Business side of dentistry: Golden rules of marketing

Editor’s note: This is the tenth article in a series exploring the business aspects of the dental profession, from starting a practice and marketing to hiring staff and finances.

Dr. Deshpande

Based on my experience, marketing has two main components: internal and external. Internal includes gaining higher case acceptance and introducing new procedures to your existing patients. External marketing involves efforts taken to bring new patients into the practice.

There are so many ways of bringing new patients into your practice. The following are only a few techniques mentioned. You can pay a company to do this for you, or based on your demographic testing, conduct this yourself.

1. Direct Mail. Some say this is the best way to bring new patients in. I think it depends on the demographic you’re targeting. If there’s a dentist in my market (downtown Seattle), trying to get me in the door, they may not succeed in doing so with a mailer. Most young couples that rent out apartments in the city throw their “junk mail” before leaving the mailroom. Where do these young couples look for a dentist? Online, specifically on Google.

2. Which bring me to reviews. Asking for a review can be the best way to boost your online presence, keep your SEO happy, and bring new patients in. Googling “Smile & Co.” — a boutique dental practice in Sacramento — provides a great example. Although they have a wonderful, bright website and active social media page, what keeps them in the game is their 500+ Google reviews. Your reviews are your community’s way of showing you they love you and will vouch for you.

3. Use your marketing as a try and fail method to test your market. If you’re targeting 50+ patients living in a retirement center, consider sending out mailers consistently for a few months and evaluate the return on investment. Did patients come through? Maybe consider offering specials to veterans or senior citizens, to make your clinic seem more attractive. Many patients lose their traditional employer sponsored dental insurance at the age of 60. A membership plan may help retain your aging patients.

4. Are you part of the local Chamber of Commerce? Consider hosting your space as a venue for one of their events, use that opportunity to meet more businesses in your area, and partner with entrepreneurs.

5. Are you a specialist? Join a study club with general dentists or make it a point to pick up the phone and call general dentists in your neighborhood to introduce yourself. I personally love meeting specialists who respect my drive to learn specialty procedures, and yet continue teaching me. It makes me connect with them even more and refer my favorite patients to them. Dr. Sonia Chopra, my mentor in endodontics, and Dr. Alan Yassin, my mentor in implants, are two great examples of specialists who have made teaching general dentists their life’s work.

6. Think of your ideal patient. Who is it? One of my favorite speakers had once told his audience that his ideal patient is a “busy businessman.” He tried to picture where those busy businessmen frequently hang out. Answer: bars and high-end restaurants. This is why he started offering free dental treatment to bartenders and servers, and in return, left his business cards at those local watering holes. Without trying too hard, his dental work got facetime with his preferred client, and often sent referrals to his office.

7. Focus on giving patients a 100% amazing experience. Work on creating a beautiful monthly dental newsletter, with updates on the team, office or community participation. Send out a birthday wish, either by email or a fun video. Call patients after surgeries, long treatment appointments or after any appointments involving small kids. Parents appreciate you calling after their kids. It increases trust and creates goodwill.

What if you’re still an associate at this time? Or maybe you’re in dental school and wondering if you can begin marketing at this stage? The answer is yes!

1. Consider creating a personal website and professional Instagram/Facebook account. Think about your personal brand carefully, what is your vision for the future? Why should patients come see you? Think of the photos you currently have plastered on the internet; do they convey the image you want to have out there?

2. Remain true to yourself. One of the dentists I admire partnered up with a nonprofit that helps rehabilitate women who suffered domestic abuse. For every new patient appointment, he donates a part of his fee to the nonprofit. He also offers free cosmetic treatment to a survivor every few months. This work aligns with his socially conscious practice. It has also helped create a community of supporters around his startup.

Do you have any other ideas about marketing? There are so many out there, and so many dentists who do it well. Be open to learning from people you meet and always be willing to tweak your existing strategies for the better!

Dr. Sampada Deshpande is a general dentist based in San Francisco. A foreign trained dentist from India, Sampada earned her DDS from the University of Washington in 2018 and is a 2020-2021 UW-LEND fellow. Outside of clinical dentistry, she enjoys teaching at the New Dentist Business Club and improving access to technology in healthcare via her involvement in Samsotech. You can reach her directly at @dr.deshpande on Instagram or visit her website for more information.