Q. I’ve tried advertising in the local papers several times, but I hardly get any enquiries from the adverts. What am I doing wrong?
A. In the short term, it is highly unlikely that advertising yourself purely as a general dental practice will prove profitable, especially if you carry out that advertising on an ad-hoc basis. If you include a special offer in your advert, it is possible that you could make a profit, but even then it is not guaranteed. In addition, such an ad could well attract one-time-only patients, rather than those who will join and stay with your practice.
Generally, local press advertising is carried out more as a brand awareness exercise, and should be seen as part of a wider ranging marketing campaign rather than a campaign in its own right.
If your goal is to attract more patients, we would suggest targeting people who are most likely to want a new dentist, i.e. those new to the area; together with encouraging referrals from existing clients, as a more cost-effective method of building your practice.
Q. Another dental practice has just opened down the road from me, and I am concerned that I might lose patients to them. What can I do to keep my patients?
A. First of all, don’t panic! Many dentists don’t fully appreciate how their patients value their services, and existing patients are unlikely to leave one practice just because a new one has opened up down the road. If the new practice is similar to yours, with a similar range of treatments but just at a lower price, then you have nothing to worry about.
However, if it is a brand new practice that has been purpose-built with all mod cons and looks terrific, then there is a risk that your practice could look old-fashioned by comparison. In this case, you should put into place a programme of improvements and make sure you let all your patients know about them.
You should also look at ways to surprise and delight your patients by offering them added extras, such as drinks on arrival, a games console in the waiting room, DVDs to watch while undergoing treatment, etc. Communicate regularly with patients (verbally and in print) to tell them about your new initiatives, and also remind them of the benefits of being a member of your practice.
Q. I took your advice six months ago and started producing my own patient newsletter. I leave copies in the reception area but I haven’t seen any significant increase in enquiries for new treatments. Am I wasting my time?
A. No, you are not wasting your time, but you might want to re-examine how you use your newsletter and what you include in it. Giving people information when they are sitting in your practice or on their way out does not usually produce good results – they have other things on their minds and are not going to see you again for several months.
The most successful practices send their newsletters with an appointment reminder or recall just a week or two before they see the patient. As with most things, the more thought you put into your marketing, the more you get out, so it is worth making the effort to ask visiting patients if they read and enjoyed the newsletter, and if there was anything included that they would like more information about.
You also need to ensure the content is appropriate. Many practices fall into the trap of filling their newsletter with articles about the cosmetic treatments they provide, not realising that as a result patients often view them as a cheap sales ploy. Try also to include a mix of practice news and oral health articles to achieve an interesting, relevant