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Online Marketing Advice for Startup Clinics

With over 20 years of experience helping businesses grow within the elective healthcare industry, here at Etna we have seen all kinds of success and failure. In our latest blog, CEO Ryan Miller takes us through 12 lessons startup clinics should consider before opening in order to avoid painful mistakes that have the potential to complicate business in the years to come.

If you are getting ready to open your own clinic, or would just like a refresher on some basic digital marketing best practices we encourage you to follow along.


Video Transcription

Hi again and Happy New Year, Ryan Miller here with Etna Interactive and we’re going to be talking today about startup elective medical practices. New plastic surgery practices, medical spas, and looking back over the last 20 years we’ve helped a lot of really ambitious entrepreneurs get their new clinics started. But we’re not going to talk about them today. We’re going to talk about the group of clinics that come to us maybe two to five years in and who have made some painful mistakes. We’re going to look back over those examples and share 12 lessons we have learned and talk about how you can avoid those same mistakes.

The first I want to talk about is really the importance of your people. It’s a challenging thing to decide, especially if you’re potentially starting up on a shoestring, which roles are most important. I’ll make the case today that it’s not about the specific role that you hire but the individuals that you use to populate those roles. If you’re looking for inspiration to help guide you in forming your initial framework for hiring your first few employees, I want to recommend this particular book, ‘Powerful’. It’s by Patty McCord of Netflix and it’s a great way to ground yourself and set some inspiring ideas for the people that you bring into your practice from the very beginning, and how you approach recruiting throughout the life of your clinic.

The second thing we want to talk about is often one of the first decisions you’re going to have to make which is the acquisition and establishing a domain name, a website address that will govern your practice. Now it’s very easy to purchase a name that’s maybe the city that you’re going to be in plus the type of thing that you’re going to do, ‘Raleigh Medspa’ or to buy your own name. The challenge that we see in both of these instances is they’re not forward-looking enough and they can limit you in the future.

Imagine, would you possibly relocate your business someday? Or maybe you want to bring in young associates at some point in the future. It’s more and more difficult as time goes on to shift authority and popularity from one domain name to another, and if you choose in a manner today that is short-sighted you could limit your opportunities in your future. We recommend branded domain names, things that aren’t tied to a specific region or the name of an individual inside of a practice because it gives you both the mobility and the ability to grow.

Now many of you will accumulate different kinds of assets in the earliest days of practicing. For aesthetic providers, this may be before-and-after photos, for those of you in the ophthalmology and dermatology space these might be patient testimonials or educational video content. What’s important to do in the very beginning is ensure that you own those assets, especially if you’re doing a residency or fellowship in a different clinical environment, and that you get appropriate consents to use those in perpetuity even if you change to owning your own business. Make sure you own and control those assets and that they’re properly consented going forward.

The other thing that’s going to happen, and for many of you, as you start your new business, you may notice that you have a little bit of extra time. This is a great opportunity for you to begin to really focus on your on-screen capabilities, the ability to talk like this, comfortably and easily to the camera because now and into the future it’s easily foreseeable that your marketing will be reliant on your ability to produce great video content.

Now the fifth tip may not seem sexy at the start but it’s going to be incredibly important for you because today, and we’ll talk about this in the next section, it can be very difficult to stand out on platforms like social media. But amazingly, email marketing in the healthcare sector continues to outperform a lot of other online marketing channels. In fact, what we see today is about 1 in every 4 people who receive your email marketing communication will actually open it, and about 1 in 10 of those will act. Now that number may sound small, but as you grow your clinic over time the larger your list size, the more economical email marketing becomes.

So don’t delay. From the very beginning commit to the idea of capturing subscribers both on your website and inside your clinic because as you grow that list it’s going to become less and less expensive to reach more and more people who have had an experience, a positive experience ideally, with your clinic.

A lot of you are going to come right out of the gate and say, ‘hey I’m going to become a social media star and social media is going to become a major driver for my business.’ The reality that we all have to face is that it’s become increasingly hard to gain your share of eyeballs on social media. There’s a noisy and crowded environment and what we’ve found is platforms like Facebook who owns Facebook and Instagram are actually stacking the algorithms against you because they want you as a business owner to be forced to buy ads.

For those of you who are going to be aiming for an organic social media strategy, really it’s a cautionary tale. Avoid buying fans. The reality that we see today, well let’s look at these mathematics, if you’re a typical business, you have a million followers who are at best, marginally engaged, what we see today is that your brand’s organic posts, they’re going to get about 1, probably less than, 1% visibility. So that means that anything you post at best is going to reach about 15,000 people.

But there’s a different kind of social media mathematics that can work in your favor. A very small number of very highly engaged fans, well they’re not governed by the same algorithms that restrict the visibility of a business’s content. So the extent that you can get people to share and comment on your posts, you can leverage your fans and followers to reach inside of their network. Looking at the example here, just 135 loyal and engaged followers on Facebook who each on average we find today have about 338 fans, that’s actually going to give you a much broader reach and you’ll reach the same number of people, about 15,000 people when compared with that business that has a million marginally engaged followers.

The seventh tip here is really understanding that when you get out of the gate you’re going to be hungry. You’re going to want to see patients right away, and for a lot of clinics, they choose to turn to what is called pay-per-click advertising or paid search marketing in order to buy their way to the top of search results and be able to attract patients right away. The easy thing to take for granted here is those marketplaces today are very expensive, and it can take anywhere from 200 to 400 clicks to get a single patient inside your clinic. Now obviously the risk there is that if you’re paying several dollars per click or more, you can easily pay more for the patient than you’re going to earn through their treatment, and that’s called a money-losing scenario.

Today what we use is very sophisticated, we use predictive modeling to tell us in advance for the particular procedures that you’re interested in and the market where you’re operating whether or not you can profitably operate PPC.

The eighth thing that we want to talk about here is the reality of the world that we exist in today. When you enter practice any time after this video’s recording it’s the norm that patients expect you to be able to service them on the phone, by email, in an SMS text message, in live chat, and often on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. From the very beginning, you need to set your people up with the right technology and the right training to engage in multichannel customer service. I know that it’s going to be a big deal on day one just to get somebody to answer the phones the way that you want, but you’re going need to not be myopic, to look at the big picture and ensure your servicing patients where and how they want to be serviced.

Tip number nine, we need to take a moment and give a nod to online reputation and it’s importance. The reality, the truth here is that the healthcare sector is second only to travel and restaurants in terms of the popularity of your online reviews. We can see that in the chart that’s on the screen right now.

It’s important that you recognize that your online reputation, it’s going to be very personal, it’s going to be a very sensitive topic, but it’s also one of your most powerful forms of online marketing. While there are very strict laws against falsifying or attempting to overly manipulate your online reputation, there are lots of tools that are legal and ethical that can help you to encourage satisfied patients to share their real stories with the real world online. Investing in tools to both protect and monitor your reputation, while actively cultivating positive reviews, well it’s really where you need to be today.

At the tenth tip we have to really acknowledge that the people that you’re going to interact with that are going to be helping you to get your practice set up, they may not have all the awareness and skills required to protect you and ultimately things like your board certification or your medical license as you go forward. Even as you hire agencies who supposedly specialize in digital marketing or offline marketing for the medical space, you can’t necessarily trust that they all equally understand the laws, codes, and guidelines that will restrict what you can do and say, and especially in the earliest days if you’re entering into private practice while you’re still working towards something like a board certification, you need to be very careful and involved and have open conversations about what everybody understands to be the guidelines that are going to control what you say, and more specifically how you say it online. Make sure that you have expert guidance somewhere on your team so that you don’t end up compromising some of those important relationships and registrations that are going to allow you to continue to practice.

Now as you’re getting set up, it’s very likely that you’re going to engage members of your team or an outside agency to establish profiles online for you and for your clinic. These might be things like your Yelp profile or your Google My Business profile, or how you as a physician are listed on a site like RateMDs. All of those sites, those profiles rather, are established with an individual username and password that will allow you to access and control that content forever. While some of them have specific tools or protocols to help you recover access should you lose it, some don’t. Losing control of a profile can mean losing control of how you’re represented on the web.

From the very beginning insist that any member of your team that’s creating these profiles for you does a couple of things. One, that they do it in the name of an established, we recommend something like a simple practice email address or a Gmail address that’s established for the practice that you own and control with a password that you designate so that you are the ultimate party in control of all those listings should that person leave your practice. Similarly, if an agency is going to be setting up local profiles for you ask them, in the event that we ever separate how do I ensure that I will be given control of all of those resources at our parting.

Finally, recognize that every one of us is a little different, we have different ambitions, we operate in different markets, we have different areas of interest, and we want to build a different practice for our future. I know when you’re just beginning it can feel like a completely overwhelming thing but the right partner is going to take the time to sit down, understand you, your market, and where you want to go, and grow and develop a strategy that is completely unique to you. How will you know, since you are so new to all of this? Listen for a credible story that relates and shows an understanding of what your ambitions are, and how the specific tactics that are recommended are going to support growth in the way that you want.

Let’s bring all of those items back in summary, I won’t read them through to you again but we’ll leave them up on the screen for a moment after the video. What’s important is that you take the time now to understand that the earliest decisions that you’re going to make as your establishing your new clinic, they can have lifelong repercussions. These are some of the most important ideas that we’ve seen from clinics who have made some missteps in their early days, hopefully some of these are going to help you make smarter choices for your own future.

That said, if you want to learn more you know what to do. Subscribe to our newsletter, make sure you don’t miss any messages or videos just like this, follow us on Facebook you can communicate with us there, and of course, if you have any questions I welcome them. You can send them directly to my email at the address on the screen.


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