The vast majority of physical therapists—including those who go on to become practice owners—graduate from PT school without receiving any formal marketing training. And even therapists who took business courses during their undergrad years probably didn’t delve into specific marketing strategies, like those around email segmentation and automation. This could explain why PT practices are notoriously behind the curve when it comes to not only attracting new patients, but also retaining clients for wellness-based services post-discharge.
But with reimbursements declining and therapists accruing more student debt than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly crucial for PTs to step up their marketing and engagement game in the name of bringing more patients through the door and gaining their loyalty for the long haul. And email can be a seriously big help on both fronts. But, it’s going to take more than a few good physical therapy newsletter ideas. That’s why I’ve wrangled some top tips from a successful PT practice that has email marketing down to a science, combined that advice with lessons I’ve learned by growing an online physical therapy business, and mashed it all together into the complete guide to email marketing for PT practices.
Don’t view email marketing—or any marketing, for that matter—as “selling.”
The minute you start to consider what you’re doing “selling,” your whole approach to email marketing changes. Remember: You’re a highly trained professional with the ability to dramatically improve your patients’ quality of life. You’re not selling; you’re offering people an opportunity to improve their lives.
Brian Wilson, MSPT, of Catalyst Physical Therapy and Wellness, is a strong proponent of this mindset. He runs a successful interdisciplinary clinic in the highly competitive San Diego market.
“I don't consider marketing ‘selling our services,’ but rather helping people find something they truly could benefit from having in their lives,” Wilson explains. Catalyst offers physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, and massage—and there are a lot of people out there who would greatly benefit from the convenience and collaboration found at Catalyst. But, as Wilson points out, that can only happen if they know these services exist in the first place.
As with any form of marketing—social media, blogging, physician visits, or community outreach—consistency is key. We live in an era of information overload, and if your clinic is not consistently delivering subtle reminders about your services, people can quickly forget about you.
Wilson recommends creating a set schedule for email sends. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how frequently you should email your marketing list, but it’s important to stay consistent. Some practices send weekly e-blasts; others, like Catalyst, opt for fewer mailings—they send emails monthly—that are densely packed with helpful content.
Know your audience, and cater your emails to their needs.
One of the golden rules for any business owner or marketer is to “know thy audience”—and that rule certainly applies to physical therapy practices.
Any email you create should reflect your clinic’s brand, tying back to your mission and giving folks a good feel for your clinic’s personality. Thus, it’s essential to ensure that whoever manages your email correspondence truly understands the culture at your office.
Catalyst is known for being fun, welcoming, youthful and light-hearted—and the email communications reflect that vibe.
Segment your list whenever possible.
Chances are, your full email list includes many readers, all with diverse interests. Consequently, a particular piece of content might be incredibly valuable to some readers—and not at all relevant to others. This is why savvy marketers segment their email recipients as early as possible. Most email providers allow you to to tag people who click on specific links, and you can then take that information and use it to develop more targeted sends in the future.
For example, say you own a PT clinic in Aspen, and you include an article about common skiing injuries in your monthly newsletter, which you send to your entire list. You can tag readers who click on that article—which places them in a bucket or group called “skiing.” In the future, when you run an exclusive event about injury prevention in skiers, you can send a targeted series of invite emails only to that group.
Some automation solutions—like WebPT Reach, which is designed specifically for rehab therapy practices—even allow you to segment based on diagnosis or patient type. Additionally, you can schedule sends at various points throughout the course of treatment, or trigger them based on event type (e.g., progress note or discharge).
Choose the right email provider for your needs.
Some email platforms are free for smaller audiences, and then start charging when a user’s email list reaches a certain size. Others cost more from the get-go, but provide additional features to help you really leverage your email list to the fullest. Keep in mind, too, that some providers have more flexibility with design and appearance, audience segmentation, and sequencing than others.
When I started The Non-Clinical PT, I initially used Mailchimp to reach my email subscribers. It was free, and I didn’t need robust audience segmentation. However, as my business evolved and I developed affiliate partnerships, I found that I needed a more high-end email client. Once I launched Non-Clinical 101, I switched to ConvertKit, and I haven’t looked back. I have to pay a small monthly fee, but it’s totally worth it. I have seen my readers’ engagement skyrocket, and ConverKit’s robust tagging feature keeps me from sending my readers content that doesn’t interest them.
Use a clear call to action (CTA).
Most people who send out monthly emails have heard of the term “call to action.” But in case you haven’t, a CTA is simply a line of text, a button, or any other piece of content that prompts the reader to take action. For example, it could be a button that says, “Book a complimentary injury screen”; or, it could be a link to watch a video that will draw potential patients into the clinic.
Wilson recommends using multiple CTAs throughout the email, rather than using only one at the very end. Many people skim through emails, and a single CTA could be easily missed at first glance.
Match your CTA strategy to your end goal.
Catalyst’s newsletter is broken into unique service departments, each of which might have its own news or articles to share. So, in many cases, each section warrants a separate CTA.
However, if the point of your email is to sell a single event, injury screening, or discounted product or service, you’ll want a single CTA—but you’ll want to intersperse it throughout the email (perhaps in different formats) so people don’t miss it.
For example, a monthly newsletter at an interdisciplinary clinic might comprise content from four separate departments, each of which invites you to purchase something different. However, a targeted email for the aforementioned skiing injury-prevention clinic would try to enroll participants in that specific event. So, the sender would want to encourage readers to sign up in a variety of ways, such as:
- Reserve your spot today. [button]
- Attend this clinic and have the best ski season of your life! [linked text within the body of the email]
- Sign up now and save $25! [link in the middle of the email]
Match your CTA to the type of recipient.
If you’re promoting the same event to different groups of people, be sure to tailor your CTA to each type of recipient. For example, if you’re promoting a free injury screen, your CTA for a patient who has received treatment from you for one or more injuries in the past will be different than your CTA for a potential new patient whose email address you collected at a local 5K.
You might say “We miss you! Come back and see us for a complimentary injury screen” for the loyal patient, but “Sign up for a free injury screen and start running stronger today” to the runner you met at the race.
Wilson also points out that a CTA is only half the story: “Once someone follows the call to action, it's all about personalized follow-up.” For example, if someone clicks to book a complimentary injury screen—and the front office manager takes three days to call and schedule the appointment—you could lose the that person’s interest.
Understand the nuances of a good email.
Depending on your end goal, you’ll need to adapt your writing voice to capture reader attention and drive appropriate action. You won’t necessarily approach an email the same way you would tackle a blog post or research paper. Perhaps you already have a gifted copywriter on staff who can help you craft your email messaging. If not, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a freelancer—or even a PT-specific marketing software.
Choose your subject lines carefully.
Speaking of writing, a good subject line can ensure that readers actually open your email in the first place. Many of us suffer from “inbox fatigue,” and a boring or uninspired headline might cause us to delete the email without even a cursory glance inside. An intriguing email headline can make all the difference. Consider the difference between these two headlines:
- Skiing Injury Prevention Clinic
- Don’t Let an Injury Steal Your Season on the Slopes!
Which one would you click?
Think beyond written content.
Keep in mind that your email content isn’t limited to the written word. Some clinics find that video resonates best with their audience. The key is identifying the type of message you want to deliver, and then determining which medium—text, video, illustration, etc.—is the best-suited to communicate what you want to say.
Ideally, all of your emails will be personalized (i.e., address individuals by name), and you’ll send them during a time when your potential clients are most likely to check email. Most email platforms allow you to track the performance of each send.
Have an end goal for every email—and it doesn’t always have to be about driving revenue.
Depending on how frequently you deploy emails, you might get on people’s nerves if you keep badgering them to come in for treatment. Remember, half of growing your business is developing genuine good will. And fostering a lasting relationship means providing value beyond the time that patients spend at your facility.
If you write a blog post that you think your readers will appreciate—think, “5 Easy Ways to Prevent Common Running Injuries” if you work with runners—don’t be shy about blasting it out to your email list (at least the ones you’ve tagged as runners!). You can also share happy news—like the addition of new team members or extended office hours.
We all know how important blogging is to keeping your website fresh in Google’s eyes, so if there’s something you want to communicate via email, explore the idea of writing a blog post about it instead—and then sending the post out to your email list.
There you have it—our guide to physical therapy email marketing. Do you use email marketing in your clinic? What tips can you share with your fellow readers? Leave us your thoughts in the comment section 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.