Survival technique: Reinvent your veterinary practice and yourself
The past four years have been a real downer for veterinarians—especially equine practitioners. Clients are sidelined with less disposable income and rising costs of horse maintenance and veterinary services. It’s a bad storm of changing demographics and post-recession problems. But as with any storm, there are survival techniques that can help. As Henry Ford once said: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
Just a few years ago, equine veterinarians thought it was enough to market products and services to a wide swathe of 18-to-49-year-old horse owners. That approach is now a thing of the past. Because the consumer marketplace has become so individualized—your clients may range from sport horse enthusiasts to pet horse owners—it’s difficult to appeal to it in a general way like that anymore. Veterinarians now have to decide whether to market according to socioeconomic status, gender, geographic location, lifestyle, or technological sophistication. There's no end to the number of different ways you can slice the pie. So the question is: Who is your target market and how are you going to reach them?
Exercise your authority
One way to home in on a specific sector of the equine world is to become an established resource in one area or niche. For example, many years ago, Starbucks elected to be an authority in the caffeine-consuming marketplace and charged premium prices for its coveted coffee. They continue to dominate the coffee industry.
You can adapt this approach on a smaller scale and create your own authority by offering valuable information—tips, industry insights, niche data on a particular type or breed of horse—through your practice website. Horse owners will come to know you as a reliable, go-to resource and seek out your website. And if horse owners know you’re knowledgeable with a certain type of lameness or a specific breed or type of horse, your reputation will be known.
Clients will feel the value received from these free tidbits of knowledge is a precursor to what they will receive when they pay for your services, which also positively impacts your business. If you’re an expert in your field, clients will recognize that and pay a higher price for your services.
So how are other equine veterinarians marketing themselves and their services during the slow economic recovery? Dr. Erica Lacher of Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Fla., hosted a Kentucky Derby party for clients, put up banners and manned booths at local festivals, and conducted client education seminars with other local businesses.
In addition, Dr. Lacher’s blog—an extension of the practice’s website—has really struck a chord with clients. She’s able to track the number of hits she receives from it with a web analytics tool and noticed an improvement in the clinic’s overall online ratings, thanks in part to the blog’s popularity.
Next year, Dr. Lacher plans to implement a referral program for new clients. When new clients are referred to her practice, the referring clients will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a gift certificate to the local feed store—a win-win situation for everyone.
So whether you dive into hosting educational meetings, engage clients in social media, or go the traditional route with one-on-one client conversations, make a plan and put it to work. Success is easily attainable if you market your best asset—you.