Low-Cost Marketing Solutions

Boost your marketing efforts through volunteerism, community outreach and social media.

By Rebecca Jones

James Lehman, DC, MBA, adjusts spines, but rubbing shoulders is how he really grew his chiropractic practice in Albuquerque, N.M.

“One strategy that really worked for me involved volunteerism,” says Dr. Lehman, who later left his New Mexico practice to become associate professor of clinical sciences at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic. “I volunteered to work with young politicians running for office. I’d make phone calls, hand out brochures. I developed friendships with a lot of decision-makers, some of whom got elected. Those young politicians, even if they lose, they’ll never forget you.” And being involved in political campaigns allowed Dr. Lehman to introduce himself to thousands of people he would never have met otherwise—each one a potential new client.

Politicking may not get everyone’s vote for preferred strategy for marketing a chiropractic practice, but for those with a taste for electioneering, the cost is nominal and the returns could be staggering.

Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Community outreach—whether through political campaigns, participating in local events such as festivals or runs, or joining civic organizations—is one tried-and-true marketing technique that goes hand in hand with simply being a good citizen.

But there are other ways, as well—some old-fashioned, involving simple word of mouth; some cutting edge, capitalizing on emerging technology and a generation increasingly tethered to smartphones.

There’s no one surefire best technique guaranteed to boost business. What works for some simply fails to work for others, says Tom Minkalis, interim director of the Center for Business Development at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. Different practices, different communities, different personalities all factor in. Thus, DCs should be open to trying a variety of approaches to find the techniques that work best for them in their unique circumstances.

Here are some ideas:

Try Social Media
It goes without saying that a Web site is critical for any business. But increasingly, social networking through such media as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is also crucial for reaching certain demographic segments.

“I’m not even in the Yellow Pages anymore,” says Jordan Leasure, DC, owner of North Shore Pro-Active Health in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville, whose target market is 30- to 60-year-olds interested in wellness. “Print advertising is becoming archaic. But if your practice is primarily Medicare, then they may not be Facebook users. It depends on who you’re trying to reach.”

Dr. Leasure recruits patients to become fans of her clinic’s Facebook and Twitter pages. She even set up a computer in the office lobby, so they could do so when they check in. Once they’re Facebook fans, she can communicate with them instantly. “If I have a cancellation for a massage, I can post, ‘We have an opening for a massage at 2 p.m.,’ and 200 people can see it,” she says.

Dr. Leasure has also discovered a smartphone app called “Foursquare” that allows her to attract potential patients and wellness store customers by posting specials that Foursquare users who are nearby can see and might take advantage of.

Jay Greenstein, DC, CCSP, owner of Sport and Spine Rehab, which has seven offices in Maryland and Virginia, praises Demandforce, one of the newest online tools for reaching clients. The Demandforce software lets patients schedule appointments online and then sends them reminder e-mails or text messages. Afterward, it gives them the opportunity to review their experience, and their comments are posted online.

“So when people Google you, you’ll have all your patient reviews right there,” Dr. Greenstein says. “Assuming you do a good job, you’ll have literally hundreds of patients saying they had a good experience at Dr. Smith’s office.”

Demandforce is costlier than simple social networking software, but Dr. Greenstein says it saves money in other ways. “It’s a couple of hundred dollars a month, but you’ll save that much alone just in the time you save, not having to pay a staff person to make confirmation calls.”

Tap into Existing Patient Referrals
Any doctor’s best recruiter of new patients is an existing patient. No one can speak more credibly about the gifts and skills a doctor has to offer than someone who has experienced them firsthand.

Ronald Farabaugh, DC, who practices in Columbus, Ohio, says 90 percent of his new patients find him by way of referrals from existing patients. How? He creates an air of expectation that as they get better, they will tell others of their experiences.

“Getting good results alone isn’t enough,” Dr. Farabaugh says. “You’re expected to get good results. But if you don’t teach patients to refer, you could pull someone back from the dead and they wouldn’t tell anybody. The moment that patients relate that they’re feeling better, that’s the very moment I pull three business cards off the shelf, hand them to the patient and ask them to share their story with others.”

Partner with Other Groups
When Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas opened a clinic earlier this summer in the nearby community of Flower Mound, it partnered with the local YMCA. The clinic’s doctors will do health talks and screenings at the Y, and YMCA literature is available inside the clinic.

The clinic also worked out a similar deal with Sprouts, an organic food store chain. Store personnel will lead organic cooking demonstrations at the clinic, and in exchange, clinic fliers will be dropped into store shopping bags. “Partnerships with local businesses that are not in direct competition but serve the same patient base are great,” says Matt Eiserloh, chief marketing director for Parker.

Farmers markets are another good fit for many chiropractors. They draw the very people who may be interested in the nutritional, holistic or noninvasive services many DCs have to offer. Minkalis suggests giving free blood pressure checks or other screenings at these markets.

Fred Raschke, DC, CCSP, owner of Raschke Chiropractic Center in Weyauwega, Wis., goes one step further. He finds out where all the best places are to obtain organic foods and other products locally, and he’s become a virtual clearinghouse of such information. “If you become the ‘wellness doctor’ that people can call to find out where to get the best eggs or the best asparagus, you become a great community resource and people will call your clinic,” he says.

Dr. Raschke has had similar success joining his local school district’s wellness committee and local safety council. His volunteer work in these areas has garnered him numerous mentions in the local newspaper and an identity as a town treasure, committed to making the community a healthier place.

“That type of promotion is very positive, much more so than an ad you might buy,” Dr. Raschke says.

Consider Sponsorships
Dr. Farabaugh donated three scales to his local gym—one for the men’s dressing room, one for the women’s and one for a hallway. “I told them, ‘Your scales here are crummy. I want to buy you some nice ones,’” he says. “And the only thing I ask in return is that I can put a little plate on the scale that says these scales were donated by Farabaugh Chiropractic, with my phone number and Web site. Those scales get used dozens of times every day, and every time they’re used, that person sees my name.”

Dr. Raschke sponsors teams in local running and biking events, who wear bright T-shirts bearing the “Raschke Chiropractic Wellness Team” logo.

Share Information
Don’t be reluctant to share research or reports with other health care providers. “Make sure reports go out to your patients’ other health care providers,” says Dr. Greenstein. “I regularly send out initial, midway and final reports to all my patients’ other doctors. It doesn’t cost much, and from a health care environment perspective, it makes a lot of sense. And it helps build your brand.”

Dr. Farabaugh accompanies letters to other health care providers—as well as attorneys, occupational therapists, case managers and other professionals linked to patients—with research summaries. It could be research on chiropractic treatment of herniated discs or some other ailment. “If you do that month after month, pretty soon you become known as the research guy,” Dr. Farabaugh says. “Then, when patients come in with that condition and tell their physician they’re thinking of going to a chiropractor, they’ll send them to you. It keeps your name in the forefront of their minds.”