It’s mid-April 2020. Over one month ago, political leaders shut down economies around the world and asked people to stay home in effort to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented restrictions on consumer behaviour and a climate of fear has created a depressed economy that will struggle to “turn back on” at a later date. If you own a private practice and you’re looking for information about how to do marketing in a slow economy – whether it’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic or some future event – you’ve found the right resource.
The best approach to marketing in a slow economy is relationship marketing. In fact, relationship marketing is important during any kind of economy. Most of us have heard the old adage “people do business with people they know, like, and trust” and it’s true. Often, relationships are what get you new business in the first place. The development of relationships may be what keeps clients loyal.
The absence of quality relationships makes you particularly vulnerable during slow economies because when clients hit a rough patch, they’re likely to drop someone to whom they do not feel connected. If you haven’t built a strong foundation for your private practice by delivering a quality service, managing client expectations, building relationships, and ensuring client satisfaction, you are more likely to feel the negative consequences of a slow economy.
There are things you can do to scale the number and enhance the quality of your relationships without having to manage each relationship personally. By implementing relationship marketing tactics, you can maintain and even grow demand for your services when many other businesses are struggling or failing. Below you’ll discover how to do relationship marketing in a slow economy. Many of these relationship marketing tactics require no or little monetary investment. A bonus of relationship marketing is that when the economy eventually grows, your practice will naturally grow with it.
Here are two important facts:
Before you think about how to scale your relationships, it’s worth asking yourself, “Does my outlook attract or repel people? Is there something I should change about how I think and interact with people so that I work with the natural laws of attraction instead of against them?”
When you have an optimistic outlook, it’s both easier and more productive to show leadership within your community. Showing leadership is helpful in building relationships and establishing success in business because it makes you memorable, establishes you as an authority, and retains people’s attention. One way to show leadership is to address and calm people’s fears. This is about sharing a message that resonates with your target market. What do people fear as it relates to your services, and more generally? How can you quell those fears?
Another form of relationship marketing is key messaging. Key messages are authentic statements about who you are, what you do, why, and the benefits you offer to clients. Having key messages such as a brand story, mission statement, purpose statement, and statement of core values are of great value. For starters, they attract interest from people who are a natural fit with your practice, personality, and culture. They also establish clarity around what clients should expect and help your team deliver a consistent experience. Developing key messages is one of the first things I work on with a new client, whether we’re marketing in a slow economy or not.
A common mistake that people make with key messages is that they work on them, maybe share them during a one-and-done campaign, then forget about them. Key messages are evergreen assets that should always be present in your marketing and communications. For example, they should have a section on your website and be integrated into your website copy more generally. Below you’ll discover other examples of media where you should share your key messages.
Having great customer service is a no-brainer to most business owners. However, many professional service businesses still do a poor job of it. If you’ve never thought to investigate or monitor the customer service at your own practice, the best-case scenario is that it’s inconsistent. At a time when fewer prospects are calling, you definitely don’t want bad customer service to scare them away.
Maybe you’re aware that your customer service could be better. It may be that you’ve never wanted to deal with “Battle-Axe Bertha” who you know makes a poor first impression but has been at reception for 15 years. The reality is that in a slow economy, the survival of your practice may depend on implementing great customer service. You’re going to have to start managing people and systems, and if Battle-Axe-Bertha won’t change her ways, she’s got to go. Great customer service is essential to relationship marketing in a slow economy.
Remember: you’re not going to have great customer service until you establish and routinely oversee customer service systems and processes. This involves having systems and processes for all interactions and overseeing these systems and processes on a regular basis. Phone scripts that give specific instruction for language and tone are a good place to start.
Social proof is anything that shows proof of your relationships and service. It includes reviews, testimonials, photographs, awards, and third-party media attention. Third-party media attention may be a news article about your practice or a local business association’s interview of you – something like that. All of these things help people learn about you, make the decision to hire you, and make the decision to continue doing business with you. Some forms of social proof may be more beneficial to your practice than others depending on your positioning and goals.
Collecting social proof requires planning and taking deliberate action. When it comes to reviews, you have to ask for them and make it easy for people to write the review. With testimonials, you have to get permission and find ways to share them with your target market. Both of these things require having documented processes and scripts. You also have to frame or publish photos and awards, and find ways to bring attention to third-party media features. All forms of social proof are useful when marketing in a slow economy to help your practice survive and thrive.
Referrals are proof that clients like and are satisfied with your service. What if one out of every five of your clients referred a new client? How would that impact your practice? The typical answer is that it would have an incredibly positive impact. That’s why referrals are an important part of relationship marketing in a slow economy.
Sometimes referrals come naturally. Clients are just so pleased that they recommend you to others in their circles of influence. That’s great, but you will always get more referrals if you ask for them. Asking for referrals is another system that you must implement as part of relationship marketing in a slow economy. The most productive way to ask for referrals is in-person and at any time when a client expresses satisfaction.
If your regulating body allows it, it’s also helpful to incentivize referrals by implementing a referral program. There are various types of referral programs. For example, I offer a monetary credit to current clients who recommend Proven Marketing for Professionals Inc. to people who become new clients. Another option is to simply send thank-you notes to those who refer new clients. A simple expression of gratitude can go a long way. This is also a great way to enhance your relationships.
Establishing partnerships with other business owners is a good way to do marketing in a slow economy and make your practice more resilient. Excluding direct competitors, who else in your community has your prospective clients? How can you work together to help each other? Maybe you can share prospect lists with each other. Or, maybe you can be each other’s go-to referral partner. If you already have a roster of people you refer to, is there something you can ask for in return (ex. fees, reviews, referrals, favours…)? Every relationship may look a bit different and it’s in your interest to standardize and systematize these partnerships as much as possible.
It’s almost always more productive to market to people who already know, like, and trust you than to people who don’t. Think of a group of people with whom you have relationships as being a warm audience. They are ready and willing to refer and return to you. A group of people with whom you do not have relationships, or potential new business, is a cold audience. You must start from scratch with them to build trust.
Fun-to-read, personality-based, printed and mailed newsletters to people who already know, like, and trust you keep you top of mind and generate referral and repeat business. Newsletters should use fun-to-read content because it keeps people’s interest. They should use personality-based content because it makes people feel connected to you. And they are most effective when they’re printed and mailed because it’s easier to make an impact when you show up in physical form. Newsletter marketing is not only a great form of relationship marketing in a slow economy, it’s a proven strategy for any kind of economy.
Proven Marketing for Professionals Inc. produces 2-page, doubled-sided newsletters printed in colour on quality paper. We create the newsletters and coordinate printing so that it involves minimal effort from clients. >> Click here to get our free guide on newsletter marketing << and discover more about why they work and how to do them.
The truth is, the best time to implement email newsletters and automation was five years ago. The second-best time is now. Email is a useful tool for keeping in touch with and following up with leads and clients. It involves collecting and storing email addresses in a software.
Your first email campaign should be an e-newsletter to keep you in front of people and support relationship development. Email is a totally different medium from print, which means an e-newsletter will look different from any print newsletter you send.
Once you have an e-newsletter, the next step is building automated campaigns. Every web form on your site represents an opportunity to place leads into your funnel. For example, when someone completes the contact us form on your website, you should send an automated email to follow up with them. Leads who complete this form should be “tagged” to automatically go onto your e-newsletter list.
You should also create automated campaigns for communications with current clients. For example, an automated “welcome and wow” campaign tells new clients what to expect, helping you provide good service and build relationships. Your automation software can keep track of lots of data. You can even set up prompts to send birthday greetings and other messages on special occasions, which is another great way to do relationship marketing in a slow economy.
It’s always easier to attract attention, get referrals, convert prospects into clients, and manage client relationships when people perceive you as an authority. Many professionals in private practice don’t realize they don’t have to wait around for third-parties to recognize them as authorities in their fields. There are things you can do to create the impression of authority (and let’s be honest, it’s not like you’re pretending – you are an authority).
Creating authority assets is one option. Information products like guides, magazines, reports, and books are all examples of authority assets. Some of these products you may make available as free downloads on your website, while others are better suited to putting on display in your office and sending by direct mail.
Social media are digital media that enable you to reach and engage with large audiences. They include Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google My Business, and others. Each platform has a slightly different purpose and only certain platforms may be useful to your practice at particular times. When done well, social media can help you attract and keep people’s attention so that you may enhance relationships and reach more people. A common mistake that businesses make with social media is only using it for one-way communication. The best use of social media is to have conversations.
People like to see that you have relationships with other people and businesses that they care about. Participating in the community keeps you top of mind, creates good will, and generates buzz, which in turn generates new business and referrals.
I should point out that when I say “participate in the community”, sponsoring a non-profit organization so that it shares your logo doesn’t count. A good example of relationship marketing is hosting a client appreciation event. Another popular community campaign is a Teacher of the Month campaign where you recognize teachers in your community for making an impact. Anything that facilitates relationship building between your practice and the community falls into this category. With a little creativity, you can even start a community campaign that accommodates social distancing and other obstacles. Breyer Law Offices do an excellent job with community campaigns and it’s worth following their example.
When you plan your community participation, don’t forget to publicize it. For example, you can mention it in your newsletters before it even happens. Take photos and videos to share on your website, social media, and newsletters after the fact.
Creating a VIP program is an advanced relationship marketing strategy, but surprisingly easy to do. You can think of it as a loyalty program that offers special benefits to clients. It’s a sure way to set you apart from competitors, make existing clients happy and loyal, and generate referrals.
There are different types of VIP programs and you can tailor yours according to your preferences. One option is to build relationships with other local businesses and offer special discounts or promotions. The Boyk Law VIP program is a great example of this approach. Another option is to make a list of “extras” that you already give clients and formalize them by promoting them as part of your VIP program. Ben Glass Law takes this approach. Of course, you don’t have to be a law firm to offer a VIP Program. Any practice can have a VIP Program with a list of benefits that make sense for them.
After you do the planning and set up for your VIP program, you’ll want to create a membership card and promote it in your media. Add a section to your website about the program and be sure to talk about it with prospects, in your newsletters, and on social media.
A final word of advice about relationship marketing in a slow economy is be adaptable. Generally, people are a lot more careful with their financial resources during slow economies. In order to sustain demand for your services, you may have to be more flexible with how you do business and accept payment. Can you offer payment plans that make your services more accessible? Promotions that make your services more attractive? Special deals that make your services even better value? Having these options ready can make a big difference to your prospects, and in turn, make a big difference to your bottom line.
Medispa Advanced Skin and Body Solutions is a great example of adaptability and agility. When the governor of Washington mandated non-essential businesses to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the owner pivoted and almost immediately started selling professional skincare products through her website, offering deals and free shipping. This generates meaningful revenue when the business is close to the public. The owner also started offering virtual consultations to fill the medispa’s schedule for when it reopens.
The purpose of this article is to illustrate that there are all kinds of things you can do to take control of your practice’s future and set yourself up for success – even in a slow economy.
At Proven Marketing for Professionals Inc., we believe that private practice offers great opportunity. With the right approach, it enables owners to control their own lives and create a business that serves their lifestyle (not the other way around). It gives professionals the chance to create their “perfect practice” and a means to truly “have it all” – prosperity, autonomy, gratification, and time. We want to help you build your dream practice, live your own version of success, and design your life your way – despite the slow economy.
The next step is to contact Proven Marketing for Professionals Inc. to schedule a free initial consultation. We’ll go through which of these strategies will work best for you right now and how to get started. The goal is for you to feel it was a good use of your time, whether we’re a fit or not.
Call 902-453-1903 or email Hello@CatherineCrosbie.com to schedule your free initial consultation. We look forward to meeting you and learning about your practice.
Founder & CEO
Proven Marketing for Professionals Inc.