Insurance-based PT practice owners could learn a thing or two from their cash-based peers when it comes to marketing. That’s because effective marketing for cash-based clinics boils down to two things: therapists (1) knowing their worth and (2) capitalizing on their value—something that every PT should be doing anyway. That’s because, as copays soar and patients become more selective about who they entrust with their health, physical therapists need to differentiate themselves from the sea of providers who claim to have the best approaches to treating pain and musculoskeletal issues.
To that end, here’s a step-by-step guide on marketing for cash-based practices (or any practice striving to remain competitive in today’s healthcare environment):
Cultivate a strong brand.
Before you can start promoting your services, you have to have a solid handle on your clinic’s brand identity. But as Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, puts it, “Your brand is so much more than what you sell.” In fact, your brand is a reflection of your practice’s culture and values, and it’s instrumental to marketing a cash-based practice.
The best marketing comes from businesses that have a strong identity, know exactly who their ideal clients are, and present their brand in a way that appeals to their target audience. (For examples of brands that do this really well, check out this article from Convince & Convert.) And if you own a cash-based practice, you have to work twice as hard to convince people that your practice is the right one to meet their needs. After all, you’re asking people to pay upfront and out of pocket for services that aren’t cheap in the first place. But, you can show people why your practice is worth that investment; the key is making sure your culture appeals to the kind of patients you wish to serve and that your marketing conveys your message effectively. Here’s how to do that in five steps:
1. Audit your current brand.
Before you can market yourself, you’ve got to know who you are. Otherwise, it’s like trying to teach an advanced course on a subject you know very little about. Of course, conducting an accurate, objective self-assessment is easier said than done. As this article from Inc. states, “Sometimes, when you're too close to your business, it's difficult to know the way it is perceived from the outside.” So, get really honest with yourself: what are your strengths and weaknesses? Better yet, you should (1) get honest opinions from peers and (2) collect patient feedback through Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) surveys. The former will afford you a clinical perspective while the latter will give you a clear picture of how patients view you currently.
2. Decide who your target audience is.
As this resource from Demand Mart states, “the first step in approaching a physical therapy marketing plan is to target a specific audience with needs your services can fulfill.” Unless you’re just getting started, you probably already have a good idea of who your ideal patients are—particularly when it comes to demographics and diagnoses—but you’ll want to dig a little deeper into researching your target market. Try answering the following questions:
- Why does your target audience need physical therapy services?
- What would prompt them to seek you out?
- Where would they go to research or learn about the kind of services you provide?
- Who influences your audience’s decisions?
3. Assess your competitors.
Next, you’ll want to scope out the local landscape. For this one, try thinking outside the box:
- Take a look at how your competitors market themselves. (Don’t forget the non-PT businesses that target your patients—like chiropractic offices, wellness facilities, yoga studios, gyms, etc.)
- Compare their strengths and weaknesses to your own.
- Decide what sets your practice apart.
- Present that differentiating factor as a benefit to potential patients.
4. Establish your unique value proposition.
As the old business adage goes, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” Thus, it’s important to make sure that whatever price your patients pay, your value is worth it. Furthermore, you have to make sure your patients know the value of your services is worth the price. And that starts with establishing your value proposition.
As Michael Skok explains in this Forbes article, “a value proposition is a positioning statement that explains what benefit you provide for who and how you do it uniquely well.” If, for example, you allow cash payment for services, it’s likely a unique benefit compared to other providers—and it’s definitely something cash-based practices (and insurance-based practices that offer cash-pay options) should play up. Why? Well, for one thing, because patients pay for services on the same day as their appointment, cash-based PTs can often spend the full visit providing one-on-one treatment to the patient. And over the long term, that could reduce the number of visits a patient requires to reach his or her goals. Furthermore, despite a higher immediate cost, many patients find their care to be less expensive when paying out of pocket for PT services, as PTs can offer a discount for same-day payments (as long as the discount complies with applicable laws).
5. Develop your brand assets.
Now comes the fun part: picking your brand’s creative elements (essentially, the look, sound, and voice of your brand). According to Raquel Baldelomar, Founder and Managing Director of the health marketing agency Quaintise, "A brand's visual vocabulary will be reflected in your colors, fonts, logo, and overall style." And every visual element—from the font on your website to the images and articles you share on social media—should align with your brand assets. The copy (a.k.a. text) on your website and social media pages should also have a voice that matches your brand (e.g., conversational, professional, funny, or direct).
Plot your strategy.
Now that all 50 states allow some form of direct access to physical therapy services, every PT should be marketing his or her services directly to patients—but this is especially true for cash-based PTs. While some insurance payers still require a physician referral, cash-pay PTs aren’t beholden to the rules of insurance carriers and, therefore, can skip the referral middleman altogether in many cases.
So, what does this mean? Basically, you want all of your marketing efforts to be in places where potential patients will see them. Here are the best marketing strategies for cash-based PT practices:
Create a beautiful website.
As I’m sure you know, having a website is a non-negotiable for any PT practice—but it’s especially crucial for cash-based clinics. Without a website, you’ll have a tough time showing up in Google search results. And if you don’t show up there, you’ll miss out on all the people who use search engines to find healthcare providers. (According to this 2018 report from Kyruus, that’s about 62% of online health seekers.) So, at a minimum, your website should:
- Have an appealing design that works on all devices.
- Display your name, address, and phone number in a prominent spot on all pages.
- Use keywords to boost your SEO ranking.
- Include a page with your pricing structure.
Have a strong social media presence.
According to Sprout Social, “Social media is a key component of how your practice is perceived by current and prospective patients alike.” It also affords providers a unique opportunity to get up-close and personal with potential patients before they ever set foot in the clinic. To take full advantage of social media for business, be sure to:
- post regularly (without spamming);
- create a connection by using humanizing content (e.g., event pictures, patient or staff stories, and testimonials);
- educate with relevant content your patients care about;
- interact with people by responding to comments and reviews; and
- consider automation tools to track and schedule social posts.
Pro tip: Before you use any patient photos, names, or testimonials on your social media pages, make sure you have permission. Download our testimonial form here.
Use email to market to current and past patients.
Email marketing: It’s effective, easy, and—compared to many other strategies—relatively inexpensive. It’s a great way to keep past and present patients engaged by sending:
- promotional materials,
- educational articles,
- NPS® and satisfaction surveys, and
- requests for online reviews.
Take advantage of paid ads.
As Scott Hebert, PT, DPT, WebPT’s director of its Reach product, mentioned during last month’s webinar on patient marketing, very few clinics have gotten on board with paid ads on sites like Google. That means those who do leverage paid advertising have a very good chance of their ads being seen (and more importantly, getting clicks). The best part? It’s not nearly as difficult as you might think.
Here are a few key best practices for paid ads:
- Focus on keywords related to your location, service, and discipline (e.g., “physical therapy milwaukee” or “dry needling milwaukee”).
- Make sure the pages your clickers land on feature messaging that aligns with the advertisement.
- Consider using landing pages (i.e., web pages specifically designed to get someone to book an appointment or use your services after clicking on your ad).
Track your efforts.
Tracking the results of your marketing efforts is something you simply can’t afford to forego. Not only will it help you determine which parts of your marketing strategy work, but it’ll also help you make better decisions about where to throw your marketing dollars next. In this month’s founder letter, WebPT President and Co-founder Heidi Jannenga suggests the following: “Add a line to your intake form—or better yet, your front office team’s script for scheduling new patient appointments—and track those responses over time. That way, you’ll know which of your marketing efforts are the most successful, which means you can allocate your marketing dollars more strategically.”
Jannenga also recommends “differentiating based on specific marketing sources and monitoring the ones that are giving you the most bang for your buck. Don’t simply ask patients how they heard about you (e.g., search engine results page, advertisement, social media, friend referral, etc.).” Instead, drill down into specifics like:
- which search engine or social media platform they found you on;
- whether they received a marketing email;
- the name of the person who referred them; and
- where they saw your advertisement.
Revise as necessary.
Marketing is an ongoing process. As this WebPT Blog post mentions, “just because one [marketing] strategy works well for one clinic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work well for another. Furthermore, the strategy you use this year may not have the same results next year.” And as long as you’re tracking your efforts, you’ll catch on when certain campaigns or strategies begin losing their effectiveness. Sometimes, something as simple as changing the color of your call-to-action (CTA) button (i.e., the button that says “Schedule an Appointment” or “Click Here”) on your marketing emails can increase your click rates.
Also, be sure you regularly monitor your Google rankings. If you notice that your rank is slipping, it might be time to freshen up your marketing strategy.
Stay up to date on political and marketing trends.
Politics and marketing: they both evolve constantly. And like it or not, they’re also intrinsically tied to the physical therapy profession. So, in order to remain in touch, in demand, and relevant, you should always stay on top of healthcare-related political and marketing trends. This is especially true for cash services: as the cost of health care becomes more and more burdensome, patients will continue looking for alternatives to costly copays.
So, there you have it: a play-by-play rundown of marketing for cash-based practices—or any private practice that’s serious about marketing. Looking to up your marketing game, but worried you lack the time? Check out how Reach, WebPT’s physical therapy marketing software, can make marketing your cash-based practice a piece of cake. And if you’ve got questions about marketing for cash-pay clinics, drop us a line in the comment section below!