Saturday, November 27, 2010

Online Marketing Strategies for Veterinarians

Online marketing encompasses a huge area and I will attempt to touch upon a few areas that we have tried in our practices to increase and cultivate our client base. First, let's start with cultivating your client base. If you are not doing so already, you need to start collecting your client's email addresses. Do it right now before even learning how to use them.

We use a service by Constant Contact to market to our new and existing clients. With Constant Contact, you can send professional email newsletters to your clients on various topics (flea control, allergies, heartworm, dentals, etc). You can also set up a series of "autoresponder" emails to clients as they sign up. This series is simply a set of emails that are set up to go out to an individual client at particular periods of time after their sign-up date. In other words, when a new client comes in, you enter their email address into constant contact. They are then automatically sent an email welcoming them to the practice within 24 hours. At 7 days, they are sent an email informing them of all the services that you offer at your practice. At 30 days, they are sent an email discussing dental cleanings. At 60 days, they are sent an email about your doctors. And so on. Thus, with constant contact, you can send an email to all of your clients at the same time, as well as setting up a series of autoresponder emails that go out at set intervals to all of your new clients. Constant Contact also has the ability to show you how many clients actually opened the email and whether they clicked on any links in the newsletter.

What about attracting new clients? Google is now the new yellow pages. If you have not done so already, you need to go to Google's Local Business Center. From there after signing up, you search for your hospital and "claim" it. Another way is to go to Google and type in "veterinarian" followed by your zip code. Then click on the words "place page" by your hospital's listing. This will take you to your hospital's Google Map place page. Look in the upper right of this page for the words "Business Owner?" and click on them. This will bring you to a sign up page for Google's Local Business Center. Follow the directions to claim your hospital's listing. Once claimed, you can add your hours, coupons, info about your practice, etc. This is your new "yellow page" listing and it's free! You can also do this on Yahoo!, Bing, Citysearch and many other directories.

What is SEO? Before we go any further, a discussion about SEO or search engine optimization is in order. SEO is a multi-billion dollar industry and involves optimizing your website so it shows up high on search engine rankings when certain words (like "veterinarian", "animal hospital", "sick pet", etc) are searched for. Showing up high on these rankings means that you are optimized for "organic" searches - organic meaning that you rank high without paying Google anything. You can learn SEO yourself or hire someone else to do it for you. It can mean a world of difference to your practice.

There a couple of things that you can do - without having any technical expertise - for SEO. First, get your website listed on as many relevant directories as possible and talk to any local boarding kennels, groomers, etc about putting a link to your site from theirs. Second, encourage your satisfied clients to post reviews on your hospital at popular review sites (citysearch, yelp, google, etc). See my earlier post on online reviews. Google ranks you higher on the organic search results if you have more reviews.

What about Adwords? Next go to Google Adwords and set up an account for yourself. On Google Adwords, you pay for advertising spots on Google web searches. When you search for anything on Google, ads show up on the right hand side of the page and sometimes just under the search bar. Through Adwords, you can advertise as well. You place bids to put your ad higher up on the the right hand list of ads for particular keywords that people are searching for. For example, you can start a "campaign" for the keyword "veterinarian"; if you bid high enough, you get higher on the list. You set the maximum bid that you will pay and Google places you as high as it can based on all the other bids for that same keyword. A key feature is that you can even specify that you only want to bid on Adwords when the searcher is located within a certain radius of your hospital location. (This is vital; make sure you set this specification because you don't need to advertise to people in New York if you practice in Texas).

No discussion about online marketing would be complete without talking about social media. Your most important options right now are Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. These media outlets give you as a business owner a way to interact with your clients.

On Facebook, you can set up a Business Facebook page where you are the administrator. Periodically, post interesting bits of info on veterinary related information, your staff, and your clients. Make sure that you make a badge to put on your website; a badge is a graphic link that gives your clients a quick link to your facebook page so that they can be a fan or friend of your site. Remember this is social media and the more "likes" you have, the more new clients will be apt to come to your hospital.

is still evolving and it is hard to know exactly how to use the service. In a nutshell, you set up a twitter account, follow people, get followers and tweet. Tweets are small 140 or less character long text messages that are sent out to whoever is "following" you. You can tweet about an interesting link, about a special you are having, about pet dental month, or whatever. So how does this help you? Well, for one thing, tweets are now picked up by Google so you generate one more possibility of people finding you on the internet. For another thing, you can actually search twitter for certain words and then reply to people about their tweets. If your practice is in Dallas, then search for "moving to Dallas". Reply to any tweet about "moving to Dallas" about a free tour of your veterinary practice.

Foursquare is a very interesting site which I believe will be the best social media site for businesses. People sign up for Foursquare and then "check-in" on their cell phones when they arrive at a business. They get badges for being a frequent customer and are "elected" the mayor of the business if they are the most frequent customer. You can automatically award a free nail trim for a customer's 20th check-in or come up with a whole series of benefits based on how many times people visit your practice. You would be amazed at how people enjoy this kind of thing!

We have touched on just a few thoughts on online marketing strategies for veterinarians. Please comment below if you have any ideas or suggestions or on what works for your practice.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Using the Cloud

What exactly is the Cloud? In web terms, the Cloud refers to using the web to store and process information. At our My Pet's Animal Hospitals, we use the Cloud in a number of ways.

First, we use Google docs for several tasks. Google docs is an area on Google that allows you to store documents. The great thing about Google docs is that you get to share documents and invite your staff to edit or add to them. So what documents would be useful to share?

My favourite one is our Sam's Club list. It's a simple text document that any of our staff can access. Anytime we start to run out of something (toilet paper, paper towels, floor cleaner, etc), a staff member can add it to the list. Then if I happen to be going to Sam's Club, I can access the list from my mobile phone and have an up-to-date list to work from. Brilliant!

Another Google doc that we use is our medical supplies order list and log. Again, any staff member can access the list and add needed supplies to the list. Then our designated orderers can place an order to one of our vendors or distributors. The orderers note on the log when an item is ordered as well as when it is received so everyone knows what a particular item's status is in the ordering process. Now one of our employees who recently had a baby can place orders from home and still be productive.

As you can see, there are an infinite number of uses for Google docs. And with using this free service, you are now using the Cloud.

The other Cloud service that we use is is an online staff scheduling service that creates customizable staff schedules. We also use it as a way to communicate with one another. A designated manager can send a message to all staff members at the same time, and of course individual messages among staff members are also possible. Staff members can request time off and trade shifts with this site. Click here for more info.

We use as our payroll service online. With all our staff required to use direct deposit, payroll dates don't have to interfere with vacation plans - although they still may interfere with your vacation. Believe me, I didn't mind too much taking 30 minutes out from the pool on my Jamaica vacation to do payroll.

All of our veterinary staff education is run online with a service that I offer to other veterinary animal hospitals through offers a free basic 2 hour course for veterinary staff members on heartworm disease, basic vaccinations, dental cleanings, fecals and safety.

The best thing about eVetU, however, is that eVetU can set up your own veterinary staff training website in the same format that an online university would offer courses. EVetU sets up the platform and then you provide the course content. The course content could include text, readings, videos that you have made, videos from youtube, pictures,etc. At My Pet's Animal Hospital, we use this platform to set up our 8-hr employee orientation. Our orientation course has links to the IRS w4 form, our employee handbook and a quiz on it, our team training manual and a quiz on it too, a welcome video from me - the "boss" - telling new employees about our hospital and what I expect of them, the basic veterinary assistant course from eVetU, an introduction to our practice software, and a training checklist which provides the basis of their ongoing training once they are through orientation. Each course has a designated teacher who can monitor the employee's progress. We set you up as the teacher and you set up your own course.

Hopefully, in the future, we'll have veterinary practice software that is web-based. There are a few programs out there right now but with poor support. Once we have a full-fledged veterinary software program on the web, we will finally be able to be completely cloud-based.