One of the key things that I have learned about developing a successful private practice is that it is important to differentiate yourself from others – you need to make patients want to come and see you over and above everybody else.
Obviously, word of mouth referral is a core source of patients for most of us.
This is a great way to get patients to request to see you personally.
But what about those patients who do not have personal experience of your service?
In order to attract these patients, you need to develop yourself as a brand.
You may think that as an individual surgeon you are unable to develop a brand, but in fact you can.
Most major companies started with an individual and many of the largest brands in the world are backed by an individual.
People like to relate and engage with individuals as this gives credibility to any brand.
In fact, I think that a major problem with many of the cosmetic surgery companies is that they do not have an individual identity behind them and so it is difficult for them to build trust and loyalty around their brand.
It is a competitive world out there and if you do not develop your own brand then you will need to rely on getting patients from the hospitals or other companies who are busy building their own brands.
They say that you should:
build your dream or someone else will hire you to help build theirs
Why do people come to see you?
- Is it because they have been treated by you in the past or they know someone who has been treated by you in the past?
- Is it because the hospital have put the patient in your clinic because you can offer a clinic slot at a convenient day and time for the patient?
If so, then you do not have a brand that people are seeking out.
Don’t worry, because most doctors don’t have a brand and you can build a busy and successful practice on word of mouth referrals and the patients that the private hospitals point your way.
However, do not be surprised if one day the hospital decides that they want to pay you less or they want to give the work to someone else.
You should also be aware that if you don’t have a brand, then you don’t really have anything to sell or pass on when you retire.
Don’t be fooled in to thinking that because you have a successful private practice, it will be worth something to someone else when you decide to stop working, because it won’t.
Word of mouth referrals will only go so far after you have gone and patients coming through the hospital will have no problem seeing the next available consultant, particularly if the hospital chooses to promote them.
The obvious example of this is the NHS, which has a very strong brand and will always have a constant stream of patients coming to it.
No matter how popular or successful you are in the NHS, when you leave, there will be a seamless transition to the next doctor who takes your place because patients are coming to the brand that is the NHS, not you (your existing patients may love you and follow you out to the private sector, but new patients will have no qualms about seeing whoever takes your place).
It is by no means easy to develop a brand otherwise everyone would have done it, but at the same time, even in your own small individual way you can take steps to develop and nurture your own identity and give patients a reason to want to have you as their surgeon.
So how do I develop my brand?
The first thing is to take some time to step back and consider what it is that you are offering. I do not mean facelifts, Botox or breast implants, because everyone is offering that.
I mean what is it that sets you apart from all the others?
Why should patients want to come to see you?
Take a step back and think about this.
What do you want your brand to stand for?
Picture yourself as the head of a large chain of cosmetic clinics – what would you want your company to be known for?
What standards would you want your employees to work towards?
The best brands have these standards well defined:
- Virgin is known for fun
- Apple is known for innovation
- Volvo is known for safety
- VW for reliability
- British Airways for luxury
- Ryanair for value
You might want to be known as the expert in a particularly area, such as large breast implants or natural results or non-surgical treatments or rhinoplasty, or you might want to be known as the surgeon who can fix anything and provide a solution to problems of any part of the body.
They each have their benefits and will attract certain sub-sets of patients.
Your brand has to be directed at a sub-set of people.
You cannot expect to have a brand that appeals to everybody all of the time.
If you try this you will end up appealing to no one.
Do not think of what is best in terms of business, but think of what you would actually want to do and want to stand for.
Do you want to be known as someone who gives the best value for money and the best pricing for non-surgical procedures or breast implants?
Or do you want to be known as someone who has the most comprehensive aftercare?
Ideally your brand will not be limited to a particular procedure, because that makes it difficult to scale.
If you look at the list above of successful brands – their brand values do not stand for the thing that they do.
The Virgin brand does not stand for record shops and the Apple brand does not stand for computers. This allows the brand to branch out in to other areas and does not limit the growth of the company – this has been demonstrated clearly with Virgin, who can sell anything from trains to credit cards to mobile phones and the brand identity is still relevant and valued.
You have to picture yourself in a room with five or six other people who work in your area, all of whom can perform the same procedure that you can and you have to describe to a patient what you are offering.
You cannot just say ‘breast implants’ because everyone is offering that.
You have to help the patient to make a decision and give them something to differentiate you from the others so that they can make a decision as to whether or not you would be right for them.
If you do not give them anything then it is a lottery as to who they choose.
You need to give yourself a competitive edge but do not worry, it does not have to be too spectacular because you can rest assured that your other colleagues in the room probably have not thought about this either, so even a small edge or advantage will go a long way!
Once you have got your edge, or brand identity, then you need to go about promoting this.
Now you might think that you have not got a big budget to put billboards or television adverts on to promote your brand and actually, when you think about it you have to consider how any company promotes their brand.
The way to promote your brand is in every contact you have with your prospects or patients.
Once you have your edge you need this to show every time a patient comes in to contact with your practice, whether that be visiting your website, Facebook page, phoning you up, or coming to the clinic – this is why you need to control these things as much as possible.
It is difficult if you are working from one of the private hospitals because much of the contact will be dictated by the brand values of the hospital.
If the patient rings to book a consultation or to change an appointment, then unfortunately you are limited as to how much you can control that conversation although you can let the teams who deal with these enquiries know what your brand values are.
For instance, if you are very amenable to changing appointments at short notice (or not), or very open to performing revision surgery if necessary.
Outside of these areas you need to examine what points of contact you do control and look at how these appear to a patient.
Mystery shopping is a great technique and I would encourage you to ask your friends or family to have a look at your website and put in an enquiry to see what sort of response they get.
You can try phoning the hospital yourself to book an appointment, or get your secretary to do it.
You may be surprised at the response.
If you do use social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram then you need to think about each of your posts to try and make sure they are aligned with your brand identity and your brand values.
All the documentation you send out (I recommend that you send out documentation), whether that be after someone has booked an appointment, or if they have booked for a procedure, or a post-operative instruction sheet after surgery, this should all reflect the tone and ethos of your brand.
People like to be able to differentiate and you will be doing them a favour if you are able to set yourself apart from everybody else.
Obviously, in doing this you will alienate or push away some potential customers but do not be afraid of this because there will be plenty of others who will be attracted to your brand.
Just look at what happened when Jeremy Clarkson lost his job at Top Gear, he made it quite clear what he stood for and there were certainly a lot of people who did not agree with him and hated his style, however, when you polarise opinion you can also encourage a deep and strong following in those who do agree with you.
A brand is everything and will also go towards developing your practice as an asset.
It will also be worth something because you can sell a brand, just look at Jo Malone, who sold her business to Estee Lauder in 1999 and the brand is still going strong.
If you want to set up some time to talk about building your brand or if you would like me to help you to develop your private practice, click here and we can see if you would be a good fit for the Private Consulting Class.