As author and marketing guru Seth Godin says, “In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is a failure. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.” If you want to stand out in the rehab therapy marketplace—and potentially grow your clinic—then spending money on marketing is essential. But, to ensure a maximum return on investment, you’ve got to carve out—and carefully manage—your physical therapy clinic’s budget. Knowing where to put those dollars can be a challenge—especially if you don’t have very many of them. But, even though figuring out how to make the biggest impact on a shoestring budget certainly isn’t easy, it can be done if you take a systematic approach to your marketing budget.

In the past, the WebPT Blog has helped you identify how to develop a marketing budget—from setting goals to calculating the percent of revenue you should spend on marketing. Now, we’re going one step deeper to help you get the most out of your physical therapy clinic marketing budget. Think of your marketing budget as a business investment. Depending on your goals, some portions of that investment will pay off now, some in a few years, and some not at all. But to have the best possible chance of success, you need to:

  1. diversify your marketing portfolio for long term growth, and
  2. minimize missteps.

Once you’ve set your budget, it’s time to take those dollars and turn them into new patients. First, though, you’ll need to answer a few questions and address a few pre-spending considerations.

Assess Your Current Situation

To clearly define where you want to spend your marketing dollars, you’ll first need to nail down specific goals for new patients, returning patients, revenue per patient, and so on. If you’ve just opened a new clinic, you probably want to focus on creating awareness and acquiring new patients, more than anything. On the other hand, if you’re well established, you’ll want to work toward both acquiring new patients and re-engaging past patients. This is type of assessment will help you decide where to allocate your funds for the greatest impact.

You’ll also want to set some clear benchmarks so you know whether the money you’re spending is moving the needle. Identify your current patient volumes as well as your most common therapies and best referral sources (and your current performance for each). For example, let’s say you get 10 new patient inquiries per month from your website. To determine whether spending money to get more traffic could drive that number up, you’ll need to get a solid average over the past year so you can measure the performance of your marketing campaigns. You’ll also want to know the current mix of where your patients are coming from and how they’re finding your practice.

A quick note about direct access: If you practice in one of the 18 states with unrestricted patient access—or the 26 states that have access with provisions—then the following advice will help you allocate your budget to drive new patients. We will not get into physician referral strategies due to the complexity of referral program payments. And besides, in the era of big data, the referral game is more about proving results—not pay for play.

Allocate Your Budget in 3 Simple Questions

Who are your best customers?

Your marketing dollars are limited, so be careful about falling into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. Do you specialize in athletic performance and injuries or work-related injuries? Then take a look at who your patients are and why, specifically, they’re coming to you. To do that, you’ll need to evaluate your current patient base. Is there a particular segment of your customers who are more valuable than the others? Do patients with knee injuries drive more revenue than those with lower back injuries? These are questions that will start to help you prioritize the patient segments and specific injuries or issues that you should target with your marketing. Remember: People won’t necessarily look for “Miami Physical Therapist,” but they might search for “hamstring injury.” In fact, one in 20 Google searches is for health-related information.

Where do they go for information?

Now that you’ve identified who your patients are and what questions they’re looking to answer, you can start thinking about where to put your marketing dollars. Patients are increasingly taking their health into their own hands and going online to figure out next steps. The Pew Research Center found that eight in 10 health inquiries start on a search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. The same study found that one in three American adults went online to identify a medical condition, with the most commonly researched topics being specific conditions, treatments, and health professionals. This is not all that surprising, and it’s great for frugal marketers because digital marketing is more targeted and trackable than more traditional advertising media like print, TV, and radio. That means you can get your message to your audience for less—and with less overflow.

How do they consume content?

Okay, now that you know who your patients are and where they go to research health information, you need to find out how they like to learn things. This will take a little more qualitative research. Start by polling your current patients: Do they prefer reading blog posts? Watching videos? Scrolling through lists, gifs, or tweets? Listening to podcasts? Then, take a look at what industry leaders and competitors are doing. Use what you find to start creating—and testing—different pieces of content. This is the part where most marketers get intimidated, because creating content is hard. You can outsource some of it, but at the end of the day, you’re the expert—and if you’re the clinic owner, you’re also the brand. So try and find some time to brainstorm, write, and/or record (for more tips on content creation, check out this blog post).

Go Forth and Market

Now that you’ve benchmarked your current state of marketing affairs and defined the who, what, and where of your messaging, it’s time to turn your practice’s marketing budget into new patients. You’ll want to start with a few key investments and build from there as you start seeing results. Once you have a foundation of key channels, you can start to test new channels and diversify your portfolio. Here are a few ideas for ways to spend your marketing dollars, as well advice on how to categorize the spend and set the timeframe for return.

Organic Search

Investment Type: Low-cost/Long-term

With the majority of patients starting their quest for health improvement by using a search engine, your physical therapy practice needs to be there if you want those patients to find you. If you can optimize your website to rank organically for local searches, you can attract patients without having to pay an ongoing fee—but it will take time. Furthermore, you’ll either need to hire someone to optimize your website or learn how to do it yourself. There are plenty of do-it-yourself resources available for website creation and management (WordPress, for example). To stay relevant to your audience—not to mention boost and maintain your Google ranking—you’ll also want to create new content (like blog posts) on a regular basis, whether that’s weekly, daily, or monthly. Again, you can outsource this task or do it yourself. Just keep in mind that your website is your company’s face online, so spending some money in the beginning to make it look as good as possible will pay off in the long run.

Paid Search

Investment Type: High-cost/Fast-return

Getting your page listed on page one of a major search engine will take time. While you’re working on that, though, you can spend money to get your ads bumped to the top of the list. There are two major players in the search-engine game: Google and Bing/Yahoo. Google gets about two-thirds of the search market, with the other third going to Bing/Yahoo, according to comScore. So if you’re looking for reach, you’ll want to advertise on Google. However, you may actually be able to get a better deal on the Microsoft-owned Bing/Yahoo platform. Whatever route you choose—or if you decide to double-down and invest in both—you’ll want to make sure you target ads locally and be very focused with your keywords to minimize spend. You’ll also be able to see what patients are searching for so you can get a list of keywords to use in your marketing materials and on your website.

Social

Investment Type: Low-cost/Long-term

Using your content to create a social following is a great way to build an audience. You can ask patients to like/share your business and then use the network effect provided by social media to get in front of new audiences. It’s also a great way to stay in front of current and previous customers. The key to success: Provide valuable content that people can—and want to—engage with.

Paid Social

Investment Type: Medium-cost/Fast-return

Platforms like Facebook collect tons of data on users, which allows marketers to target audiences more effectively. Is your ideal customer a man in his forties who runs marathons, has kids, and likes reading? You can target that profile in Facebook. You’ll need more creative resources for this channel—for example, you’ll need to design the ads—but it can be more cost-effective than Google. Remember, though, that not all social media platforms are created equal, so I’d recommend testing what works best with your audience (e.g., if you focus more on geriatric issues, it may be harder to connect with your target audience on Facebook or Instagram).

Email

Investment Type: Low-cost/Long-term

You can get a reasonably priced email service provider like MailChimp to send batch emails to patients. Email is a good tool for engaging patients who have already come through the door or signed up to receive some type of info from you at some point in time. This communication option requires that you build a database to be effective, but it provides a great way for you to keep your patients engaged via newsletters, announcements, and special offers.

Online Reviews

Investment Type: Medium-cost/Long-term

For local businesses, managing online reputations is more important than ever. Seeking out patient reviews can be time-consuming, but it pays off big when someone searches “best PT clinic in [your city]” and sees your numerous five-star ratings on Yelp or Google. You can either manage the review solicitation process yourself or hire someone to do it for you. Pro tip: Use your email list to request reviews from happy customers.

Direct Mail

Investment Type: High-cost/Fast-return

I primarily recommend digital modes of marketing, but depending on your audience, you may want to consider direct mail. Usually, this is a good complement to digital marketing campaigns, but you can also use it by itself. Direct mail is harder to track, but you can get pretty targeted with your audience. It’s not cheap to do, but if you’re targeting certain areas where you know your best customers reside, it can pay off.

Crunch Those Numbers: A PT Clinic Sample Budget

Assuming your website is in a good place and you are creating your own content for it, here’s an example of a Q4 marketing budget of $1000/month that I might recommend to your physical therapy clinic:

Q4 Budget

October

November

December

Digital

     

Google

500

450

400

Bing/Yahoo

200

250

200

Social – Facebook

0

100

200

Digital/Design Contractor

300

200

200

Total

1000

1000

1000

*This budget starts with a focus on digital and more outsourced work and then shifts some resources to Facebook for testing.

 

Keep in mind that this budget does not calculate sweat equity and could change drastically depending on what you handle versus what you outsource. Finding the right budget is not a cut-and-dried process; it’ll take some rebalancing based on your needs. Some initiatives will have an immediate impact, while others will take time to come to fruition. Some new campaigns will fail, while others that once worked wonders will start underperforming. Effectively managing your marketing budget requires you to continually test new things; spend more on what works; and cut spending on what doesn’t. Just remember: You are investing in your company, and as Benjamin Graham said, “Successful investing is about managing risk, not avoiding it.”


About Shawn McKee

Hailing from the great state of Oklahoma, Shawn is the Head of Marketing at WebPT, where he wrangles his 10-plus years of marketing and advertising experience to help WebPT better connect with its vast audience of rehab therapy professionals.