Marketing for the future – Where do you want to be in 5 years from now?

Is this a question you’ve ever been asked, or ever thought about? Sometimes this is a question that comes up in job interviews. For business owners, however, this question should regularly be at the top of your mind.

During a recent survey with several single practice dentists, it was interesting to note that most of those contacted said in five years’ time, they wanted to own a second practice.

If you share a similar dream, this article looks at the steps you’ll need to take to achieve that goal, particularly from a marketing point of view.

Think like the big guys

Have you ever thought about what needs to happen for a small business to become a bigger one – even if it’s just going from one practice to two?

There are a few fundamentals. At a most basic level, you need firstly, more clients and secondly, extra capacity to serve those clients (e.g. additional staff/premises). To experience significant growth, many pundits point to the need to systematise the key elements of your business. In big business, this systematisation is pretty obvious.

One of the key features of McDonalds going from a single hamburger joint in California in the 60s to a worldwide phenomenon, servicing billions annually, is systems. How else could the business run so effectively when it’s predominantly staffed by (semi-engaged) teenagers?

Of course, it’s unlikely that your aspiration is to become the size of McDonalds, but there are still important lessons that aspirational dental practice owners can take from big business nevertheless.

Dr Mark Costes, founder of the Dental Success Institute and the host of the Dentalpreneur podcast is a leading proponent of a systems approach. He talks about the need to be the CEO of your business.

Part of the process he espouses is to establish consistent repeatable procedures, including processes for marketing in your practice. From there, it’s just a matter of replicating those systems across subsequent practices. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Dr Costes now owns eight practices.

Attracting new clients

One thing is for sure, if you are hoping that the patients will just turn up at your practice because you’ve opened your doors for business, you’re in for a rude awakening.

It’s well documented in the News Bulletin about the significant growth of the number of dentists in Australia. On top of this, there is increasing corporatisation of dentistry and pressure from insurers, that now own their own practices. All of this is working against the success of the single practice dentist.

With this in mind, you can’t leave your patient attraction systems to chance. Instead, dental practices must develop integrated and consistent programs that generate results and as many dentists will attest, this can be easier said than done.

Measure your results

The best place to start the process is to determine where you are now and what’s working.

During the same survey that asked the “five year” question above, dentists were asked what they found most frustrating about marketing. The resounding response was that they didn’t know what was working and what wasn’t, and therefore, struggled to know where to focus their marketing efforts.

There is a fairly simple solution to this problem. The best place to start is to measure your current results. Although one of the challenges is that such measures probably aren’t already built into usual practice activities, which is what you want (rather than an ad hoc data collection which tends to get forgotten over time).

When the phone rings with a new patient, does your practice ask the caller, how they came to know about the practice? Asking them the same question when they attend for their first appointment has some value. However, patients can forget what it was that caused them to pick up the phone and call you in the first place, and this is really valuable information in determining what’s working now.

Other elements to capture in measuring marketing performance include the number of new patients each month and the referral sources for the new patients. Referral sources include referrals from other patients (typically the highest value source), external marketing (online and other), and signage/walk-bys.

“When the phone rings with a new patient, does your practice ask the caller how they came to know about the practice?”

Create a plan

Once you know what your baseline numbers are, it’s a matter of focusing your attention on where you’ll get the best return, and then continually tracking performance against these measures over time. If you can steadily improve on your baseline numbers, your marketing results can only improve.

Typically, the best marketing plans are integrated. Despite what you might hope for, there really is no silver bullet, and results are not universal. What works well in one area may not work well in your area, and vice versa.

The elements that your marketing plans should include are:

  • a well-defined referral system from existing patients – asking for referrals is a good place to start, but handing patients something tangible (e.g. a specific referral card) to give to their contacts can improve your results
  • a range of measures to attract new patients – this can include an effective sales website, a strong presence in Google, and advertising in various online and other media, and
  • a clear understanding of how effectively you are converting enquiries into appointments – the best marketing in the world can fail miserably if your phone is answered poorly.

One of the challenges dentists face in creating an effective marketing plan is that there is little, if any, time at university dedicated to this increasingly important topic. This is where reaching out for outside help should assist.

There are a number of marketing firms on offer including those that specialise in the dental industry. In this regard, be wary of claims guaranteeing a certain outcome online, particularly first place in Google, a common ploy from unscrupulous marketers.


If you are serious about owning a second (or third) practice in five years’ time, systemising your marketing and your practice procedures is a must. At the end of the day, if you can’t produce more patients, your hopes of extending your facilities, to a second practice are a waste of time and you may find yourself no closer to your five-year goal.