As an orthodontist and business owner, your workday is already busy. It can be a challenge to fit one more task onto your to-do list. But in today’s market, you can’t afford to ignore marketing for your orthodontic practice. Gone are the days when a growing practice could just wait for the phone to ring. The modern marketplace requires business owners to find their target buyers and reach them where they are—before competitors get to them first.

Marketing doesn’t need to be challenging, time-consuming or overly expensive. While marketing requires you to spend money to make money, it doesn’t require breaking the bank as long as you spend wisely. Here are some pitfalls to avoid when creating your practice’s marketing plan.

Not a Priority

The top mistake orthodontists make is not prioritizing marketing. Make marketing a line item in your budget, not an afterthought. A good investment for marketing growth is 7% of your overall budget. If you’re operating on a 2% marketing budget (like I did), you’re doing it wrong. A common marketing spend for other consumer-focused businesses is 10%. We, as an industry, are well behind the times.

You can spend those dollars wisely, though, and get a better return on investment. Don’t focus on mass media at first. Instead, use lean marketing to help you gain traction. You can (and should) change to larger marketing initiatives as your practice grows, but you should think small and targeted at first to establish a solid patient base.

Making a yearly marketing plan helps prioritize the effort, but be sure to also prioritize execution. Copy tried and true ideas that are proven to bring in new patients, but don’t sink too much time and money into planning or perfection. Put your marketing plan into action sooner rather than later.

Not Targeted

Don’t cast a wide net. Instead, make a lean, tight marketing plan that will identify your target patients and reach them where they are. Otherwise, you end up wasting money and effort on people who don’t want or need your services. This is especially important in the early days of the practice when every marketing dollar counts.

Define your target patient as narrowly as you can. What is their age and gender? Where do they live? Add as many questions as you want. Then find marketing activities that reach those people directly. Social media can be an excellent tool for cost-effective, targeted marketing.

Too Complicated

Don’t make your marketing plan too complicated for you, your staff or your target patients. If it’s not easy for you, you won’t do it. If it’s not easy for them, they won’t respond. For you and your staff, make marketing activities simple, easy to copy, and easy to delegate.

Hiring a marketing agency can take some of the time and effort off of you and your staff, but be sure to invest the time to thoroughly vet the agency you hire. Some agencies do incredible work, others not so much. You also need to educate yourself about marketing best practices enough to hold the agency accountable for the work they do for you. Otherwise, you could end up wasting a lot of money.

For your patients, make it easy for them to reach out, get information and establish a relationship with your practice. One way to accomplish this is to build a robust, informative website optimized with online chat capability, engaging them in conversation when their interest is at its peak. Online chat gives you a higher return on investment on all your other marketing activities. Instead of waiting for them to call, you can start the conversation with them while they are looking at your website.

There are many options available for staffing online chat on your website, including outsourcing at home or overseas, and creating AI-based chat. However, live chat with U.S.-based support is best from a customer service and branding standpoint. AI-based chat clients can be off-putting because they do not reflect the nuances of language and can sound like robots. The language barrier can also be a problem with overseas chat support.

Summing It Up

In summary, if you want to see growth in your practice, you can’t afford to put marketing on the back burner. But planning and smart spending will make sure your efforts are efficient and successful. Marketing that finds and targets your ideal patient is the key to creating quality growth in your orthodontic practice. Making it easy for patients to build a relationship with your practice when their interest is high makes it more likely that you will see quality return on investment. OP

Scott Hansen, MBA, is the founder and CEO of OrthoChats, a leading professionally managed website chat service exclusively for orthodontists. The company has grown from one to more than 100 employees since 2016 and is recognized as one of the 100 fastest growing businesses in the country.