One simple question can help you make big marketing decisions


As a private practice owner, the day to day operations coupled with daily patient care can often make planning for the future or marketing of your business feel like an incredibly daunting task. You have to make difficult decisions regarding your time and money, including if you should increase your online presence, take out print ads in various publications, place additional funds into direct mail pieces, or block off precious time on your schedule for referral visits and/or presentations.

I am a partner in a small private practice, Sound Speech and Hearing Clinic, where we admittedly wrestle with marketing questions that feel overwhelming. This past year, we have found that making one small change at a time can make system wide decisions easier to conquer.

One extremely simple change that we implemented earlier this year was the addition of a question to our intake paperwork – We simply ask, “Where did you hear about us?” in order to find out if marketing is generating business in an effective and efficient way. We did have space for “Referred by” on earlier iterations of our intake form, but noticed that often this was left blank (assuming that some people thought it should only be completed if they themselves had a formal referral from another provider). It is still important to know a referral source, but now we have both options to capture more about all of our marketing efforts.

Why is it important to know where people come from?

Marketing efforts can be better targeted when you find out how others are heading to you. For example, if you place $3000 dollars into a direct mail piece targeted to your key demographics, and have only one call (that did not convert to the caller becoming a patient) your investment yielded low profitability (e.g. return on investment (ROI)). However, if you place $200 into an ad on Yelp, and gain one patient who purchases a hearing aid or becomes a speech therapy client, your ROI is high, and that Yelp ad is where you might want to put in additional funds.

What is ROI?

ROI is one of the simplest formulas you can use when you know where your marketing dollars are going to (investment) and where you are gaining your patients from (return). Once you know where your patients are coming from you can use the following calculation to determine if the marketing costs are valuable: [(Sales Growth-Marketing Cost)/Marketing Cost] x 100.

Let’s try this out – say you obtained two new patients that totaled $5000 from a direct mail piece that cost you $3000. Your ROI would be [($5000 - $3000)/$3000] x 100 = 67%. This campaign was successful, however with cost of goods and services, you might just be breaking even on attaining these new patients.

Now what?

Start small. If you don’t already ask where patients heard about you make sure to include it in every intake, and begin placing this data in a place that is easy to mine (e.g. patient database, excel, google drive). Encourage your front office staff to ask it on the phone. Ask it yourself. After you have obtained a few months of patient data, pick one campaign at a time to evaluate.

Use the ROI to determine the return, and if it was not a successful campaign do not get rid of it, but think how it could be changed to possibly be more successful during the next round. Did your message hit the right people? Was your demographic profile cast too wide and can it be narrowed down? Now that you have rich data from past patient referral sources, you can use this information to make decisions about where to put your funds and time. This ROI calculator can help aide you in taking historical data and planning for the future.

Resources for providers

Finance, marketing, and business aren’t at the forefront of speech language or audiology programs. In many ways, it goes against our nature as providers to care so much about the financial or marketing side of things, but understanding is necessary to stay a successful business. My business partner and I were completely new to private practice and we often joked that looking at financial statements (or formulas for ROI) was like trying to read something in a foreign language.

We found guidance from our city’s small business administration office, our accountant, and invaluable practice management (including marketing know-how) information from the ASHA Practice Management portal. We also pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones and attended private-practice specific conferences. It is possible to grow marketing savvy not just for a better ROI but in order to continue to provide best practices and services for our patients.

About the Author

Jody Vaynshtok, MS, CCC-SLP, co-founded Sound Speech & Hearing Clinic, a private practice in San Francisco offering speech, language, hearing and auditory processing services.