events.
“Ideally, leads captured through these forms are managed centrally to improve conversion rate,” Hebert said. Tools such as WebPT Reach help you not only build landing pages, but also track where your leads are coming from (e.g., Facebook, Google, or email), which makes it super simple for you to determine which of your direct acquisition strategies work—and which don’t.
Strengthen relationships with referral sources.
While direct acquisition strategies are important, you can't completely forget about the relationships you have with your referral sources. As Hebert explains, “Referral marketing is typically a bit more hands on, but by establishing a basic playbook—and tracking your outreach activities—you can systematically manage and improve the relationships you have with your most valuable referral sources.”
Manzo has witnessed this strategy at work in his own practice: “Because of direct access, we have many opportunities to refer clients out. This allows us to flip the referral relationship. We have become the referral source, which in turns builds a more meaningful relationship [with referral sources]. When we market to physicians, we tell them that we have many opportunities to refer cases. We then ask a powerful question to the physician: ‘What types of cases do you prefer and who are your best payers?’”
And Manzo doesn’t stop there. His clinic positions itself as the go-to for clinical education in his area by “bringing in world-class surgeons and speakers for educational seminars and inviting local doctors and clinicians. This positions our company as a thought and clinical leader and helps us build relationships with referral sources and with our peers and competitors.”
Get out into the community.
If you’re not able to host an event, you can still meet patients and referral sources face-to-face by getting involved in the activities they already take part in. “More recently, we have really started to push more into community events (e.g., road races, surfing contests, and health fairs),” Manzo said. “Being present in the communities that we serve is important to us and keeps our brand present.”
When you put yourself out in the community, though, the value you deliver to patients becomes even more important. As Manzo put it, “Marketing starts with the service that you provide. Your external efforts will only be as good as the product that you provide to your clients. Those clients will be the lifeline of your marketing program.”
Keep your patients engaged—even after discharge.
Just because you’ve discharged a patient doesn’t mean you’ll never see him or her again. Keeping up with past patients should be just as much of a priority as bringing in new ones. In Funk’s words, “Just because they are a client now, [that] does not mean they will remain a client or come back for future situations. It is essential that we continue to deliver value, stay connected, and engage our current and previous clients in an attempt to remain top of mind for when the right situation arises, [or if they]—or someone they know—comes to us for service. It is significantly less ‘cost per acquisition’ when it comes to marketing dollars if we are cherishing the people [who] have already chosen us the first time for a particular service.” To learn how your clinic can win patients for life, check out this article by WebPT Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC.
Don’t overthink it.
When you first dip your toe into the proverbial marketing waters, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many strategies and so many opinions on what you should do—and not many are specific to PTs. “Try not to get too sucked into the fancy marketing speak; it can make your head spin!” Castin said. “At the end of the day, marketing just means you’re trying to communicate with your customers. The marketing tactics are all vehicles to that end goal. It can be easy to get sucked into spending all your time building fancy social campaigns or complicated email funnels—but none of that matters if your message isn’t resonating with the people you want to reach. You're best served by exploring the message you want to deliver, who you want to receive that message, and why what you’re saying matters. Once you have that dialed in, you can look into the marketing tactics to make it happen.”
So, there you have it: marketing advice from PT experts. Ready to build your own marketing strategy? Be sure to check out our free guide to physical therapy marketing—which you can download right here—and start building your own strategy that’ll take your practice into the future.