The prospect of building a physical therapy business can feel daunting, but the advent of social media has made certain aspects of the process dramatically easier—namely, networking. While online networking can seem a bit unnatural to many of us at first, pushing past the discomfort can be the one of the best things we’ll ever do for our personal and professional growth. Whether the end goal is to attract patients to a traditional or telehealth practice, forge connections for cross-referrals, or simply build an audience for a non-traditional operation, online networking offers plenty of opportunities to boost your PT business.
Here are a few ways to leverage online networking to help grow your PT business.
Networking is as much about helping others as it is about helping yourself. When you start to establish yourself as a source of information and support in certain online spaces, people will naturally start to think of you as the expert—provided you’re consistent with your message.
Show up regularly.
Part of networking online is simply showing up in the first place—but, continuing to do so on a consistent basis is just as important. Many people network simply by contributing to online discussions. Depending on your target audience and clients, these discussions could be taking place in many spots across the web.
- If you’re targeting a multidisciplinary medical audience, Student Doctor Network is a great place to start.
- If you’re looking to get referrals (and, of course, give them in return), joining the PT to PT Referrals Facebook group is wise.
- If you’re looking to network with other physical therapists, the Physical Therapy Practice, Education, and Networking group on Facebook is a good option.
- For networking in the geriatric space, the Geriatric OT, PT, and SLP Collaborative Group on Facebook is a wonderful place to connect.
- If you’re looking to connect with others in the non-clinical rehab space, the Non-Clinical Networking for Rehab Professionals group and LinkedIn are great options.
Create a cadence for posting content.
Consistency extends beyond simply networking in chat rooms, Facebook groups, and online forums. Sharing content such as blogs, videos, podcasts, and LinkedIn articles can help you build thought leadership and attract a “tribe” of people who enjoy learning from you. And if you play your cards right, those in your “tribe” may very well become clients or patients.
Jenna Kantor, PT, DPT, owner of Fairytale Physical Therapy, recommends choosing a level of consistency and committing to it indefinitely. Based on your own availability, resources, and interest, that might be once a month, once a week, or even daily. But whatever you choose, be consistent. “The forever commitment makes you a reliable source for those interested in regularly investing in your services,” Kantor explains.
Create great content.
Speaking of posting content, the writer in me is giddy about discussing the importance of taking the time to create great content. As I mentioned, content could refer to blogs, social media posts, videos, Facebook lives, or podcasts. But whatever content you share should be worth people’s time. If you’re not a strong writer, consider launching a podcast. If you’re shy, consider running an Instagram account. Just do your best to produce high-quality pieces, and––this goes without saying––don’t plagiarize others’ work.
Show the love for others’ hard work.
Once you put your content out there, don’t expect to sit back and have the “likes” roll in. Again, effective networking is about helping others as much as it’s about helping yourself. If you find other people posting similar content—with messages that resonate with you—be sure to give them plenty of love. Like, comment, or share, and help like-minded people find their own success online.
Devra Sheldon, PT, MSPT, NCS, is a physical therapist-turned consultant who focuses on bringing the latest advancements in pain science to physical therapists’ daily practice. Online networking has helped her business grow tremendously: “The two biggest factors that have driven traffic to my site are first, have great content that is relevant to your target audience. And second, have good relationships,” she says.
Whenever she publishes a new blog and posts it on social media, the people with whom she has formed relationships—often folks with much larger followings than her own—amplify her message with their likes, retweets, and shares. She recommends forming relationships with people who understand your mission and will support you as you grow.
Discover who “your people” are—and where they hang out online.
Part of building a business is discovering who “your people” are—and how to serve them.
“Creating a way to let potential patients and clients know who you are as a person, what you stand for, and how you approach their problem can go a long way,” explains TaVona Boggs, PT, a physical therapist, coach, and creator of Wellness PTs. By being authentic with your voice and message, Boggs says, you can differentiate yourself from the sea of other PTs out there.
You’ll ultimately attract some folks and repel others, but the ones you attract—whether they are fellow therapists, other medical professionals, specific types of potential patients, or even members of the general public—will form your tribe.
Chances are, these folks congregate within specific social media platforms, rather than spreading out among all of the channels. For example, you might serve yogis and find that they love Instagram, or you might target young moms and discover they live on Pinterest.
Focus exclusively on your platform of choice.
This might sound discouraging at first. After all, it’s a great feeling to be on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube––but keep in mind that it’s a lot of work to maintain a good presence on all of them at the same time.
Instead, identify who you’re trying to reach—and what type of problems your business helps those people solve. Then, determine where they spend time online, and focus your efforts there. For example, if you run a pediatric physical therapy website, you might find—as Chanda Jothen, PT, DPT, founder of Pink Oatmeal has—that many of your clients spend a lot of time on Pinterest. Likewise, Emma Shapiro, PT, DPT, of DebtFree PT, has discovered that most of her clients come in through Facebook. So, she spends a lot of time running Facebook Lives to help debt-ridden physical therapists understand their financial options.
Kantor adheres to this rule as well, recommending, ”Choose one social media platform, dominate it with your consistent content and interactions with potential clients, and then add on another social media platform.” She explains that trying to be present on numerous platforms from day one can feel overwhelming to both you and your audience, and—perhaps most importantly—can quickly cause you to stray from your consistent posting schedule.
Whichever platform you choose, explore its use to the fullest.
Social media itself can feel daunting, and it’s unrealistic for a new business owner to fully understand any social media platform. However, once you hone in on your medium of choice—the one where your tribe spends their time—be sure to explore and learn it thoroughly so you can fully leverage its power.
For example, Facebook is a great place to network. But, it’s not just a place to post content and re-share interesting articles and memes. You can also take advantage of the following features to fuel your networking efforts:
- Facebook business page: You can set up a whole page for your business, where you can share news, job postings, thought-provoking content, and more.
- Facebook groups: Creating groups in Facebook helps you organically build a tribe by establishing yourself as a thought leader and expert who can help solve people’s problems.
- Facebook Lives: Facebook enables you to go live on camera, which helps you connect with your audience and build connections.
- Facebook job postings: You can post jobs from your company’s page or create a whole group around job postings. For example, I run a free Facebook group called Non-Clinical Job Postings for Rehab Professionals, where I post jobs that PT, OT, and SLP professionals could land with a rehab background.
- Facebook events: If you’re planning to host a party, seminar, or other type of gathering, you can share the details using the Facebook events feature.
- Facebook ads: Facebook even allows you to run targeted ads to attract your ideal clientele. You can set a pixel on your website’s homepage, and then target ads to anyone who has visited your page in the past.
Facebook is more robust than most other social media platforms, which is why I chose to highlight it in this section. But there are even more pared-down platforms you can use to build a true community in a short time. Once you see it all spelled out, it’s easy to understand why it makes sense to start with a single platform, network effectively on it, and then move on to other platforms as you wish.
Grow and cultivate an email list.
As important as social media networking is, my own number-one tip to any physical therapy business owner is to grow an email list. To take it a step further, don’t just grow it for numbers––grow it for engagement. This helps keep your costs low, because quality email providers do cost money when your list starts to grow.
Don't buy the hype that email marketing is dead.
There are some Internet “gurus” out there who claim that email marketing is dead, and that social media is the only place to spend your energy—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Your email list, in many ways, is where your biggest cheerleaders live—and it’s a form of communication where you have maximum control over the message you deliver to your audience. (For a complete guide to email marketing, be sure to check out this blog post.)
Jothen reveals that the vast majority of her paying customers come from her email list. Her site offers a variety of movement resources for therapists, teachers, and parents, including kids’ yoga activities and all sorts of ideas for brain breaks. By sending out regular emails to her most loyal readers, she is able to provide them with tailored content at a reasonable rate, without being a slave to social media’s constantly changing whims. She urges aspiring PT entrepreneurs to build their email lists as soon as possible. “They’re your most loyal fans,” she explains.
Erica Meloe, PT, OCS, COMT, MBA, MAPT, DPT, WCS, director of Velocity Physiotherapy in New York, agrees; her most important piece of advice to any PT business owner is “grow your email list!” She adds that this is especially important if you are going to sell online products, as we have no control over social media’s algorithms.
Keep the conversation going.
The other piece of the puzzle, though, is to actually cultivate your email list. When people sign up to receive emails from you, they’ll want helpful content delivered on a regular basis. If you only show up every few months and spam people’s inboxes with sales pitches, you’ll likely have lots of unsubscribers. Susan Coel Clinton, PT, DScPT, OCS, WCS, COMT, FAAOMPT, of Embody Physiotherapy and Wellness, takes this approach, sharing, “consistent email communication drives responses more than the other social media groups.”
Regardless of your preferred platform, though, it all comes back to consistency. Boggs says consistency can mean anything from starting an online group and answering questions and doing Facebook Lives to starting a blog about your specialty area. Whatever you choose, lean in, work hard, and show yourself to be a consistent problem-solver.
“When you can clearly solve people’s problems while putting your personality into the mix, your patients and clients will know that you are their PT,” she says.
Give some some backlinks, and get some in return
When people like you and respect what you’re doing, they’ll be happy to link from their own website to yours. These so-called “backlinks” from others’ sites are a great way to build up your search engine optimization (SEO) power—thus improving your website’s rankings on search engines like Google. (For a more in-depth discussion on the ins and outs of search engine optimization, give this blog post a read.)
Networking plays a big role in any successful SEO strategy. As you establish credibility as an expert, other site owners and content producers will inevitably begin linking to your content. And when folks link to you—especially from bigger, more prolific websites—it boosts your own search visibility. And in the world of backlinks, reciprocity is the name of the game. Give a backlink, and get one in return: networking at its simplest!
Many of you run your own physical therapy businesses. How has online networking helped your own endeavors? Please share your insight in the comments below!
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.