Today, healthcare practices have the same needs as regular companies. They need to grow. If you don’t grow, you shrink, because costs continuously go up and, in the case of healthcare, reimbursements will continuously go down. Most healthcare practices know that they want to grow, but most don’t know how. Sometimes they have a vague idea, but very rarely do they have a clearly defined strategy with a structured plan on how to accomplish their strategic growth objectives.
Most of our clients are healthcare providers and over the past 8 years, I have seen a lot of commonalities. The following list addresses some of the essential needs that every healthcare practice should be concerned about:
Have a Plan for Growth
Sound funny? Not at all. Don’t mistake an idea for a plan. The first step you have to go through with your practice is to create a strategic growth plan. This plan should be focused on the following:
- Identify your issues, challenges and problems. Don’t short-cut this process. Be honest with yourself. Have all the stakeholders in the company involved and most importantly, agree on the issues, challenges and problems. There is no possible way for you to have a practice growth strategy without agreeing on the issues at present. If you don’t agree on the issues, how can you agree on what you need to be done in order to grow?
- Strategic objectives: Once you have identified the issues, define your strategic objectives. Try to categorize them into short-term (12 months), mid-term (1-3 years) and long-term (>3 years) objectives. The purpose of defining the objectives early on is that, regardless of the operational issues you may face, your objectives should remain the same. Clearly defining your objectives will help you to stay focused on what you need to be done.
- Identify the opportunities: Before focusing on how you can get all of this done, take some time to identify the concrete opportunities that you want to realize. Make sure you focus on the opportunities that are aligned with your strategic objectives.
- Create a plan: The plan should be the last step and should address the following key aspects:
- Identify projects, tasks and activities that need to be done.
- Create timelines. Commit as a group to concrete delivery dates. Be realistic and don’t over-commit. Many plans fail because the timelines or expectations are not realistic.
- Identify resources that are involved and, most importantly, define responsibilities. Who is doing what?
- Lastly, create a schedule where the key stakeholders of the company meet, measure and monitor progress.
Create a Marketing Plan
There is no growth in healthcare without marketing. Unfortunately, too often the majority of marketing dollars are wasted on “feel good marketing” (these are marketing activities that make you feel good that you did something, but they are very ineffective … e.g. put a ad in the local paper). For effective healthcare marketing, there is a very strong likelihood that you won’t have all the needed skills in-house. At a minimum, you should have to have the following:
- Excellent web capabilities: You will need the agility to quickly make changes to your website and react to needs, news and other necessities, all while maintaining a professional appearance.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): If you don’t have a serious SEO effort, you will struggle to have a meaningful presence in Google’s search results. SEO requires considerable knowledge of search engine function and ongoing education as search algorithms constantly update. Running your practice and keeping your website up to date with the latest SEO practices will require expert help.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM): SEM is one of the best return-on-investment marketing activities available to you. If you don’t do SEM, you are missing out and are giving away business to your competition.
- Creative Services: The need for ongoing creative services in an average healthcare practice that look professional are more then most people would think: forms, business cards, presentations, brochures, signs, ads, flyers, posters, etc…
- Marketing Campaign and Project Management: Most practices fail making progress with any meaningful marketing efforts because they don’t have anyone with the ability to coordinate and execute a successful marketing campaign.
If you are like 90% of healthcare providers, you don’t have staff that can provide you with these services and don’t have the experience. Make sure you find trusted professionals that can help you with these things. Try to minimize the vendors (not more then 2, better if just 1) since there is a lot of coordination and collaboration necessary between all the different areas.
Create a Budget
Equally important in order to succeed with your growth is setting a realistic budget. Unfortunately, as with the other two points, most healthcare practices don’t create budget line items for some of the most crucial things in their business. Instead, many healthcare practices do a lot of ad-hoc spending and as a result, they either overspend or don’t spend at all. Both often result in failed objectives. Here are some suggestions in putting together your budget:
- Make sure you have a line item for marketing. If you are afraid of spending too much in your budget for marketing, add up everything you spent last year and look at the number and see if it can support all your initiatives.
- Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. I would rather recommend going with a smaller budget, but committing to it for the long-term.
- Be realistic. Make sure that your expectations are in alignment with your budget and your strategic goals and objectives. If your goal is that everybody in a 20-mile radius around your location should know your brand and your budget is only $20K per year, you are being unrealistic.
If you follow these three crucial steps, your practice will be in better shape than it is today and you will have a competitive advantage over your competition, because they struggle with the same challenges. That’s a promise that is based on many years of experience in creating growth in healthcare companies.