The Economic Slowdown Is Coming: Here’s How To Get Your Veterinary Practice’s Marketing Ready

The stock market just had the worst December since the great depression. The Fed just raised rates for the 3rd consecutive time. Housing sales are slowing way down and inventory is beginning to climb to levels we haven’t seen in years.

I think we have not too much time left before we begin to see a really large shift in the economy and have a slowdown that dramatically effects your clients’ bank accounts or employeement and in turn your veterinary practice.

I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember 2008. I used to do real estate as an investor and when the market crashed, I lost everything. I had to borrow $300 to buy a sailboat because I had no job, no money and couldn’t afford rent. I didn’t have a car, was living off the taco bell dollar menu and it was this sad state that led me to want to learn digital marketing. I figured that if I could learn how to sell things online I could insulate myself from the next big recession.

I think we’re on track to have a similar economic slowdown, my guess is starting sometime in 2019. If you don’t get ready now, you’ll be in a world of hurt. The good news is, there is still time to get ready and I hope by the end of this post, you’ll have a clear idea on how to get your practice ready so you can avoid the slowdown as much as possible.

What if I’m wrong and the market just keeps going on like crazy forever? If you use the framework I’ve outlined here for your veterinary practice and things keep growing, you’ll only be capitalizing on this never ending bull market economy even more. So prepping yourself for a downturn only helps to protect you, your practice staff and your veterinary practice.

Where are we today?

Right now, many of the veterinary practices that I talk to are facing a situation where they are insanely busy and understaffed. We’ve experience consistent economic growth since the recovery began in 2011. Many practices have enjoyed growth without having to do much advertising, and have steadily seen increases in revenue year after year.

Many of the practices I see growing as a result of mirroring the economy have become lazy in their marketing and advertising methods. I am consistently amazed at the number of veterinary practices who are doing revenue above 1,000,000 a year but are doing less than $500 a month in ad budget. This kind of revenue to ad budget proportion is unseen in nearly any other industry. Practices have out dated websites, poor web presence, and don’t actively advertise to get new clients in the door.

They’ve been so busy, and with the staffing crisis the industry has seen, they couldn’t be troubled with more new clients. As a result of this busyness, they aren’t collecting emails like they should, there is no email follow up or promotion with clients, social media posting is infrequent without any promotion strategy in mind and they don’t have clearly defined offers to get new clients in the door that they know actually works.

Most practices haven’t been testing funnels or building out systems to generate new clients because they’ve been trying to keep the wheels from falling off. I get it, it makes sense, but if you want to make sure you don’t end up laying off staff and closing the doors, you can’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing.

Ray Dalio, who is the world’s most successful Hedge Fund Manager, said that if we’re in a growth cycle that is similar to a baseball game he would put us somewhere in the 8th inning before the growth cycle game over happens. You can read a really interesting, in-depth recent article from him here. 

Having been heavily involved in the real estate industry as an investor, Broker and Reg-D fund manager as well, I want to instill upon you that you can get ready, but I suggest you do it sooner than later.

Where Should You Start?

The first place to start is with a current inventory of all of your marketing assets. You need to know where you’re at so that you can figure out what you need to do to improve.

In your marketing strategy, I want you to have a healthy mix of client acquisition methods, traffic sources and mediums that you communicate with your clients. If you have a healthy list of people who know, like and trust you that you can drive to action, you are WAY more in control of your destiny than if you’re relying on the market to deliver you clients.

Not only should you be communicating regularly with your clients on certain platforms, but you should also be consistently selling that your services are VALUE filled.

This is an important distinction. Value and price isn’t the same thing. Value is arbitrary, and can change based on your packaging and messaging. You can make your services feel like a better deal than the prize by how you sell it.

When times get tough, people care about price. If you make them feel like they’re getting a great deal then they are. Value – not price will help you retain customers without having to discount everything. We’ll get into this more in a minute, but I want to make sure you’re thinking about this every time you communicate with clients.

Six Questions To Start:

To begin building your lists, funnels and digital assets that you can use to bring clients into your practice I suggest you start by asking yourself these questions:

1) Do you have a solid website set up that is mobile responsive, loads quickly, has clear calls to action and actively drive clients into your practice? If you don’t know how many clients are coming into your practice from your site you have a problem. You need to be able to actively measure results, not just see traffic volume. If you can’t tell me how many calls, opt-ins, and appointment requests you have gotten, this is priority 1.

2)Are you actively building an email list? How many average emails do you collect per week and how many emails are you sending out every week? What is your average open rate, click through rate and conversion rate for promotional, relational and transactional emails?

3) Do you have your customer value journey defined? Do you know what your clients actually want? Do you have your client avatars clearly defined and know who you want to attract with your marketing and messaging?

4) Are you clear on what your content production and distribution strategy should be? Do you have a strategy on not only what you should spend time creating, but also what helps to segment your audience so that you can re-market and drive your web traffic into your practice?

5) Do you have analytics set up so that you can actively track where your new clients are coming from? I highly suggest understanding what your best performing organic sources, paid sources and social sources are so that you can pull those levers when you need to in the future.

6) Do you have a good understanding of paid traffic for both Facebook and Adwords? If you needed to generate new clients coming into your practice now what would you do? Do you have a clear idea on what your cost per customer acquisition is?

Based on your answers to these questions let’s dive deeper into these sections so that you have a clear idea of how to prepare your practice.

Your Home Base Is Where You Start

For most veterinary practices, your digital marketing presence starts with your website. If you don’t know if you need a new one or are considering getting a new one, I have a couple test that you can use to let you know for sure.

The heirarchy for deciding if and when you need a new site works kind of like this:

  • Functionality: Does the page work, load and is viewable? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you need to fix this. Here’s the easiest way to see if this works properly: Load up the site on your phone, does it load fast? Does it take more than 5 seconds to load? Is there an easy way for people to call you without having to write your number down? Here are links to Google’s speed test tool: Speed Test Your Site and Mobile Friendly Test.
  • Accessibility: Can people of all skill levels use your site? Do you have mobile-friendly forms? Do you have mobile-friendly call buttons? Is it complicated to set appointments?
  • Usable: Is it user-friendly? Is it really hard to read because your text is microscopic? Do you have a black background and dark grey text making it impossible to see? If it isn’t user-friendly time for something new.

My favorite veterinary website company is hands down Whiskercloud. Not only do they fully manage your site, they custom build it so that it looks and works great for you. It is more expensive than the do it yourself templates, but you get to enjoy faster load times, great support and innovation. They also really understand SEO from a functional standpoint and that is important.

As long as your site is functional, accessible and usable you’ve at least met the minimum requirements. Above that you should be testing two more elements which are is your site intuitive and finally persuasive.

If someone lands on your site, is it clear how to navigate easily, how to find out what you do, who you are, how you can help, and intuitively let your clients move from each element of the site to eventually convert into in practice visits?

The final piece of your site testing and optimization you should work on is persuasion,(we’re assuming it is now, functional, accessible, usable and intuitive.) The biggest problem I see is practices make it all about themselves, how long they’ve been there, how much they care, how much specialization they have and blah blah blah.

When you’re trying to be persuasive the prospective clients care about themselves. What’s in it for them? Why should they care? How are you different in a way that impacts them?

Being persuasive often means being specific, so having specific landing pages to address specific needs is ideal as well,(another reason I love Whiskercloud because they’ll build these). Instead of sending traffic to your homepage and having them figure out what to do and where to go, create specific landing pages and offers based on what your prospective clients are looking for.

Changes and improvements to your site will result in increases in revenue. As your site improves, you’ll get more clients. When we focus on marketing activities that impact the bottom of your funnel you see increases in $$$, and that is why I suggest starting here. You’ll see return on your money here.

Own Your List Instead Of Renting It

Once your website is squared away, the next order of business is getting your email list going. I know, email is so totally 1999, but here is the thing, it works.

In Q4 of 2018, I helped clients sell just over $680,000 worth of products directly from emails. That is just direct e-commerce selling, not including services, real estate, loans or other products I couldn’t directly link to selling.

The thing I love about email is that you get to own it. Social platforms are fantastic because they let you reach your clients where they are spending time, but the truth is you don’t own those audiences, you’re just basically renting them. Remember Jan 19 2018? Facebook said bye-bye to organic distribution for pages. Instagram won’t be far behind.

Email is there and you get to control it. You can be in charge of when, how often, what is included and how your prospects respond. Think about how valuable that is.

It is a slow Thursday morning. You release a special offer, mass email your list of 2500 contacts and boom, you’ve got appointments. It’s the closest thing to having a personal ATM as I can think of. So why aren’t you using it?!?!?!

Here’s where to start if you don’t have email marketing in place:

Choose your email marketing service:

Here are my three recommendations, and they range in prize ranges, features and difficulty of use.

Beginner: Go with Mailchimp. This is a great email marketing service, has automation, you can do conversion tracking and some basic segmentation.

Intermediate: Go with ActiveCampaign. You have a ton of advanced features and for 99% of practices, this is all you’ll need. It can do nearly everything you need it to do at a great price. You can create automation sequences based on segmentation and action.

Advanced: Go with Infusionsoft. This has e-commerce features built in, ridiculously advanced affiliate program creation, and tons of bells and whistles. I use Infusionsoft for my products and services and handle 4 client’s funnels. This has a big learning curve but has a high payoff.

Getting Clients To Take Action With Email

Now that you have your email service chosen, it is time to send emails. Your list isn’t worth jack-turd if you don’t send to them.

We have 3 kinds of emails that you can send either via automation or manually, and they are relational emails, promotional emails and transactional emails. They should be treated differently and YOU NEED TO SEND THEM OK!?!?!?!??!!! Please, start sending more emails. Let’s cover what each of these email types includes.

Relational Emails: Emails that help you increase the context of your relationship and helps someone move from stranger to client for life. Your relational emails need to ascend your clients to the next step of your client journey. Examples of relational emails you need to get sending out are welcome email sequences, testimonial story emails, goodwill content or general goodwill series emails. We’re not trying to close a sale, just bolster the relationship.

Transactional Emails: These are a result of a service taking place, so if you send email receipts or follow up for service these are your transactional emails. Typically these have abnormally high open rates because people want to see what they’re being charged or test results or any comments like that. If people are looking at certain email sequences make sure you’re adding in a promotion. Attention is valuable, use it as much as possible.

Promotional Emails: These are where you’re highlighting content, products or services and driving people to take an action. What is the action you want to happen and what method do you want them to take action? A click, then add a button. A call, then add a call button. A reply to email, then ask for them to hit reply.

If you want more on these, I made a quick video explaining this in more depth.

But It Doesn’t Work!

The most common complaint I get from practices is that their marketing doesn’t work. We need to define what works means.

Along each step of the process, you have micro conversions that load to a macro conversion. Each one of those micro conversions can either be a success or a failure and that is how we determine what isn’t working.

First and foremost, if you want your emails to make your practice money, then you need to actually sell something, but that happens at the end. Before that we have to get the email opened, then read, then clicked, then the landing page read, then the button clicked, then the appointment set, then the reminder to go out, the follow up call to happen, the appointment to take place and then we have a sale. These are all micro conversions that need to take place to get the end goal of getting the client in.

If the economy went to the crapper tomorrow and you decided it was time to start emailing your list, then you wouldn’t have base lines set up for each of these micro conversions to know what was breaking the process.

Start your emails now, get your clients used to getting emails and train them to take action.

If you’re just starting out with emails, set up a newsletter to go out AT LEAST 1x a month. Before you send out your email ask yourself:

  • What is my call to action? Is it confusing? Is it clear?
  • What is the headline, does it call out the audience and sell the open?
  • What am I selling? Does it match the call to action?
  • Is it easy to take action or am I making the client work too much

Emails don’t have to be complicated, long or difficult. Find out what your clients want and need and service them with the emails you send out.

What Does Your Customer Value Journey Look Like?

If you’re not actively working to drive new clients in the door with paid traffic right now, you probably don’t think much about this, but it is EXTREMELY important.

The customer value journey is the process that you use to move a complete stranger to becoming a raving fan who loves and champions your practice.

The stages of your customer value journey are as follow:

  1. Awareness: If they don’t know about you, they can’t do business with you. Depending on the medium and the client need they will encounter you through ads, search, social, email, word of mouth or other ads (Like the yellow pages used to back in 87, ps maybe stop your yellowpages listing, it isn’t 1987).
  2. Engage: Here people interact with your content, your site, find more information and begin the evaluation process
  3. Subscribe: People sign up for your newsletter list, follow your social channels, sub to your youtube or any other similar action.
  4. Convert(try out): Here people have enough info to make a decision and dip their toe into the pool. Having an intro offer is key here to move them to this decision.
  5. Excite: Here your clients love the service, everything goes swimingly and you now have a client who knows likes and trusts you.
  6. Repeat Purchase: You have a client who knows likes and trusts you, sell them some more products and services they need. They know and trust you, so educate them and take care of them.
  7. Advocate: They like you, so if anyone asks, they recommend you.
  8. Promote: Now they like-like you. They go out of their way to talk about your practice, your service and recommend you without prompting. They are champions of your practice.

Ultimately we are looking to grow your practice with clients who you love, and who love you.

Defining this journey and creating content, funnels and offers around each step is what helps you to turn the traffic you’re getting to your site into a client generation machine.

When the economy turns, the more clients who have who have ascended all the way through the journey will help you to ride out the storm. These are the people who can’t be swayed by a coupon to move to the practice down the street.

Content Is (STILL) King

The brands that I work with who have success have two things in common.

Pretty simple, they create content that their audience WANTS and misses if they don’t produce it and they have offers relevant to the content the produce that their clients actually want.

Many of the practices I see floundering with content and social strategy aren’t clear on the offers that they want to be promoting. Your content drives engagement on social, drives clicks to your website from your emails and helps convert people on the fence.

So what should you create and how often? I’ll give you a formula I think works well for nearly every general practice.

Step 1: Identify your offers

Your content should be built around your offers, otherwise you’ll run into the, “IT DOESN’T ROI” problem.

Looking for more cat clients? Create a cat special. Want more puppies (who doesn’t love puppies) Create a special for puppies. Want to do dentals? Remove 2 teeth and get the 3rd extraction free (kidding but you get the point).

An offer is product + Price + Terms. What do your clients want? What motivates them emotionally to take action? What is an offer that you can create that is compelling? What is absolutely necessary? When times get tough, luxury sometimes is out of the question. How can you build on the necessities that people must have instead of just want?

You know your clients, create offers that are valuable to them. People value status, convenience, ease of use, level of care, expertise and price. Choose some of those and put them together. Create a VIP Client Club where they can get guaranteed small wait times (I don’t know but if you want to not discount you got to come up with something creative).

Create Content That Speaks To Those Offers

How often are you wondering to yourself, what should I post today? Should I create a blog? What should I send out in email?

Chances are, you’re probably not sure what you should be creating content around, if you even have time to think about it.

The truth about content is that it is massively important and makes the difference between success and failure, especially when it comes to social networks that are not search based. Before 2018, you could get away with just running ads on a Facebook page without having content to accompany and segment your audience.

As time goes on, Facebook and other similar platforms rely more and more on machine learning to figure out what your page is about and who your best potential audience or customer is. This is why it is so important to have content. You need to give the machine data to let it figure out who to show your content to.

When I have clients that I work with who are just starting out, I’m seeing a much much larger cost per action across the board, seriously like a difference in 3-7x the cost. CPM is insanely high and when you’re optimizing for conversion events you don’t get no love from the algorithm.

I like to have the engaging clicky type posts mixed in with the content that gives entertainment, value or info (hopefully all 3 if possible). The stack that I dig is daily budgets of at least $5 that posts your content out to cast a bigger net to send to your offers. If you live in a bigger market or have a larger practice, then I suggest upping that awareness budget, but if you’re a less than 3 doctor practice, $5 a day for just getting your content in front of your office will do great.

I like to have a minimum of 3 offers that I can rotate every 3 weeks or as needed. For example, let’s say you’re booked out 3 weeks for general practice appointments but your groomer is twiddling their thumbs. Switch up your promotional offer and get everyone working. This should be able to generate clients when you need them, where you need them, and having the right target audience is what helps you to get this done. Target audiences are where you send your offers to so that they already know, like and trust you.

Knowing What Offers and What Content To Makes Boils Down To This

If you were in business to sell cheeseburgers instead of being a veterinarian what would be the most important piece to your business?

Some might say, having the best ingredients while others might say that having the best dining experience would be most important. But if you want to sell burgers, having an audience who is starving, willing and able to buy would ensure you are successful.

Who are you trying to target? Are you trying to serve everyone? If you’re going to spend time, energy, effort and money to generate new clients find the ones who are starving to have their pet taken care of by you and your practice. Think about the top clients you have, what do they have in common? Would they stick with you through a downturn? You are the person who knows your clients best, so create marketing assets that work and speak to their needs, not the masses. The masses want discounts and free work.

Finally, Time To See If It Is All Working!

One of my favorite all time marketing quotes is from John Wanamaker who died in 1922, which is:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”

Most business owners don’t know how to properly track results and attribute sales to marketing activities.

This is probably the biggest problem I see, and I understand, it is confusing to set up attribution or UTM or advanced conversion tracking software.

It doesn’t have to be this way though.

Make Your Marketing Trackable

If you want to know the ROI of a marketing activity, it needs to be trackable. This sounds simple enough but rarely do businesses do it.

If you want to test an offer on Facebook for example, create a post, create a call to action and drive clients to that offer and measure how many people take the offer. It sounds simple because it is. You don’t have to create complicated funnels, but you do need to create a way to measure your marketing’s effectiveness.

You don’t have to create landing pages, integrate emails, create an autoresponder and have all the bells and whistles, it can be as easy as you going live on Facebook and asking for people to comment to claim an offer and then you message and follow up directly.

I highly suggest using tools to help you create automation, but don’t get hung up on it.

One Action and One Outcome

The trouble comes when you add multiple traffic sources sending traffic to multiple pages that don’t have pixel events to track.

Every time you have a call to action, make sure that you can measure and attribute that action to a marketing activity.

If you’re doing Adwords, set up tag manager and create conversion events that are trackable. If you’re doing Facebook ads, set up pixels so that you can measure conversion rates and attribute your clients to a specific ad.

If you don’t have the time to invest in learning how to manage conversion events in the ad platforms you’re using, hire someone to do it for you, if you want help send me a message or watch this video I did teaching about pixel standard events.

Get Analytics Installed

I highly suggest getting Google Analytics installed and then creating a weekly report that automatically gets sent to you.

When you look at your website traffic, I would break it down into a few categories that should be managed at a glance in case something is wrong or broken, and so that you can fix it.

I suggest seeing total visitors, new visitors, traffic sources, time on site, and bounce rate. When you’re look at these numbers on a weekly basis, you’ll be able to know what your normal baseline is and if something spikes or declines you can figure out why.

For example if you see a huge decline in new traffic from Facebook one week you can review what happened, make adjustments and get it back up. If you see a huge decline from organic search you can try to find out what is happening. When you’re in touch with your website traffic numbers you’re in far more control.

Not Everything Has ROI

You can’t measure how good a swimmer a fish is by asking him to climb a tree. Some marketing activities aren’t measured in direct ROI, but they are necessary to build your audiences and create segmentation so that you can get them into the funnel further on down the road.

When you’re working on building awareness of your audience you need to measure the success of that marketing by KPIs that make sense at the awareness phase of your funnel. How many likes, shares and comments your social posts get helps to determine its effectiveness but doesn’t translate directly into ROI.

Creating an offer that is a dental month special that you drive clients from Facebook to a signup form where they can request a special offer code that is trackable has ROI. You can measure ad spend against revenue, but this is a bottom of funnel activity. You need an audience to send to this offer, which is why we build audiences in the first place.

Manage and track KPIs at each stage of the funnel and figure out what matters to you and your veterinary practice. If you can measure your marketing then you can improve it, and that is what is important so that you can generate clients by understanding what they want and how they like to engage with your practice.

Make It As Simple As Possible

Whatever you choose to do for creating offers and content, make it as easy as possible to track.

Create marketing assets that go from one step to the next in a measurable way. Once you can say I can generate a new puppy exam client for 21 dollars, or whatever offer you create, you have created a system that you can now reliably use to add new clients coming into your practice.

Time To Fill Up Your Schedule!

Now that you understand where you’ll be sending your clients to, who you’re creating marketing for, what the journey for them to become a client looks like, what content and offers to show them now you should be able to create scale by driving clients into your machine.

My favorite traffic plan for practices today is to use Google for driving transactional searches to a call to action and then using Facebook(and Instagram) for following up, staying in touch and retargeting segmented offers.

The reason why I really like this method is that today, Google search is where you have the buyers who are ready to buy TODAY. Facebook is great, but it is at the end of the day, still a contextual display network.

If you want to get new clients and then keep them around, this is the best way I’ve found to get a steady stream of new clients streaming through the front door.

Facebook used to be ridiculously cheap cost per clicks, but as more and more advertisers pour in, ad space becomes more expensive. Running new clients ads work on Facebook, but why not focus on the people who are actively searching on Google and then using Facebook for engagement and retargeting.

You Can Do This!

If you have any questions, or need help, please send me an email at brandonbreshears@gmail.com or send me a message on my Facebook page.

I truly believe that practices who don’t embrace digital marketing will be going out of business in the near future, so don’t let it be you!

Get ready before things slow down so that you won’t have to reduce your staff and feel the hurt like you did back in 2008/2009.

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