Marketing to the masses


A lot of practitioners get outflanked by the increasing nemesis of competition.

Q. I recently started a mobile practice, and I'm struggling to get the word out. How can I let potential clients know about my practice without having a building and a sign?

"I used to do equine work, and before that I was in mixed practice," says Dr. Nan Boss, owner of Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wis. "In my experience, all clinics benefit from the same marketing strategies." For example, Dr. Boss says to spend at least as much time marketing to your current clients as you do attracting new ones. "Educate clients about their horses' needs and your services, and they'll buy more," she says.

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Dr. Boss also recommends sending client newsletters, providing handouts, hosting seminars, and educating clients during each visit. "Present yourself professionally," she says. "Keep your truck spotless. Drop off or mail dewormers, call to check on your patients, and send birthday cards for pet horses. I think horse owners communicate with each other more than dog and cat owners do, so make sure your clients have good things to say about you." Finally, thank clients for their business and referrals.

Dr. Boss also recommends that you do something thoughtful during routine visits to promote the human-animal bond and make your practice memorable. Giving horse owners personalized brushes, lead ropes, or tassels for their bridles might do the trick.

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Q. I treat a lot of horses whose owners live in different cities and states, and I think the owners should be more involved with their horses' veterinary care. Should I send more mailings to them, or just relay information through the trainer or boarder?

"Good communication from the start helps ward off disaster," says Dr. Gregory Smith, owner of East County Large Animal Practice in El Cajon, Calif. Dr. Smith contacts absentee owners before initial visits to get their credit card information. And after the first exam or treatment, he e-mails or calls the owner to find out whether the trainer or boarder he worked with really does have the authority to make future decisions on the owner's behalf. "We also e-mail absentee owners the receipt immediately, as well as any other forms like a complete presale form," he says. If he took digital radiographs, Dr. Smith sends those, too.

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"Many owners ask me to fax or e-mail them the receipts and charge their credit cards after each treatment," Dr. Smith says. "But no matter what approach they request, getting in touch early clarifies the owners' wishes, so you know what to do."

Q. I'm a mixed-animal doctor, and there's an equine practitioner in my county who steals all my business. How can I get the word out that I'm just as capable?

"This is a very real challenge," says Dr. Phil Farber, an executive coach with Fortune Practice Management in Glenwood, Calif. "A lot of great practitioners out there get outflanked by the increasing nemesis of competition."

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First, realize that what may seem like a drawback is really a strength: You handle companion animals, too. That means convenience for your clients. Now, start selling them your strengths.

"Tell your clients in a professional way that you're just as capable as competitors," Dr. Farber says. Start by sending a professional-looking newsletter to your client base. This tool establishes your expertise in equine health, and you can use it to tell them what you do and are capable of doing for them.

If you really want to get aggressive, do some price shopping and get competitive in the fee-sensitive areas of your pricing structure. Buffer that revenue loss with more aggressive fees for less-shopped services. "You want to be professional and proactive—and you never want to badmouth the competition," Dr. Farber says.

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