I was lying face down with needles sticking out all over me when my acupuncturist asked my advice on how she should advertise. Like many businesses in this economy, hers seems to be a little slow. These are the marketing thoughts that crossed my mind, while she left me in the dark to let the needles do their thing.
1) Word of mouth can be much more powerful than advertising. Especially for something like acupuncture, you’re going to trust a friend’s recommendation much more than an ad. If you’re selling real estate or kitchen appliances or firewood, advertising makes sense. But when you’re in the market for something like acupuncture, you’re going to want some reassurance that this practitioner is the real deal and not just someone who bought a yellow pages ad.
2) Dr. Li’s clients are her best source of new business. For starters, just asking for referrals is a good move. But she could also activate that process of referrals by giving her patient’s friends a discount. Maybe print some business cards with a “$20 discount” notation for the first visit of new clients referred by existing clients. Sort of an insider’s discount. Then, she could also offer all her clients a free visit when they refer a friend. Sounds expensive? Her hard costs for a treatment are low, and the potential revenue of a new client who could become a regular patient is high.
3) Her policy on missed appointments could be leading to client attrition. In Dr. Li’s waiting room, she has several notices posted that warn patients they will be charged $50 for any missed appointments or last-minute cancellations. I get it. It’s not great for business when people make appointments and then don’t show up or call an hour before to cancel. But think about it from the patient’s point of view. Let’s say you have an appointment and your boss suddenly calls a meeting or your kid gets sick or you just forget. Then what? You know if you go back, you’ll have to pay $50 on top of the fee for that visit. So it becomes easier just not to reschedule that appointment. You might never get around to making another appointment again. My recommendation would be to lose the $50 cancellation fee signs. Or at the very least, tell each patient who cancels that ordinarily you’d have to charge a cancellation fee, but for them? No problem.
4) People are interested in Dr. Li’s expertise. She offers a wealth of wisdom on everything from the benefits of tai chi to hot soup. She could build a database of clients and email a monthly newsletter of interesting tidbits. The arrival of the newsletter would also serve as a tickler to remind patients they haven’t been in to see her in a while, and could create a bump in appointment traffic. Clients also might forward the newsletter to friends, which could lead to new clients.
5) First impressions count. What do new clients see when they walk in the door? Back in the 1960’s when my grandfather died, my grandmother took over his business. His architectural and engineering supplies company had been a fixture on Jacksonville’s Bay Street since 1921. My grandmother had no experience in business, but the first thing she did was give the whole place a new coat of paint. Improving the physical space of your business is never a bad idea.