During the first year of opening my practice, I simply couldn’t afford advertising in any form, so I placed my business name into every free directory I could find. Once I started to make some money, I invested in a few very inexpensive ad options. I placed ads in the local hippie health directories, the ones with yoga practices and mediums. I also signed up for a few websites geared toward people looking for health practitioners. I’m on Google and Yelp and all of those well-known sites; my last experiment with marketing was with a site called "Thumbtack." I had heard about it from a number of practitioners and decided to see what it was all about. This particular site is based on sending leads to you, based on clients’ needs. It costs a few dollars to contact a lead; once the person is contacted, they can choose to either read your contact information, or ignore it. If they open up your email, you get charged. If they don’t, your money is returned.
Here is what I have found to be most and least effective ways to build my practice over the past few years. Bear in mind that we are all very different; what worked well for me might not work at all for someone else. So much depends on location, socioeconomic factors, and innumerable other elements. Nevertheless, here’s my input for the best and worst marketing tactics I used on a shoestring budget.
While it might work for some, for me, print advertising was a complete waste of time and money. I got almost nothing out of it other than people looking for free stuff. I’ve had very few negative interactions with patients, but the ones I’ve had have been quite memorable. The only patients I’ve had who came in looking for illegal “extras” have been the ones who found me in print ads.
I did, however, get a number of patients through writing articles. If you have any inclination to write, I’d suggest writing a few short articles in local publications. It’s free, and while I didn’t completely fill my schedule with patients just from blogging about my adventures in acupuncture, it did generate a good amount of business.
And then there's Yelp. Ah Yelp, the double-edged advertising sword. They filter out your reviews left and right, and make it almost impossible for your reviews to stick. But everyone is on it. Everyone. Including me. I use Yelp to find everything from restaurants to dentists. It’s a great tool if you use it correctly.
Google, Yahoo, and Bing are the big three when it comes to search engines. I rarely get anyone from Yahoo or Bing, but I get a lot of patients through Google. There are all different Google circles now, and to be honest I can’t keep them straight: Google Local, Google Business, Google whatever. I just listed myself in all of them and hoped for the best. The ultimate goal is to be able to type in your type of business and your area and find yourself. It takes a while, but if you keep listing yourself everywhere and being consistent, you’ll slowly move up the search engines until you become visible. This is imperative, because when people aren’t using Yelp (or the outdated Yellow Pages), they’re usually typing in “acupuncturist in Natick” to find me. If I’m right there, on the first page, I’ll become an option for them.
I tried out a lot of random concepts during my first few years, such as Level Up and Push 44. How much did I get out of it? Not much. But cumulatively, adding both to my online presence helped to boost my online visibility. If I had to pay for either of these options, I wouldn’t have. Not worth it. But sometimes advertisement comes from places you wouldn’t expect. When I signed up for Level Up (which is an app geared toward paying for treatments with an iPhone) I was contacted for an interview about using it in the workplace. That article brought me a lot of exposure. Push 44, on the other hand, didn’t work as well for me…but again, it was another way for Google to view my website as “legitimate,” which boosted my web rankings a bit.
At one point, I ran a Living Social promotion, and this was the most significant increase I saw in revenue. Patients who came in stayed with me, and referred others. It was fantastic. They have now changed their platform significantly, and it isn’t nearly as effective in attracting new clients. However, for those starting out, it’s a good way to get new people through the door.
Facebook is a great way to connect with clients you already have, but it did not bring in any new clients for me. It was useful for reactivating people, though. I also use Constant Contact for the same reason; it won’t attract clients, but once you have them in the system, you can reach out occasionally and remind them that you’re still around.
So, my final word: Yelp, Google, word of mouth have been the most successful for me in getting new clients. Print advertising and paid ads=waste of time. Online coupons can be very beneficial to your business, but the key is to give great service so that your clients are happy to spread the word about you. Word of mouth will always be the best source of clients for you.