How to market your boutique physical therapy practice

While almost half of all physical therapy practices are boutique shops, size doesn’t dictate success — or mindset.

“Clients are looking for a good physical therapist in a clinic where they have better outcomes,” says Bryan Lange, physical therapist and director of operations for EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. In short, clients simply want to get better.

Still, small offices, whether growing or trying to stay boutique, have to compete with large practices when it comes to attracting and keeping patients. The smallest details, from physical therapy marketing to client retention, matter the most. Use these strategies to start attracting a steady stream of clients.

Build relationships with patients.

Perhaps the best advantage of a small practice is intimacy. Your clients likely work with the same therapist every visit. “Whoever evaluated them is seeing them each time and following up with them,” says Thomas Loper, physical therapist and regional director of physical therapy for EXOS. “Clients aren’t being passed off to multiple therapists or assistants like they often are at larger practices that might be treating 150 to 200 people a day.”

These are the kinds of relationships that increase patient retention and lay the foundation for future referrals — from clients and doctors. Plus, a strong patient-therapist connection has a powerful effect on healing. “Patients get to know you and the front office staff, and this creates trust,” says Lange. “Make sure you’re treating them well from the moment they walk in the door, and you’ll have repeat customers.”

Work your connections.

“A small staff means that each therapist likely has a direct line to referring doctors instead of relying on a clinic manager to coordinate communications,” says Loper. Developing relationships with physicians helps with future referrals, but it also builds trust with patients. “If I’m seeing a patient and he’s having issues, I can call the physician and they’ll pick up,” says Loper. “We can take care of the problem quickly. Patients like to see that. Plus, it saves time.”

Once you’ve made the connection, cultivate the relationship. Keep track of your outreach to doctors and have a plan for each contact. Whether it’s treating their office staff to a lunch-and-learn, updating them on patient progress, presenting new methods, or just checking in to see how you can help their practice, you should work to make every interaction count.

The smallest details, from physical therapy marketing to client retention, matter the most.

Ask for referrals.

With a limited budget for marketing and staff, happy patients may be your best marketing tool. Make the most of each satisfied customer by asking them to refer friends, family, and co-workers to your practice — after you deliver great service and outcomes, of course. The same goes for doctors and their staff. Let them know you’re always seeking new clients and what you can provide in terms of service, outcomes, and specialties. And to encourage reciprocity, refer your patients to them when appropriate.

Crunch (and tout) the numbers.

Metrics may be even more important for smaller practices than they are for larger businesses. “Small changes can affect your bottom line in a big way, where they may not be so noticeable for a larger practice,” says Lange. “When you look at the metrics, you can adjust quickly and try to fix any problems that you’re noticing.”

“We track units per visit, visits per referral, and more,” says Loper. “It tells us how quickly we can get someone back to their favorite activity, sport, work, or whatever they’re doing.”

This information is valuable internally but also externally as a marketing tool. Use the positive data you’ve gathered to attract referring physicians and potential clients looking for the fastest route back to their own normal. “For example, if you find you’ve averaged eight visits per referral when the national average is 15, that’s the equivalent of three or four weeks of activity for the patient,” explains Loper. “When your data shows you’ve reduced costs and time in therapy, that’s powerful.”

Happy, healthy patients are an important foundation.

Do grass-roots marketing.

Happy, healthy patients are an important foundation. But you’ll also want to venture out into the community to meet potential clients. Show up at games, races, and other events. And don’t forget to wear a shirt, hat, or something else with your clinic’s name on it.

“Get involved in the local chamber of commerce and community as much as possible,” says Loper. If you have the expertise, offer services at schools and for club sports. It makes an impression on coaches, parents, and athletes when the person going to these events is an actual therapist versus someone with no physical therapy experience. You’re your best salesperson, so take advantage of this marketing strategy.

Carve out a niche market.

Sometimes the best way to stand out is to specialize, particularly if you have the outcomes to prove you have a leg up on the competition. Perhaps you specialize in shoulders, hips, or pediatric orthopedics. Maybe you make it your focus to highlight certain techniques, such as cupping or soft-tissue mobilization work. Patients are getting savvier about these modalities thanks to social media, so use your knowledge to put your practice in the spotlight.

Looking for more income sources for your physical therapy practice? Here’s where to find them.

About the Author

Janet Lee

Janet Lee, L.Ac., DACM, is a health journalist whose work has appeared in Self, Shape, Real Simple, Consumer Reports, SKI, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.

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