Building and Maintaining a Practice

By Sara Thyr, ND

Most naturopathic medical practices are built by word of mouth – personal referrals from friends or people that they trust. When you are just starting out, this can take a lot of time. Even the happiest of patients can only send you so many people in a given amount of time.

The best thing I have done for my practice is join a network marketing group. There are many to choose from out there and the one I have been working with since I moved to California is Business Networking International (BNI). They only allow one person from any given profession in a chapter or group, so you have the floor without competition each week and talk about what you do. Re-starting a practice in a new state in the worst economy of our lifetimes, this has been the one thing that has really sustained my practice.

The people from the north bay BNI association, the chapter to which I belong, estimate that each seat in a chapter out here is worth about $26K in business each year. And the philosophy of the whole organization is giver’s gain – which I really love.

Initially, most of the people coming from referrals from BNI were the chapter members themselves—people who know me, hear me speak each week, and therefore self-refer for a variety of reasons. As time has gone on (I have been in BNI for just over one year), more and more people in my chapter are giving me other referrals – friends and family who have health issues that are best dealt with through naturopathic medicine.

Another great thing about being in BNI is that you are sitting each week among your local community’s business owners. This means that even if someone is not directly sending you referrals, you are getting your name out into the community.

The other effective marketing tool I have done to build my practice is go and meet with other healthcare practitioners. A referral from someone’s OB/GYN carries with it lots of weight in terms of professionalism and respect. This was not as easy for me to do but I have met some very welcoming physicians and built bridges that will sustain my practice for years to come. I genuinely approached it from a win-win perspective. I need to have other physicians in a variety of specialties to refer to and they, in turn, can refer to me.

Specifically, when I created my marketing plan for the year, I listed different types of local healthcare practitioners that I would contact each month. I drafted a letter and sent it out, asking if they would be interested in meeting with me – offering to deliver lunch to their offices if they would take the time. I have a really good caterer (who I met through BNI) who brings local, organic food and gives it a beautiful presentation, which makes me look really good from the outset.

A week after the letters go out, I follow up with a phone call. Certainly not every office that receives a letter is interested, but I am most happy to have this kind of meeting with the people who are at least interested in what alternatives are out there for their patients. They are being asked by their patients for them all the time.

In the face-to-face meetings, I always bring literature comparing our education, which helps them to understand my training and background. I also bring all of my marketing materials which I do not bring out until the end of the meeting. The most recent meeting I had was with a very busy office of OBG docs who had many questions about patients that they genuinely want my help with. They were interested and excited to know that I was around!

Considering what print advertising goes for – that $90 I spent to bring them a healthy lunch will go a long ways in effective marketing.

Other important tools for success: have a good website that is easily found, and get out and do public speaking whenever you can.

But most importantly – believe in yourself and your medicine.