Virtual assistants (AKA flexible, remote-based admin staff or “VAs” for short) are a popular stopgap for easing business growing pains. This article covers the basics of using a VA service to help you decide whether it's the right choice for your practice.
When we think of marketing agencies, we often think of prestigious office locations filled with organic fruit bowls, bean bag chairs, artisan coffee, and slides for stairs. That may still be the case for some of the bigger agencies in the world, but they’re set up to run campaigns for clients that rhyme with moca mola, or clients that are so big that what their acronym actually stands for has been lost in the midst of time.
These are not the kinds of agencies that we’re talking about when we suggest an allied health businesses consider look into marketing support and advice.
Digital marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool: At its best, it connects patients with the perfect healthcare providers for them to support them with their healthcare needs. In that sense it doesn’t seem fair for the most advanced techniques to be exclusively available to the big clinics!
But learning the in’s and out’s of digital marketing can take time that small business owners don’t have, especially when looking at more sophisticated or technical types of online advertising. That’s where small, specialised marketing agencies - i.e. a team of experts that are passionate about making online advertising work for clients of all sizes - can help.
For example, finding the best ways to market your clinic online can sometimes take a bit of trial and error. A good digital marketing agency that specialises in healthcare can help you test the messages and scale the platforms that will provide the best return for your business, without breaking local regulations around healthcare marketing.
Basically, a digital marketing agency can help make your services easier to find online for all sorts of patients who need them.
Here’s a bit more firsthand information on what digital marketing agencies can do for you and how to choose the right one for your business.
Why do small healthcare practices use digital marketing agencies?
The answer to this (like the answer to any good question) is not straightforward. Healthcare providers of all shapes and sizes use marketing agencies for a multitude of reasons. Here are the most common things we help our healthcare clients do:
1Track where patients are discovering your business online
Do any of these names sound familiar?: Google tag manager. Facebook Pixel. Google Analytics (and now Google Analytics 4 - oh no!). If not, no worries, but it’s worth knowing that they’re all specific tracking tools used by marketers to help determine how well your website, your Facebook page, or a marketing campaign is working at getting the word out about your business.
Tracking the success of your advertising, or the performance of your website, is one of the biggest benefits that advertising online has over any other form of marketing. The idea that you can know exactly, where, why and when someone felt compelled to enquire about your services is completely revolutionary. It’s also pivotal to understanding whether what you’re doing online is beneficial for your business and whether it's worth continuing to invest in that line of marketing activity?
It’s revolutionary, it’s pivotal, but it’s not always simple.
Even if you do understand it, finding the time to do this work in between treating patients and running your practice is a challenge. That’s why working with a specialist to set up your tracking and help you to decide on goals, objectives, and key business metrics to ensure you’re getting the most out of your online presence can be a really smart move, particularly when it comes to recruiting new patients.
2Run online ad campaigns
Although anyone can set up an account and start spending money on Facebook or Google, it can be a costly business if you dive in without consulting a professional - not to mention time-consuming if you run into problems.
We see a lot of DIY advertising campaigns that have wasted a lot of money for very avoidable reasons. For example they haven’t been keeping an eye on the search terms that the ads are triggering and instead of getting in front of patients searching for an osteopath, they’re spending money on student’s seeking an osteopathy course. Or instead of highlighting their services to people with a bad back, they’re paying for concerned dog owners looking for an out-of-hours veterinary clinic.
Sometimes missing a simple setting can be the difference between advertising in your local area, or spending your month’s budget in a day by running a national campaign.
While the theory can be simple, the cost of not being able to keep on top of your marketing can very quickly add up.
3Help launch your websites
It’s becoming easier to make and maintain websites on your own, without the help of a web developer. Wix, Squarespace, Weebly. There’s a bunch of builders that offer easy to use, out of the box templates that will allow you to build your own website with little up front cost.
Whilst these DIY website builders allow practitioners to build a shop front for their clinic quickly and at a relatively low cost, there are downsides to be aware of, such as how well they work on mobile phones, limited design flexibility, and can lack the ability to expand the needs of your website as your practice gets bigger.
Why pay for something I can do myself?
This is a good question.
“Agencies can’t understand or care about my business like I can” is also a fair assumption.
“Marketing is expensive, if you add an agency's management fees to things like advertising spend, my costs will go through the roof!” There’s definitely logic here.
In reality though, these arguments are all hasty generalisations. Almost anyone can paint a room, the reason you would hire a professional is that they will advise on colour, be much more efficient, do a better job, and most importantly free up your time for other tasks. In your business, those are the tasks that nobody else can do except you and/or your team.
The same can be said for finance. If your practice is relatively small it may be tempting to manage your own bookkeeping and financial affairs, but as your practice grows and your accounting needs become greater, are you really best placed to manage this aspect of your business yourself, and is it really something that you want to do? Ultimately, it will impact on the time you have to dedicate to your practice and the care you provide your patients, which probably wasn’t your objective when setting out.
So, unless you’re going to spend your free time studying how to improve pay-per-click campaigns, testing marketing platforms with trial and error, and keep up with the latest updates in Google algorithms and social media advertising formats, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to produce comparable results at the same cost as a professional.
It’s the lowering of the cost you’re paying per new patient, and the potential scalability of the marketing, that makes a professional’s fee worth paying in the first place.
How much should I spend on marketing?
This is where you need to be analytical. Everyone’s needs will differ but the goal should ultimately be to acquire more patients for your budget.
To find out how much you can spend on marketing, work backwards from the lifetime value of an average patient to reach a cost per acquisition (including your agency fee) - this is something marketers abbreviate to CPA. Ensure that this goal or ‘target’ CPA leaves you with enough money per patient acquired to cover your overheads and make a profit. Discuss this number with your potential new agency to find out if it’s realistic and ideally set some targets.
Tips for choosing a digital marketing agency
All agencies will say that they’re the best at what they do, so how do you choose an agency to trust your practice with? If they’re affordable and provide the services you require, then here are three additional things you should consider:
It sounds obvious, but not enough agencies collect real reviews. Some may have generic quotes on their website, but look for an agency that has a variety of Google or other third party platform reviews that give some insight into what it may be like to work with them.
2Speak to them
Take the time to ask questions, ask for references from other clients. Find out who your main point of contact would be and schedule 15 minutes to pick their brains. A lot of information will come out in a phone call that you may not receive during the process of them trying to win your business. Cultural fit is also an important factor, you want to look at an agency as a partner. Just because they offer the service you’re looking for doesn’t mean that they’ll be the right fit.
3Look for specialists
If you can find an agency that specialises in your industry, you’re halfway to finding the right partner. Not just an agency that spins out content on a multitude of subjects, but one that really lives and breathes your industry with tonnes of relevant clients, case studies, and insights. They’ll understand your unique challenges and will be able to provide tailored solutions to many of the situations you find yourself in.
If you’re an allied health business and looking for how to get started in marketing, or support to run your marketing, start with getting in touch with specialist healthcare marketing agencies. These agencies will always know more about the unique challenges your clinic faces, and be able to support your clinic’s marketing objectives and give you more time to dedicate to your practice.
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Guest author Annastashia Cambridge, ex-IT consultant and director of Two Hands Health Ltd, has offered up her top advice on how you can simplify the process of creating patient form templates. She's even shared her own downloadable examples below!