While your business plan generally outlines your entire business, a standalone marketing plan focuses specifically, and in more detail, on just that one function. When business owners want to dive deeper into their marketing strategy they will likely put together a detailed plan that outlines their marketing goals -- as well as the steps needed to accomplish them.
The standard components of an effective marketing plan can vary depending on who you ask. Here is my recommended five-step process for developing a marketing plan that will help you achieve your goals for business growth.
1. Set your marketing goals. Once you’ve decided to market your practice, you need to set realistic and measurable goals to achieve over the next 18 to 24 months. This time span allows you to plan activities around community events that are in line with your marketing goals. For example, you might help sponsor an annual walkathon for breast cancer or speak at your community’s annual health fair. Because of the rapid changes occurring in the health care environment, we don’t recommend planning specific activities more than two years in advance. One way to define your goals is to separate them into the following three categories: immediate, one to six months; short-term, six to 12 months; and long-term, 12 to 24 months.
2. Conduct a marketing audit. A marketing audit is a review of all marketing activities that have occurred in your practice over the past three years. Be as thorough as possible, making sure to review every announcement, advertisement, phonebook ad, open house, brochure and seminar and evaluate whether it was successful.
3. Conduct market research. The purpose of market research is to draw a realistic picture of your practice, the community you practice in and your current position in that community. With this research, you can make fairly accurate projections about future growth in the community, identify competitive factors and explore nontraditional opportunities (such as offering patients nutritional counseling, smoking-cessation programs or massage therapy). Your research may even bring to light some problem areas in your practice as well as solutions you can implement right away. (See “A guide to market research” to find out what kind of information you need to gather and where to find it.)
Conducting market research is often the most time-consuming step in this process. However, it’s also one of the most important steps. It’s from this research that you’re able to find out what your practice does best and what you need to work on, what the needs of your community are, who your practice should be targeting and how you should go about it.
4. Analyze the research. Next, you need to analyze the raw data you collect and summarize it into meaningful findings that will be the foundation for determining which marketing strategies make the most sense and will get the best results for your practice The research will identify the wants and needs of your current and potential patients and will help you to define your target audience (for more on target audiences, see step 5, below). This is also a good time to look back at the goals you’ve chosen. Based on your research findings, you may need to modify some of your goals.
5. Identify a target audience. With the help of your market research analysis, you should be able to identify your practice’s “target audience,” which is the specific group of patients to which you’d like to direct your marketing efforts. Your target audience might include patients of a certain age, gender, location, payer type or language/ethnicity and patients with certain clinical needs. Keep in mind that your target audience should not only be the patients you want to attract but also the people who can influence and provide exposure to that segment of the population. For example, if you wish to treat patients with arthritis, you might want to get involved in the local and regional Arthritis Foundation and explore senior organizations in the community. If you want to treat young athletes, you might consider giving talks on sports safety and first-aid tips to coaches and athletes at the local high schools, colleges and YMCAs. The key to marketing lies in targeting the audience that your practice can serve better than your competition – and communicating this to that group.
6. Determine a budget. Before you can decide what specific marketing strategies you want to implement to achieve your goals, you need to examine your financial information and come up with a marketing budget. Marketing budgets vary by the type of market a practice is in, the age of a practice and whether the practice has marketed before. There’s no standard for how much a practice should spend. However, in our experience, practices in open markets have spent 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross incomes on marketing. If your practice is new, in a highly competitive market or has never been marketed before, or if you intend to roll out an ambitious new program or service, you can expect to spend 10 percent or more of your annual gross income the first year you implement the plan.
7. Develop marketing strategies. With your budget in place, you can begin to define specific marketing strategies that will address your goals, reach your target audience and build your patient base. Remember to focus your strategies on the elements of your practice that can be used to create a special value in the minds of patients and referral sources. Each strategy should be related to a specific goal and should be made up of numerous actions. For example, one strategy related to the goal of increasing patient satisfaction might be to make the office more patient friendly.
8. Develop an implementation schedule. An implementation schedule is a time-line that shows which marketing actions will be done when and by whom. The schedule should also include the cost of each marketing action and how it fits into the budget estimates for the 24-month period. When creating the schedule, carefully consider how the activities will affect the current practice operations and whether there are sufficient resources (such as staff, time and money) to accomplish the necessary tasks. In some cases, it may be necessary to whittle down the list or postpone some activities. In other cases, it might be best to go ahead with full implementation of your plan. If you want to fully implement the plan but don’t quite have the staffing resources, you might consider bringing in a consultant to coordinate the marketing activities and/or adding a part-time staff member to handle the majority of the marketing tasks. The implementation schedule will also give you a basis on which to monitor the progress of your marketing plan.
9. Create an evaluation process. The value of a marketing plan is its effectiveness, which requires deliberate and timely implementation and monitoring and evaluation of results. It’s important to measure your results against the standards you set in establishing your goals. Review your plan periodically (we recommend quarterly) by comparing your progress with the implementation schedule. There are several ways you can measure the results of your progress: patient survey scores, referral sources, increased income, increased new patients and decreased complaints