By K. Ryan Alexander
I travel the states implementing management systems in orthodontic practices, large and small. By definition, a system is “a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.” I have found that many practices are good at absorbing marketing ideas, fewer are good at getting the ideas accomplished, and even fewer are good at developing and fostering a robust marketing program based on multiple united systems.
Organizing a marketing system begins with clarity. Who is my marketing coordinator and what are their responsibilities? I find that a marketing coordinator in a typical office needs six to eight hours per week devoted to marketing. Many times this person wears multiple hats in the office, and with some adjustments to the schedule one of your current employees can take on this role with ease. I find that the only practices that require a full-time marketing team member are large practices in heavily competitive areas that have a higher-than-average marketing budget. Your marketing budget should not exceed 5% of net income for an established practice, and ideally no more than 3%.
Once a marketing coordinator is chosen you must begin to develop a marketing timeline. Your marketing timeline has two major purposes. The first purpose is to make your marketing strategies attainable. I like my teams to focus intently on one marketing idea at a time to make sure it gets done well. I often find practices spend a lot of money on multiple marketing ideas that all end up as half-baked efforts, and then the efficacy of that idea plummets, resulting in wasted time and expenditure. The reason this happens is that they are trying to get too much done at once without sufficient time. Focus on getting a single idea done well, and you will see a better return on investment.
The second purpose for you marketing timeline is to not break the budget, but to distribute the cost and energy throughout the year. Too many practices throw money at marketing with this idea that “you have to spend money to make money.” While this is true in many respects, I find that most practices can spend less money and make more money if they have a clearly defined budget and focus on a few marketing ideas that have been proven effective.
Once you start implementing your marketing ideas, test those ideas and get rid of the ones that you are losing money on. It’s amazing to see how much money is spent on marketing that is ineffective. Many times the idea doesn’t work because of poor execution, but some ideas just don’t work in a particular area and it’s important to recognize these and either change how the idea is executed or eliminate it altogether.
Lastly, give your marketing coordinator and a couple team members time in your weekly schedule to implement these marketing ideas. We spend a lot of time talking about our scheduling system. There are many reasons for this, but efficiency in scheduling will allow you to work fewer patient hours and devote the extra hours to other important systems in your practice. When we go into a practice, a primary goal is to free up time within your current patient hours. This makes your time treating patients more efficient, and your non-patient hours are then being used to help grow the practice. Compound this with a more effective marketing system, and now you have growth while cutting costs.
There is a lot that can be said about a marketing system, but the goal here is to get you to start thinking about your current marketing system and how it can be improved. Define the marketing coordinator’s role and her responsibilities, develop a realistic budget, set time aside to accomplish your marketing tasks, and start spending less and making more.
K. Ryan Alexander is a senior consultant with Alexander & Sons, (previously Millenium Management Services), and has developed a large base of happy, satisfied clients using proven Millenium Management Systems. He is well versed in every aspect of practice management and has exceptional expertise in On-Time Doctor-Time Scheduling, New Patient Enrollment, Marketing, Customer Service and Team Building. Ryan also works with Ken Alexander in the transitions of orthodontic practices, helping to develop Valuations and fair Buy-Sell terms and agreements.