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Figuring It Out

When I first started working as an associate optometrist, and later as a practice owner, it was interesting to see what networking and marketing attempts struck goldÖ and which ones were a near zero in my book. Itís great to see so much information in our optometric journals and publications as to what works, but I think itís worth mentioning some situations or marketing ideas that are worth avoiding. Of course, my one caveat is that what didnít work for me may very well be effective in a different setting and demographic.

I live in a suburban metro area that has a lot of residential neighborhoods mixed with smaller town centers and businesses. Different communities comprise a larger "regional" feel and mix. I outline this so you can be aware of my marketing area as I detail my networking "bombs."

The First Sinker
The newspaper has long been hailed as a mainstay in information and advertising to local communities. The particular complexity I ran into is that the ten-mile radius from my office was served by approximately four different area newspapers, not to mention two larger metro newspapers. To add to this, newspaper advertising is not cheap (at least in my area).

However, even knowing this, I decided to give the traditional newspaper a try by announcing my officeís arrival into the local business arena and marketing a frame sale/open house. I utilized one larger and one smaller newspaper. If other eye clinics did it, it must be effective, right? After submitting my information and dealing with the last-minute rush of the presses (even though I gave them plenty of time to finalize the layout), I was set and ready for


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the demand this ad would create. That’s why it was very disappointing in the next weeks when asking patients how they heard about our new clinic and literally less than 1% said they saw it in the newspaper.

Even knowing this utter failure, I still tried newspaper advertising one more time about a year and a half after opening my office for another frame sale. I figured that since I was now busier, people might pay more attention to the ad because my office name may be more familiar. Wrong! Several hundred dollars later, I still had a very poor response from the newspaper. I think one should truly evaluate how much the newspaper is actually utilized in urban and suburban settings. I can see the merit in smaller communities as there is a greater likelihood of personal connection and interest, but it just didn’t work for me.

Tried and True Chamber
Unfortunately for me, the two closest chambers of commerce merged right before I opened my office. This now larger chamber covered a radius of 20 miles, almost all directly north of my practice. I thought it would still be a nice way for me to connect with other area businesses, so against my better instincts, I joined. The problem came when I realized the majority of active chamber members were located about fifteen to twenty miles away, which is light years for the suburban area in which I’m located. There are about ten optometry offices between me and this active group. At events, I was still able to meet and gain patients, but I know my success was limited due to geographic hurdles. In this respect, I would invite other optometry offices to truly examine how the chamber relates to office location. It was a great group of businesses, just not in my immediate area.

Networking to the Movers
The idea of marketing to new movers is not a new one. However, I think it should be modified to fit your situation. Upon advice from others who had come before me, I purchased mailing lists of all new movers within certain neighborhoods surrounding my office. I was told that repetition was needed to grab the attention of said movers, so a series of letters would be sent over the course of about six weeks, introducing my office, staff and products/services.

After a few months, I realized that a) we were sending out about 1500 letters a month, b) my staff was spending an inordinate amount of time hand-addressing these letters in the hopes they would be opened and not tossed because of printed labels, c) "new movers" included part-time renters and people transitioning from home to home, d) some people got annoyed at close, continued mailings and e) people coming to the office because of the letter were few and far between.

I decided that this effort needed to be more focused. I revised the list to only include new homeowners (not renters or movers) and cut my mailings to only one letter that included a warm introduction, information about my office, and a nice discount on glasses for the homeowner and their family members for the next month. Several business cards were also enclosed. This cut back our mailing to around 150-200 letters per month--much more manageable. I was also pleasantly surprised when we had a much greater response from patients who got the letter. For this marketing attempt, I would advise you really think about to whom you want to market your practice. Weíve all been bombarded by that same business that sends a million fliers out! I decided I didnít want to be included in that category.

Lessons Learned
As I mentioned before, what was a failure for me may work wonderfully for other practices in other settings. I would just encourage you to not conform to what others have done before you just because "thatís how itís been done." Think outside the box, be creative, and donít be afraid to try something unconventional. You may surprise yourself with your tremendous marketing and networking success!


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