Marketing for a physical therapy practice is a delicate balance between promoting your services while remaining professional and prioritising the care of your existing clients. It can be easy to get caught up in promoting your practice to the extent that you begin to lose focus on loyal existing clients. And, conversely, you can be so concerned with managing your client base and the daily operations, that you don’t take time to set up long-term marketing channels that will continue to generate new clients.
Not to fear! In this guide, we dig into the details of how to get more physical therapy visits, while still offering existing clients the best possible experience and clinical outcomes.
Step 1: Create a Marketing Plan
1.1 Define Your Target Market
Before you start with any marketing, the first step is to define your target audience – which basically means identifying your ideal patient or patient groups. Don’t skip this step as it’s going to be critical going forward in order for you to tailor your marketing efforts to this group of clients and potential clients.
Put another way, have you ever thought, “Wow, that was a great session, I wish all my clients were like this one”? That’s market segmentation right there. To work out who your target audience is, start by looking at the traits that your very best clients share.
You probably already have a good idea of who is a good fit for your physical therapy services, but maybe you’ve never really got to know your clients. Now is the time to find out what they want and how you can best position yourself to meet those needs.
It’s at this point that many physiotherapy practice owners will typically throw their hands in the air and say “my clients are all different”. And you’re right – of course, there are differences. But if you look a bit closer, and think more deeply about your clients, you’ll be able to identify some core commonalities.
In Practice – How do you define your target market?
Look for the characteristics that most of your clients share, or go one step further and narrow down your more enjoyable (and profitable clients) then ask yourself:
- What brought these clients to you?
- What do you offer that your audience needs?
- Why would they seek out your services instead of another physical therapist?
- Where do they go to learn about alternative services?
- Who (and what) are the primary influences on their decision-making process?
PRO TIP: Make a list of your best clients and drill down into their details. Look at your earnings per client, their demographics, and which services you offer that you enjoy doing most. Then try to find the place where these three areas intersect. For example, it could be “sports-related injuries in men between the ages of 30 and 55 that strongly identify with their sport”, or “early childhood development working with young children and their parents who need extra support”.
1.2 Consider Your Competitors
Have you taken a moment to look at what other physical therapy practices are doing in your area? Are they targeting the same clients? Have they niched down? Are there other complimentary wellness services such as yoga or Pilates? Take time to compare your services to theirs and work out what makes your practice different from the others that are available.
No, you don’t want to be obsessed with your competitors, but you do want to understand the environment your practice operates within.
In Practice – What should you be looking at when evaluating your competitors?
For each competitor (or competitive alternative), work your way through these questions:
- What different therapies and treatments do they offer?
- What facilities do they have?
- Are they accessible (looking at parking and proximity to public transport)?
- How are they marketing their practice?
- What makes them attractive to a potential client?
Then see if you can identify specific target market needs that aren’t being met, segments of the market that may have been overlooked or services that your clients want or need that are not supplied by your competitors.
PRO TIP: It’s important to understand what your competitors are doing so that you can identify opportunities and pick up ideas that you might not have thought of. BUT your competitors should not define your practice. You still need to identify the strengths and opportunities that reflect your goals and priorities so that the practice you build reflects your unique offering.
1.3 Develop a Strategy
Now that you know who you want to target and what influences their behaviour, as well as what your competitors are doing, you need to work on a physical therapy marketing strategy. Importantly, it needs to be a good fit for both your practice and your clients.
In Practice – How do you develop a physical therapy marketing strategy?
It’s time to get brainstorming. Sit with your team or get into a quiet space, put your creative thinking hats on, and let the marketing ideas for physical therapy flow. Think creatively at first – there’s time for realism and fine-tuning later!
Here are some questions to get the ball rolling:
- Given the target market you’ve identified, what are the marketing tactics that are most likely to get your services noticed? Tactics could include:
- Facebook ads;
- Google ads;
- Flyer drops;
- Encouraging referrals from other doctors;
- Search engine marketing;
- Email marketing;
- Local sponsorships (such as sports clubs or local teams);
- Waiting rooms in other (complementary) clinics;
- Reaching out to local media for PR;
- Creating online directory listings;
- Reviewing your website;
- Growing your LinkedIn network;
- Offering a free or discounted introductory session;
- Running a competition;
- Establishing yourself as a subject matter expert via local media channels;
- And of course, there are a lot more…
- Who will be responsible for marketing efforts at your clinic?
- When will you spend time on marketing activities and how much time can be allocated?
- Are there aspects that can be outsourced to specialist marketing companies?
- Is there a marketing budget?
- What are the goals of the business and therefore of the marketing efforts?
- Will the goals be mapped on to a timeline?
- How will you measure the success of the marketing efforts?
This process should give your team a lot to work with, but now it’s time to consolidate your ideas into a written marketing plan. After all, ideas are great, but a formal document detailing your marketing strategy will help solidify the goals and implementation plan that you want to follow.
Your marketing plan should cover the most important physical therapy marketing ideas from your brainstorming session, under these headings:
- Overall goals of the clinic – and how the marketing strategy supports these;
- The purpose of the marketing strategy (what and why);
- A detailed definition of your target audience;
- Marketing strategies for reaching your target audience;
- A budget and details on how it will be allocated to the different marketing efforts;
- How the success of each will be measured;
- A section for future projects.
PRO TIP: Make your marketing strategy practical and actionable, not full of fluffy, undefined ideals. It’s not supposed to be a step by step marketing plan, but rather an overarching strategy that will guide your marketing efforts. It’s there to help keep your marketing on track and in line with the overall objectives and goals of the practice.
Also, remember that your marketing plan is to guide the next 6-12 months of activities. It’s best not to try to do everything, but instead to focus on fewer marketing initiatives, but doing them really well. You can always add additional marketing activities to the mix once you get these first ones working well (or you’ve determined that they don’t work for your clinic).
Step 2: Brand Your Practice
Now that you know who you want to target, and have an idea of what they’re looking for, it’s time to refine your branding. This will define how your practice is perceived by new (and existing) clients and ensure they have a positive, memorable experience when they visit your practice.
But branding isn’t just about having a pretty logo (although that’s important), it’s all the emotional and factual information about your clinic, put simply:
Facts + Emotions = Brand,
let’s break that down a bit…
2.1 Facts: The Branding Aesthetics
This doesn’t need to be complicated, but at the very least your practice should have a consistent set of colours and a professionally designed logo. These can then be used when designing signage, updating your website, on uniforms and when decorating the practice space.
In Practice – How do you brand your practice?
Scour the web for branding you like. This might be inspired by other physical therapy practices (perhaps in other locations), or other businesses entirely. Then use this to brief a designer to adapt your ideas for your clinic.
Once you have a logo and colour palette defined, you need to get very disciplined about using them. Remember, consistency is key. The colours you use should be the same in all communications with clients. This includes your website, emails that you send, as well as the practice waiting room and therapy rooms’ decor. It should also extend to the clothes your team wears and all signage. Consistent, memorable colours will help to position your practice in the minds of current and potential clients. Remember also to include your logo wherever possible.
2.2 Emotions: Cultivating a Positive Practice Environment
Regardless of what marketing tactics you decided on in the previous section, word-of-mouth marketing should form the foundation of every physical therapist’s marketing strategy. This means that before you start marketing your practice externally, you need to make sure you’re offering the best possible experience for your existing patients because they’re going to be integral to the success of any marketing efforts.
If your existing customers aren’t happy, they’re going to tell their friends, and they might even go as far as to leave a negative review online. Potential clients are then likely to read these reviews to learn more about your practice before making an appointment (and consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations).
In Practice – How do you give clients a great experience?
The number one point here is to show clients that you care. And remember, it doesn’t matter that you know you care, it matters that your client knows you care!
People make decisions based on feelings, and it’s not always rational. You might be giving the best possible service, but you need to go one step further and connect with them emotionally, so they feel good about your practice. This will grow your reputation, boost staff morale, encourage follow-up appointments and, ultimately, have a hugely positive effect on your bottom line.
There are three ways to show clients you care (and they don’t cost a cent) and it’s all about cultivating a personal connection:
- Smile more and smile often! Smiling is contagious, and communicates openness and warmth. And, as an added benefit, smiling will make you happier too.
- Listen more. Learn about their expectations for the session, what they hope the therapy will do, and help them to express any concerns they have. If it’s a repeat client, ask them about something they mentioned in a previous appointment (and write it down in your treatment notes so that you don’t have to rely on your memory).
- Keep positive. This goes for everything, from talking to a patient about their condition to commenting on the state of the economy, as well as interactions with other team members and your own body language. No-one enjoys interactions with negative people – least of all when it’s about their own health!
- Keep in touch. Add the client to your database and keep in touch with them through regular email or SMS communications.
Step 3: Set Up Offline Referral Sources
If you’re happy with what you’re offering, have a patient-centered approach, and clients are satisfied with your practice and the services you offer, you can move on to finding other providers who will refer their patients to you.
This longer-term approach is extremely cost-effective as it focuses on building relationships within the medical and local community rather than ploughing money into advertising efforts, but it’s a long-term strategy and you won’t always get results immediately. Word of mouth marketing is engaging and personal, and if you can get it right, it’s an effective strategy for generating new clients for many years to come.
In Practice – What should I focus on?
- Make sure all your contact information is up to date (on your business cards, website, and other online listings);
- Have an easily accessible patient referral form on your website that referrers can fill in;
- Block out time in your calendar to visit referring doctors and potential partners, and set up one or two new coffee meetings each week to grow your referral network;
- Keep growing your authority and reputation as an expert by publishing blog posts and offering advice where needed to referral partners;
- Get into the habit of writing referral feedback letters to close the loop and make referrers more confident in referring their patients to you;
- Diversify your sources to include general practitioners, massage therapists, personal trainers, pilates instructors, and other related businesses in your local area.
PRO TIP: Keep a giving mindset! While the reason you’re growing your network is to grow your practice, you’ll feel less mercenary if you focus on adding value to your partners (and they’ll pick up on it too!) Think about what you can do to help them, and they’ll soon start reciprocating.
Step 4: Go Digital
This is the one area of a marketing strategy that can quickly accelerate the growth of your practice, but there are a couple of areas that are often overlooked by physical therapists. In particular, it’s important to get these two important areas right; your keyword strategy, and your NAP details.
These are the terms that people are typing into Google when looking for a business like yours. For example, as a physical therapist, terms that potential clients would use to find your service might include “physical therapist [SUBURB]” or “sports physical therapists in [CITY]”, so when writing your website content, creating links or planning your online advertising you’ll want to keep these target phrases in mind. You might even decide to add certain pages to your website that specifically focus on each of the phrases you identify as important.
Your NAP Information
The NAP acronym stands for name, address, and phone number. Every business has a NAP and one of the keys to building your online presence effectively is to ensure that you are completely consistent with this information every time you use it. From your website to your Google My Business profile, to any business directory or social media account – your NAP should appear exactly the same every time as it is a Google ranking factor for local search.
Got these two points clear in your mind? Great! Let’s jump into the practicalities…
4.1 Start with your website
Your online presence begins and ends with your website. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be professional. It should answer all the questions that potential and current clients have about your practice. (To do this, you should be constantly adding to and updating your website.)
In Practice – What does my website need to cover?
A health practice website should, at a minimum, include:
- A simple, intuitive design – you’re a medical professional and clients expect your website to reflect this;
- Easy navigation – users should be able to find what they’re looking for quickly and without thinking too much;
- Contact details – ideally these should appear on every page because the primary goal of the website is to have people get in touch with you and make an appointment;
- A ‘book now’ button for clients to book online and manage their own appointments;
- Mobile optimisation – remember that most people search for local services on their phones, so your site needs to load quickly and work perfectly on mobile;
- Testimonials – these quickly build trust with users and mean that they are more likely to schedule an appointment;
- A blog – this should be regularly and consistently updated with well-written, useful content that is relevant to your client base;
- A clear call to action that encourages users to sign up on your website (thus building your email subscriber base);
- Tracking – Google Analytics is a free, easy-to-integrate solution that will help you understand what elements of your marketing strategy are working best.
PRO TIP: Have a look for other physical therapy websites that you admire. Note down the different elements that you’d like to include in your website so that you have a clear idea of how you want your site to look before you even start.
4.2 Set up email marketing
It’s a well-documented fact that repeat clients are much more profitable than new clients, and one of the best ways to keep in contact and remain top-of-mind is through email marketing. This is most often done by sending a physical therapy newsletter to your subscribers. (It might seem simple, but in the long-run, this can be highly effective.) This is permission-based, HIPAA compliant email marketing, with emails that are sent to your current and past clients, as well as any subscribers who have opted in through your website, blog, or other marketing efforts.
In Practice – How do I start with email marketing?
The three main steps are:
- Choose a HIPAA-compliant email marketing service such as Constant Contact, Mailchimp, or Campaign Monitor.
- Collect email addresses; this could be when clients fill in their content details before their appointment, or through your website in exchange for a guide or a discount on a specific service. Ensure that they expressly consent to be sent email marketing communication.
- Send value-adding emails; physical therapy newsletter ideas include sharing information about injury management, injury prevention, health advice, services you offer, and communicating special offers on a weekly or monthly basis.
PRO TIP: Include your blog articles as articles in your physical therapy newsletters. You just need to include an introduction, image, and link to the actual article on your website. If they’re well-written, relevant to your services and useful to your subscribers, you can improve your email open rates and effectively build relationships with your subscribers. (Pay attention to the email subject lines you use as these have a big impact on open rates.)
4.3 Create business profiles on authority sites
There are many free and paid directories and social media platforms where you can list your practice, but the two most important are:
- Google – claim your Google My Business” profile and fill it out as completely as possible. Include photos, your NAP information, your website, and a description of your services including relevant keywords.
- Facebook – set up a Facebook page for your practice and complete all the fields so that potential customers who navigate to your page can get all the information they need without having to go to your website.
In Practice – Which sites do I need to set up profiles on?
The most important citations will vary from location to location and can include local business directories, health websites, and other social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This is a task that can be outsourced to a professional team that can help build the citations for you.
PRO TIP: When deciding where to create your business profiles, a good rule of thumb is to look at where other local practices are listed and make sure you’re at least covered in those.
4.4 Get reviews*
For people who have never been to your practice before, one of the most important things you need to do is to build trust. Think about it – they don’t know you, and they have no idea whether your practice is better or worse than one down the road.
Outside of person-to-person word-of-mouth, online reviews make all the difference here. If a potential client can read about the experiences of other satisfied clients, then they are much more likely to book an appointment with you.
In Practice – How do you get more reviews?
The simple answer is; just ask. If you have satisfied clients that have been coming to you for a while, ask them if they’d be willing to leave an honest review. Talk about it when you’re with them, then send them an email that links to the review site where you’re collecting reviews. Most will be happy to do it, but you will need to make it easy for them – it’s often necessary to send some follow-up emails as well.
The two primary places that you’ll want reviews for are on your:
- Google My Business Listing – this helps with creating trust with clients as well as the added benefit of boosting your local rankings;
- Facebook Page – this is not as important for rankings, but if your target audience is active on Facebook (and most are), good reviews will make potential clients more likely to book;
- Other reviews sites that are popular in your area (eg Yelp)
PRO TIP: Why not make it as easy as possible for your clients to review your business? Have signs with clear instructions in your waiting room and at your reception desk encouraging them to leave feedback on Google My Business or your Facebook Page. Also, make your wifi easily accessible to remove another potential barrier.
4.5 Set up paid advertising
If you have the capacity to take on more clients, one of the most powerful physical therapy advertising ideas is online advertising. This should form an important part of your physical therapy marketing strategy. While there are many benefits, the most important ones to keep in mind are:
- They are quick and (relatively) easy to set up and can return (relatively) immediate results;
- They are completely measurable so you can quickly see which campaigns are working and which need tweaking;
- They can grow with you, you set the budget which can be scaled up and down according to your availability.
In Practice – which online platforms should I be looking at for my physical therapy ads?
If you’re just starting out and haven’t advertised online before, the two platforms you should investigate first are Facebook Ads and Google Ads.
PRO TIP: Facebook ads are, in general, more affordable and you can select your audience based on demographics, then target them with ads. Google ads are comparatively more expensive, but they have the benefit of being laser-focused and can reach consumers that don’t use Facebook. In addition to targeting by demographics, you’re also accessing potential clients who are looking for your service right now. This means that if they see your ad, they are more likely to respond immediately and book an appointment.
4.6 Take SEO seriously
Even if you’re new to marketing your physical therapy practice online, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of SEO. If you’re not quite sure what it means, here’s an easy way to understand it: if you search for a keyword in Google such as “physical therapist Birmingham”, you’ll see the search results laid out like this:
- Paid advertisements;
- Local search results (with a map);
- General search results.
Paid advertisements are placements that businesses have paid for, while local and general search results are organic. SEO refers to which sites Google decides to show for these organic results. The order of sites returned by the organic results is dependent on the SEO value of those ranking pages. Not sure if this is important? According to research, 62% of people looking for health-related services use Google to find a provider and 93% will only look on the first page of results.
In Practice – What are the most important terms to understand in terms of the SERPS (search engine results pages)?
- Page Title – This is the hyperlinked text at the top of each individual search result and should summarise what the page is about (remember to include the name of your practice and your city).
- URL – This is the web address; it should include the keyword you’re targeting for the page and be as short as possible.
- Meta Description – This text appears below the URL which should include more about what users can expect to find on the page.
PRO TIP: If this is all new to you, ensure that you’ve set up Google Analytics and Google Search Console on your website. Google Analytics will show you where your website visitors are coming from so you can measure the effects of your different marketing campaigns. Google Search Console will show you how Google sees your website and will send notifications if there are site errors and keyword search information.
This is an introduction to optimising your site for better SEO, but keep in mind that there are entire books and blogs devoted to this subject! In essence, your rankings will depend on how relevant the content on your page is to the search query, the quality of your website (eg your speed, whether you’re using headings properly etc), and the links to your website and to that web page from other reputable websites.
If you’ve been wondering how to get more physical therapy visits to your practice, our step-by-step guide has the answers you need. From creating a welcoming practice to setting up Facebook ads, there are so many physical therapy marketing ideas that you can get started on right now. Keep in mind that most will take some time and effort to set up, but once they’re running (with a little bit of maintenance), they should continue to generate new appointments going forward on autopilot.
Building a viable physical therapy practice is more than just providing good clinical outcomes. A strong marketing strategy will make all the difference between a practice that just survives, versus one that genuinely thrives.
*Important note from our Legal Eagles: We know you know this, but we need to say it anyway. The information in this article is general in nature and is not legal advice. The laws, regulations and professional guidelines relating to the use of reviews and testimonials can vary across jurisdictions, and health professions. If you’re unsure of the rules that apply to you, your professional association is often a good place to start.