Breaking the Bad News

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A dental practice is a business that has a salable commodity that people buy. Perhaps it sounds overly capitalistic to say it that way, but that’s the fact. Dental practices, for the most part, are not non-profits.

That said, most of a dental practice’s external communications are promotional, designed to attract the right new patients. And most of the internal communications are relational, meant to keep current patients coming back and referring.

There is a third type of communication that is often dismissed until a problem arises: crisis communications.

Every now and again, every business – every dental practice – faces a crisis, such as these:

Large-scale crisis, like the rehabilitation of one of its partners from the disease of addiction. (It happens more often than you might think. Listen to this thought-provoking podcast interview about healthcare providers recovering from addiction.) This type of crisis impacts the dentist, of course, as well as the team, the patients, and in many cases the whole community. Crisis communications are the only way to break the bad news with decorum.

Mid-scale crisis, such as a patient no-showing for an $11,000 one-time treatment. (This happened to a dentist friend of mine recently.) This type of crisis impacts the dentist, team and individual patient. Crisis communications may be needed on a one-to-one basis to correct the situation.

Small-scale crisis, like when a bad review of your practice pops up online. This type of crisis is easily corrected by encouraging more positive reviews, but in the short term, it affects the dentist and potential patients. Crisis communications may take the form of a publicly displayed online response from the dentists to the negative reviewer.

The key to crisis communications?

Break the bad news carefully.

Ideally, a dental practice has crisis communications prepared in advance of conflict. Crisis communications are crafted to protect the dental practice and its reputation. They guide the practice in sharing with the team, the patients and the community a limited view on what has happened and what solution they can expect.

In large-scale crises, it’s time to suspend all standard external and internal communications and use exclusively crisis communications. It may be beneficial to work with a public relations firm to draft just the right crisis communications.

In mid- and small-scale crises, it is more beneficial to use a mix of all three communication types. Continue all external and internal communications and use crisis communications as needed.

Develop your own crisis communications in advance so that the dental practice is prepared. Start by working with the team to list all potential mid- and small-scale crises. For each, imagine that the issue is being handled in a full waiting room of patients. Document the objective response provided for each scenario.

When it comes to breaking bad news, preparedness is critical.

The Worst Marketing Mistake (And How to Avoid It)

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The only thing worse than not having a marketing plan is having the wrong marketing plan. The latter wastes far more time and money.

What is a marketing plan?

Figuratively speaking, a marketing plan is the compass that sets the dental practice’s course for promotions.

A joint effort between you and your agency produces the best outcomes. It’s best if the dental practice contributes 20% of the marketing efforts while the agency delivers 80%.

Literally speaking, a marketing plan includes:

  • Documentation of quantifiable practice goals
  • A list of marketing tactics in order of priority to meet those goals
  • An assigned person/contractor/agency to execute each tactic
  • A deadline associated with delivery of each tactic
  • An investment amount associated with each tactic

Avoid developing the wrong marketing plan by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What was total production last year?
  2. What is projected total production this year?
  3. What is the goal for total production next year?
  4. How much is invested in all marketing (annually or monthly)?

These questions help the practice hone in on an appropriate marketing budget. The sweet spot may be higher than what you have invested to date. Marketing works best when a dental practice invests 5% of total production every month, every year, into marketing efforts. It’s just the same as you investing 10% into supplies and 7% into lab fees. These are all things that keep the practice running. Marketing as a regular line item on the practice financials stabilizes new patient flow over the long term.

Don’t be afraid to invest more to make more. When done well, marketing is a great investment, never an expense.

Next, document the marketing goals:

  1. What is the average value of your patient/client?
  2. Have there been any changes or developments in the practice that create a need for additional patient traffic? (New associate, acquisition, new hygienist, etc.)
  3. What are the quantifiable goals? (Increase revenue, increase number of patients, stabilize production at $X monthly, etc.)

These questions help set realistic goals. If your average patient is worth $1,500 per year and you want to increase production from $1.6 million to $2 million in the next 12 months, that means you need 267 new patients per year, or 22 new patients per month, up from what the practice is seeing now. If that feels doable to you, consider stretching the goal higher. If it feels outside of the realm of possibility, consider adjusting the goal lower.

Next, identify what will work best to get you to the goal:

  1. What marketing tactics are you currently deploying? (Referral cards, online reviews, website, etc.)
  2. Have there been particular tactics that you felt worked well in the past?
  3. What tactics make sense to deploy in the next 12 months?

Remember, it’s just a plan until you put it into motion. Be sure to assign a taskmaster, deadline and budget to each tactic.

And off you go!

Making the Horse Drink

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Marketing in the 21st Century is far different than in days of old. It used to be that a simple ad in the phone book and a sign out front was enough to attract patients.

Today, independent practices are seeing symptoms of drastic changes in the marketplace. The infiltration of corporate dental practices is leading to flat or declining revenues for some solo practitioners. New technologies are pricier than ever, which means narrowed profit margins and mounting debt for many practices. Confusion about the Affordable Care Act has patients leery to sign on for big treatment plans. In fact, the entire landscape has shifted in terms of power; the advent of digital marketing gives a louder voice than ever to the patient, and the voice of the expert, or dentist, has taken a back seat.

All of these symptoms create a new need for more robust promotional efforts.

The temptation is to delegate the whole thing. Find one agency that offers comprehensive marketing solutions, and you’re done. Right?

Not so fast.

A joint effort between you and your agency produces the best outcomes. It’s best if the dental practice contributes 20% of the marketing efforts while the agency delivers 80%. The agency leads the horse to water.

Here are the top 3 things that the practice should do to make it drink:

1. Provide photos and practice updates. Social media is like a practice open house. It would be odd for your marketing firm to hold an open house and not invite you. While your agency can manage your social media by posting on your behalf, it’s critical that you join the party. Appoint someone on the staff to send photos and updates to the agency at least 4-6 times per month. Your updates could feature special events, birthday or holiday celebrations, community or charitable involvement, or – with written consent – a compelling before-and-after story from a recent case. The combination of your marketing agency’s expertise and the practice’s authenticity will attract more patients to the practice’s social media pages and, over time, into your door.

2. Offer timely feedback and approvals. You hired an agency to produce results. They will deliver a myriad of marketing materials to drive new patient traffic. Before those materials hit the streets, they need your careful review. At the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for your communications. Before your new website goes live or that big direct mail campaign goes out, read every word to be sure there are no errors and that it is a good overall representation of you and your values. And remember that delays on your side will hinder your marketing results. Provide clear feedback at regular intervals to keep the process moving forward and to sustain strong marketing momentum.

3. Strengthen internal systems and structures. Marketing drives patient traffic to your door. The practice systems and structures get those patients in chairs. Be sure that a live person answers phones within office hours, and that calls that roll to voicemail after hours are promptly returned. Take a hard look at your patient intake process, and be sure that it’s designed to optimize every opportunity for patient care. Invite your team to get on board with your vision for your practice, and inspire them to deliver that level of care.

This won’t just make the horse drink, it will keep that horse coming back for more.

Two Inexcusable Breaches

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1. Reputation

“I refer to him all the time, and here I find out he’s dragging my name through the mud.”

“So that’s the end of that relationship, right?”

“Well, no… I’m going to sit down with him and see how we might work things out…”

This was an actual conversation I recently had. I was astounded that my friend had any intention of reconciling with someone who was bad mouthing him in the dental community.

Reputation is brand. There is quantifiable equity built into your brand. That means your reputation is an asset, just like your computers and dental equipment.

If a person were to come into your practice, dismantle your CEREC machine, take it out back, and drag it through the mud then you certainly wouldn’t remain in contact with that person.

When a peer publicly questions your reputation, it’s time to walk away from that relationship.

2. Finances

“I believe my office manager might be fudging the books.”

“What’s your timing for terminating her?”

“Oh, I’m not sure it’s really happening. I need to look into it more…”

Yet another actual conversation. Again, I was shocked that the dentist wouldn’t be more proactive about nailing down the problem and firing the employee.

Several sources report that 60% of all dental practices will fall victim to embezzlement. That’s just the identifiably criminal breaches.

Then there are the softer financial breaches. I once hired a contractor to help with financial projections for my firm. At one point, she suggest that I hire her as a full-time employee. Her plan was that I pay her two times what I was paying myself and stop servicing the business’s liabilities as we had once planned. It became clear to me that she no longer had my firm’s best interest in mind. As difficult as it was, I ended the working relationship.

Anytime you suspect questionable activity around the practice finances, it is critical that you investigate and, if the suspicions are confirmed, sever professional ties with that person.

You are the CEO of the business that is your dental practice. As CEO, it is your job to protect the company and be a good steward of its assets. To that end, there is no other choice when it comes to a breach in reputation or finances: end the contract.

What does any of this have to do with marketing?

First, marketing is the most public representation of your reputation. If people are talking smack about you on the streets, then your marketing efforts lose effectiveness.

Second, marketing is a big investment for your practice. If your finances are being eroded by people who have anything less than your best interest in mind, then your resources for investing into the growth and success of your practice dwindle.

Make it a practice to check behind the people who are the shepherds of your reputation and your finances. Ask your peers what they have heard about you, and follow any ill will back to its source. Once monthly, have a meeting with your financial person to go over your profit-and-loss sheet and your balance sheet. Go through line-by-line. Ask the uncomfortable questions just to be sure that everything is on the up and up.

And if you find anything that lacks integrity, question whether this person really has your best interests at heart. If not, move on.

You’re worth it.

Liven Up Your Practice’s Social Media Interaction

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Let’s get personal.

Is your practice’s Facebook page in the doldrums? Are you hearing crickets on Twitter because nothing’s happening? “Why is this?” you ask. From your perspective you consistently share interesting, informative and maybe even clever posts to the news feeds of your various networks. So why have you received little to no interaction from your client base? Read on for a few tricks from the experts that can kick-start your social media into a well-read storyboard about your brand.

Three words: pictures, pictures and pictures. And not just generic stock images, but real, live and relatable people! You can pretty much guarantee an increase in your social interaction by posting pictures of your staff, office happenings and happy patients. Just like positive reviews, successful “before and afters” and snapshots of smiling faces communicate that your practice is friendly and that your services are effective.

Keep your content light. Your average patient is clueless as to the latest research into dental implant technology and probably has little interest in learning about it. A good rule of thumb for sharing content is relating to the patients. Everyone, from the ten year old to the senior citizen, should be able to connect with your posts and have your messages leave them with a smile. Consider posting content like fun facts, jokes, tips of the week or simple reminders to share their smile with the world. If you’re keen about sharing more intellectual or academic content, try creating a LinkedIn account and posting to your professional peer groups.

Post regularly but not too frequently. It’s important to consistently update your social media pages to keep your brand visible and to appear “alive” when a patient decides to visit your page. Be careful not to post too much though. People can be very picky about what they see on their newsfeed. If they’re seeing too much irrelevant information from one person or brand they might un-like your page. Keep your posts short and sweet and share 2-3 days a week and you should be good to go.

If you’re having trouble finding time to update your social media pages or don’t have an in-house staff member to manage them, fear not! Contact Big Buzz today and we’ll formulate a social media strategy that works best for your practice.

Creating a Brand that’s Uniquely You

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On a recent trip Paris, our Client Services Lead, Molly, spotted a familiar brand while roaming the streets. Are you thinking you see Dolce & Gabana? No, that’s not a translation error. That sign says “Dolci & Gelati.” While perhaps equally indulgent, the store was in fact selling sweet treats, not luxury clothing. While the two companies have little in common, looking that similar to another brand can really confuse customers. The lesson here? Make your brand uniquely you.

How? Ask the people. We say it time and time again here at Big Buzz. Nobody knows your brand like your happiest patients or clients. Instead of taking what’s worked for another practice or company, go out and ask what makes you so special! Ask them what makes you different from competitors, what you are doing best, and what their deciding factor in selecting to work with you was. You’ll be amazed by what they say.

What next? Take those responses and create a message and look that’s 100% you. With those two pieces, you can ensure that everything you produce for marketing moving forward matches and communicates one consistent and strong story.

Want to create a brand that’s uniquely you? Contact Big Buzz today to get started!

New Hires and Happenings @ Big Buzz

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Big Buzz is excited to announce that we have invited Katie Weingardt, Christy Kruzick and Shannon Dils to join our team!

Katie began workinKatieg for Big Buzz as a marketing intern in January 2014, and quickly demonstrated a flair for writing content for blogs and websites. She was hired on at the end of March as a Content Coordinator, and busies herself maintaining client social media, developing brand messaging and analyzing marketing data. In her free time she enjoys hiking in the Rocky Mountains, cycling and gardening.

 

ChristyWe welcomed Christy to the team at the beginning of April as a much-needed Administrative and Project Coordinator. She assists with making sure that all client projects and meetings are clearly communicated, and she deftly keeps all things organized and running smoothly in the Big Buzz office. In her free time she enjoys road trips, skeeball and working on her music blog.

 

Shannon beganshannon at Big Buzz at the beginning of May. She comes with 10 years’ design experience including freelance work for small business entrepreneurs, proposal design for a Big 4 financial firm and business to consumer products design. Her goals are to learn more web coding, travel the world and learn to drive stickshift. She enjoys yoga, travel, camping, swimming, farming and eating delicious food.

 

 

 

We look forward to the strengths and companionship Katie, Christy and Shannon will bring to the office. We are so excited to have them here.

The valuable additions to our office has led to a few exciting rearrangements within our workspace.

After years of working and playing in the garage, our main space, our Client Services Lead, Molly, has moved into her own office! She wasted no time in the transition, promptly constructing new office furniture and hanging framed motivational phrases – a daily reminder to work hard and stay happy.

Our fearless leader, Wendy, has also migrated to a brand new space, the sunlit corner office. It’s clear to see that she loves the additional space that allows her creativity and laughter to flow freely, while she still remains close to the team.

So what else has Big Buzz been up to?

Working hard and having fun! And with spring in full swing, we now get to have our massive garage doors open, letting the spring sun and birdsong stream leisurely into our midst. Who says spring is just for the outside? Definitely not us!

 

 

 

Nobody “Likes” You: A Guide to Launching Your Social Media

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So you started your practice’s Facebook page and you are now looking at a daunting, blank business page with zero “likes.” There is no “Field of Dreams” moment here; just because you built it, doesn’t mean they will come.

Here are a first few things you can do to start getting some “likes.”

The lowest hanging fruit is your office staff.

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Step 1: Have each staff member like the page.

Step 2: Then have them invite their local friends to like the page.

This can be done once they like the page. There is a window on the right hand side of the profile that will allow them to do this. It states: “Invite your friends to like this page.”

Make it your goal to get about 30 “likes” in the next week or two.

Step 3: Start posting before you get patients to “like” you. Would you walk into an empty restaurant?

Step 4: Be transparent! Mix in photos of you, your staff, patients, etc. to get engagement. Your patients already know they need to “only floss the teeth they want to keep.”

Step 5: Offer a check-in or “like” prize. Advertise at the reception desk that you will give them a prize for checking into your practice on Facebook (this is not an official office check-in, just an announcement on Facebook that they are at your office.) Prizes can range from lip-balm to sunglasses and water bottles. Be creative and fun.

Why do all this?

Facebook is one of the best and cheapest ways to spark word-of-mouth. When one of your patients “likes” or checks-in to your page all of their friends on Facebook can see that.

Building your Facebook following takes time so stay patient and consistent. The best thing you can do is assign a staff member to own it and post consistently.

Or, contact Big Buzz to see how we can help get you to the social media cocktail party!

The Unexpected Perks of Being an Intern @ Big Buzz

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When one starts an internship what can they expect? Pop culture would have us anticipating a relentless stream of frantic yet trivial tasks for a barking demoness, as exemplified in The Devil Wears Prada. When I began my journey as an intern I was expecting just this, flavorfully seasoned with hours of tedious filing and coffee runs.

Of course there would be advantages as well, standard stuff, the reasons why almost every university career services center practically forces you into completing at least one term as an intern during your collegiate career. You can beef up your resume a little bit before you’re tossed capped, gowned, and wet behind the ears into the work world. Perhaps you’ll make a few connections in your neighborhood that could lead you to an entry level job, or better yet, discover a passion that will guide you in your career.

For me personally, being an intern with Big Buzz has delivered the unexpected. Sure, I have a better idea of where I’m headed career wise, and am on my way to earning another bullet point on my resume, but I’m hardly drowning in meaningless busywork like I anticipated.

Here are just a few wonderful little things that surprised me about interning with Big Buzz:

I am treated like a coworker. Not an underling. Not a peon. A coworker with insight, opinions, and valued contributions to the company’s services, in my case, copywriting. My second day here, I was directly asked to give my opinion on a project entirely unrelated to my current one. At Big Buzz there is pervasive sense that there is creative power locked in group thinking. The more contributing voices the clearer the message.

I am taught as I work. Yes, I work without pay. Yes, I work another job to support myself. No, this does not render my personal experience worthless. I came into this position knowing a lot about writing and nothing about marketing, and my knowledge of the two grows closer to equal with each day on the job.

I am one of two interns. Each one of us is nurtured in the symbiosis of work and education that’s called an internship. In a small business, interns can play a huge role, accomplishing simple, yet essential tasks that correlate with their specialty.

I have never made coffee. We’re mostly tea people, and asking an intern to go brew tea would be weird anywhere but Britain.

The environment is fun. This. Most of all. We laugh together, we eat together, and we work hard together. Jokes are welcome, nights out together are common, and we collaborate on almost everything. The office is well lit and colorful, located in the trendy RiNo district of Denver. I expected a cubical and a grimy 90’s era desktop. I received a desk situated in one massive, airy, room where I can work alongside and speak with everyone else.

They want my voice heard! I was personally invited to blog about my experiences interning with Big Buzz. Almost all of the professionals here were interns at some point in their early careers, and one actually started in the same position that I am currently filling! Needless to say, the value of the internship is recognized here, both for the twenty-something and for the business.

So get on board! Learning isn’t just for the classroom anymore!

Attention Specialists! LinkedIn is a Practice Open House Happening Online

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Attention Specialists! LinkedIn is a Practice Open House Happening Online

When I deliver my continuing education courses on social media to a group of doctors, a specialist will approach me to say, “Social media is only for the general practitioners, not specialists since our patients only come from doctor referral.”

Not so!

If social media is a cocktail party that’s happening online, then Facebook is the neighborhood party (better for generalists) and LinkedIn is the practice open house (better for specialists.)

And if you are not at the open house, you are missing out on big opportunities to connect with more referring doctors.

Here is a simple guide that specialists can use LinkedIn to build their practices:

Build your LinkedIn Network from Scratch
New to LinkedIn? Let’s get this party started! First, connect with those who already know and love you, then branch out:

  1. Search. In the search box, search for industry friends, competitors and current referrers. Anyone who you would invite to an open house today.
  2. Connect. Once you find people who are already familiar with you, click “Connect.” An invitation will be sent to them. Now sit back, relax, and watch as they accept your invitation and your online open house comes to life.
  3. Branch out. As your circle grows, browse your each of your connection’s contacts and connect with those folks, too. This is the same as introducing yourself to a friend’s friend at your open house. To do this online, first view your connection’s profile. Then scroll down to “Connections.” Search his or her connections and click “Connect” on potential referrers and anyone else you would like to get to know better. You can also send a private message to a connection, asking for an email introduction to a potential referrer who you see is a connection of theirs, but who you don’t yet know.

Build Your Network of Referring Doctors
Got the foundation down? Now, let’s make this open house work for us! Here’s how to attract more referring doctors than ever before:

  1. Drill down. Search for referring professions such as DDS or MD.
  2. Refine further. Limit your search to your city or cities from which you would like to receive referrals. Find “Location” on left side of screen and check boxes for desired cities. If your city is not listed, click “Add” and find your city or neighboring city.
  3. Go to the second level. Look for “2nd Connections” in the results and click “Connect.” An invitation will be sent to them. This time, watch carefully for acceptances.
  4. Reach out. Once they accept you connection request, send a friendly private message to their LinkedIn account (InMail). The notification of acceptance will have a button that says “Send a Message” – simply click there and follow the prompts. Remember to keep the email short, conversational and friendly – three to five sentences maximum. Ask for a lunch meeting or phone call and propose a date and time. And know that paying for an upgraded LinkedIn account will allow you to send an InMail to most LinkedIn members, regardless of degree of connection.

Once you get the appointment with your new connection, impress them with your affability and credibility and you will have a loyal referrer for years to come!