A student chiropractor, contemplating his upcoming graduation, recently posed an important chiropractic marketing question to me. And while he probably should have asked this question several years earlier, at least he asked it prior to actual graduation.
More important than technique, the color of his adjusting table, where he locates his practice, his financial policy and even his report of findings, his ability to embrace and act upon the answer to his question will do more to determine his chiropractic career and the fulfillment he achieves from it then just about anything else. What is this question?
“How do I get my first new patients?”
Tipping the first domino, setting off a chain reaction of delighted patients inspired to tell others, is the first step to having a small business (cleverly disguised as a practice) that survives the odds.
The dirty little secret that even struggling chiropractors acknowledge is that adjusting technique, diagnostic skills and all the technical, left-brain mumbo jumbo acquired in college are of little help when attempting to launch and sustain a new chiropractic practice. In fact, the clinical awards, class ranking and academic achievements may actually work against you, seducing you into believing that they matter to patients. Patients won’t gaze at your framed diploma and ask, “So doc, what was your grade point average?”
No, ultimately it’s about your ability to market yourself, your practice and your particular brand of chiropractic. Ask virtually any established field chiropractor and they can tell you which chiropractor in their area they wouldn’t allow to touch them—yet in spite of this apparent shortcoming, has a thriving practice of adoring patients.
I wish it weren’t true, but it is. Turns out, adjusting prowess and the other skills revered in chiropractic college are more of a hygiene factor. If you’re at least an adequate adjuster, you’re in good shape. This isn’t an excuse to justify mediocre adjusting! On the contrary. Become a master; a wizard; a savant if you can. But for a new chiropractor, anything beyond adequate borders on alphabetizing the soup cans on your kitchen shelf or color-coding your sock drawer. Potentially helpful, but unnecessary.
Here’s my take on the essential action steps to get your first batch of new patients. Some even apply to established practices:
1 Establish your website. These days, having a website is as essential as having a working telephone. At the bare minimum, research and acquire a suitable domain name. Since www.familychiropractic.com was taken back in 1996, it will require some creativity.
2 Work on your business cards. This is a surrogate for the quality of care you’ll be offering. You’ll be handing out hundreds of them in the upcoming months, so get a design that sings your song and can serve to attract your tribe. I’ve addressed chiropractic business cards elsewhere.
3 Become a public speaker. For two reasons. It will give you greater confidence and it will help introduce yourself to prospective new patients. Get to a Toastmasters group. Practice answering the most commonly asked questions. Look for or conjure up opportunities to speak about natural health topics to groups in your community.
4 Practice being aggressively friendly. Simply put, extroverts have an advantage over introverts. And while you can’t change your personality, practice introducing yourself, making small talk, asking questions and generally showing up curious when encountering as many strangers as possible.
5 Create alliances. Introduce yourself to medical doctors, nutritionists, yoga instructors, Pilate studios, the personal trainers at the local gym and others in your community that could become resources for you and your patients. Lay the groundwork for invoking the Law of Reciprocity and assembling your A Team of resources.
6 Meet your neighbors. Go door-to-door to businesses and residences in your area if you wish, but look for ways to become familiar to those in your community. Or, that may mean joining civic groups and participating in service organizations. Serve. If this makes you cringe, rather than excites you with possibilities, it’s proof you’ll want to…
7 Get your heart right. This is the most difficult and the most important. True, you need new patients so you can earn a living and pay back your loans. But that can’t be your motive as you seek to establish your practice. Once you make it about getting your needs satisfied, you’ll release an odor that will empty your practice before it ever has a chance to fill.
If some of these suggestions make you uncomfortable or resentful (“I’m a doctor! I shouldn’t have to lower myself to blah-blah-blah…”) then it’s proof that you’re either suffering from a potentially terminal case of pride and arrogance, or occupy a personality quadrant that will make serving the public forever challenging. I’m sorry your particular chiropractic college didn’t warn you of this when you enrolled, but frankly, without much of an endowment, they needed your tuition money and didn’t want to dissuade you. After all, it’s a business for them too.