Startup Dental Office Marketing

Startup Dental Office Marketing

You’ve spent the money in building your dream office, but now you need patients in the chair – to finally let you do what you started out to do – provide quality dentistry for your patients and still turn a profit for your office.

Marketing for your startup dental office is the most implant element along with your clinical skills that will determine the success of your practice – the one that is in line with your vision.

We’re so busy in our own world chasing our dream that when it finally comes to showing it to an audience – you’re hoping that people are simply waiting for you to unleash your final product (your office) and lining up to pay you to use your services.

That would happen in a perfect world, or may be it did a long time ago when it was enough to put a shingle outside your door and expect people to start calling.

But not anymore.

Today, you have to CREATE attention especially because we’re already inundated with tons of advertising on a daily basis every minute of the day – whether you realize it or not.

I’m not a marketing guru and won’t tell you that you should ONLY do these X number of things and this is the only way do it.

The goal of this post is to give you an idea of the different strategies you can apply to your startup dental office marketing. I’m going to show you the way I did things and what works for me and what didn’t.

Looking at the many different ways of marketing, or getting the word out there about your office – for simplicity, let’s split all the forms of marketing into the conventional or traditional (non-digital) and Digital marketing(Website, Social Media, etc.) .

Conventional/Traditional (non-digital):

  • Direct mail postcards
  • Valpak type coupon vouchers
  • Newspaper advertising
  • Cross promotional marketing through partnerships
  • Grand Opening Event

Digital Marketing:

  • Practice Website
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    • Google My Business Profile optimization
    • Reviews
    • Content Marketing
  • Business listings on third party websites
  • Paid Ads
    • Facebook / Instagram ads
    • Google Ads
  • Groupon

I will not get into all the nitty gritty detail of all forms of marketing here. In the future, we will get into details of some of the most common forms that have proven to be successful for most type of dental practices – these include direct mail, and online paid ads.

Let’s start with some of the traditional methods of marketing.

Direct mail for startup dental office marketing

Direct mail is the physical piece of advertising material that you receive at home that usually arrives uninvited.

Most of us receive this in the mail on a daily basis – which we often refer to as “junk mail”.

It comes in the mail in the form of brochures, postcards, letters, catalogs, coupon envelopes, etc.

As popular as online advertising is, direct mail is still a solid form of marketing that can bring new patients to your office. You can also bring back patients who have not been back into your office.

Most important element to the direct mail you decide to send out to your prospective patients is the offer or the “incentive” that will urge patients to take action and actually make the phone call to make an appointment with you.

The second important element is the design and color for consistency. Before you’ve decided to send out your first flier, hopefully you’ve settled on the colors you’d like to use that is consistent with your brand.

Remember, fliers or postcards have to go out multiple times because a prospective patient requires multiple touch-points before they decide to make a call.

For this reason, the colors and branding have to be consistent. Think McDonald’s, Target, Walmart – notice how consistently they market to us through TV, fliers in the mail, coupons, etc. – we know which company it is just from the colors and their logo.

Here’s the first set of fliers I sent out – 10,000 at a time for four cycles. It was with a company called 123 postcards – it is now called Since the office construction was ongoing, I used stock images of a family.

Dental direct mail for Startup Dental office marketing.
Front of the the postcard
Back of the Dental direct mail for Startup Dental office marketing.
Back of the postcard

Once the office finished construction, I changed the design of the flier on the 3rd go around to include a price change, professional photos, as well as some practice photos – to personalize the flier even more.

When I started out with this company, I spent $$$*** with them. I had Bank of America include the cost of the first three rounds of sending these flier into my startup loan.

Here’s a picture of one of my invoices, which I had to submit to Bank of America each time I received it from the company:

Dental Direct mail itemized invoice for Startup Dental office Marketing

The cost included a call with their consultant who would coach us on the calls received and how they were answered. Looking back, this wasn’t necessary – it was an extra cost that I could’ve avoided.

I’m only saying that because I once I knew that direct mail in my area works, I switched to another company where I was able to lower my cost of sending fliers to less than half for returns that were equal to and many times greater than what I was getting with the first company!

I will include in the future a detailed post on direct mail – where I’ll go into my return on investment from these fliers, why I changed pricing and the design after first two rounds, and why I ended up changing to another direct mail company – who I stayed with for the next four years and my ROI with them!

Newspaper advertising

As a startup, I wanted to reach the neighborhood I was in, so I decided to advertise in the newspaper.

But I didn’t have to go finding any contact info because they found ME. You will notice when you open your doors, all the media and advertising companies will find you and come knocking to get their piece of the pie of your marketing budget.

I decided to advertise after listening to the usual pitch about how much reach the newspaper has. After two rounds, I stopped.

I got a grand total of three patients from this campaign. I hardly broken even on my ad spend as two of these three patients only came in for the new patient special to get their teeth cleaning and never returned.

I noticed every time I entered my office, there would be unopened newspapers on the floor by the back entrance since no one in the apartments upstairs was picking it up.

Then i thought about it – who has time to read newspapers these days?

Of course, it’s not always about immediate returns. Maybe someone can argue that If I just paid up and kept my full page ad running for a couple of months, it would’ve built awareness in the area. True. Can’t argue with that.

But at the same time, if I’m able to get more returns for same amount of marketing dollars, why wouldn’t i try it? Remember, in the beginning stages of your startup, cash flow is KING!

Here’s the full-page ad that went out in the first round:

Dental full page ad in Newspaper - Startup Dental Office Marketing

and round 2 . . .

2nd round Dental full page ad in Newspaper - Startup Dental Office Marketing

If you’re currently doing any form of newspaper advertising and you’re finding that it works for you – stick to it! In marketing, you’re always fueling the fire.

On the other hand, if you’ve never tried it, I don’t even recommend going this route.

I’d rather you spend this money towards Google Ads and/or if you’ve got a “warm” audience or some size of an audience besides your family and friends following your office Facebook page, then spend on Facebook Ads.

Valpak – coupon voucher

Valpak is a coupon envelope that you may have heard of – you probably receive it at home that has coupons from different types of businesses in the local area – restaurants, plumbers, auto shops, etc.

They contacted me at the office the second week I was open, and so I decided to advertise once I heard their pitch- for $800/month .

Here’s the copy of the design:

Valpak for Dentists - Startup Dental Office Marketing

I got few patients from there, but mostly people looking for deals. Some have turned into patients that are still with the practice today. I didn’t lose money on it, but it wasn’t the greatest return for my marketing dollars.

But in the beginning, I wanted to “spread a wider net” to gain maximum exposure just to build awareness. But at the same time, you need to keep on top of what’s working and what’s not.

If you’ve never tried Valpak direct mail, it’s basically another medium to which you should funnel some portion of your startup dental office marketing dollars. Do it consistently for a minimum of three months to see the ROI.

Grand Opening Event

If your office is still in construction, the grand opening event of your practice can play an important role in bringing the first set of patients for your practice.

If you’ve acquired a practice, there’s nothing that says you can’t have a similar event – you just wouldn’t call it a grand opening. You could set up an event where your existing patients as well as new prospective patients in the neighborhood can stop by to meet the new doctor – YOU!

It’s also a good opportunity for your existing team members, who you inherited from the purchase of the practice, to mingle with you and see you in a different light than the everyday nuances of a busy practice.

For this reason, if you’ve acquired a practice, it’s a good idea to wait at least a couple of months to have an event like this.

So for my grand opening event, to add some entertainment, we did a cross-promotional campaign by partnering up with a local business.

I partnered up with the Hand & Stone massage place.

Once I had decided that they would be a good partner, I walked in and spoke with the manager and mentioned our plan briefly and let her know that I’ll be sending a detailed email with the plans.

Here’s the text from the copy of my initial email to them to see if they were interested:

Hi [manager's name], I've attached a word document with this email with some details on what I can offer as benefits to your members and some detail on the grand opening.

All these things are not set in stone, we can certainly change few things if you like. But let me know what you think.

The mayor of Emerson has also confirmed the date of October 5th.

I'll give you a call and we'll discuss in detail.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

When you’re partnering up with another business, your proposal to them should include what’s in it for them. Why should they be involved with you in promoting YOUR practice?

For instance, I told the Hand & Stone manager that we will be doing a raffle give-away at the event and getting an article printed in the local newspaper that will mention not just our name, but also their name along with pictures of their massage chairs and their team members providing massages to our guests at the event.

In return, I asked exactly for that – two massage chairs set up and their team members to “show off” their services. I told them to bring their contact information, business cards, brochures – more exposure for THEM.

The guests were super happy at the event as they got quick free massages and an entry to a give-away raffle. For the raffle, we had the following:

  • Prize #1: In-office Zoom! Whitening ($395 value)
  • Prize #2: Water-pik Ultra flosser
  • Prize #3: $50 towards Hand-Stone Membership

What worked and what didn’t

We were able to get about 30+ guests at the event. Only a very few turned into actual patients. One family of four are still patients with us as of today after six years and they’ve gotten work done with me as well. So there was some positive return from the event.

You should be realistic and not expect tons of guests wanting to schedule appointments with you. People just don’t line up outside a dentist office waiting for their grand opening, so they can schedule their appointments.

But you can certainly create more buzz PRIOR to the event, so you increase your exposure and more people know that you even exist.

But now looking back, with the tools available at hand today – such as Facebook Live, being able to run Facebook / Instagram ads quickly and get exposure to your local community – I would’ve documented my journey as the office was being built – and run it as Facebook Ads just to get exposure in local area.

This not only builds a “warm” audience, but builds exposure of your brand to your local community. To this same audience, you can launch your future promotional ads – offering your New patient special, whitening specials, etc.

This is likely to have much more success than launching Facebook ads to a cold audience. I will cover this more in the future when we discuss digital marketing.

Outdoor signage

Your outdoor signage is actually your “branding asset”, but I do want to bring it up here since it plays a very important role depending on the visibility of your practice from public roads.

My outdoor sign cost me about $1200.

If your office is visible to the ongoing street traffic, it makes sense to maximize the visibility – so depending on the cost, and as long as it’s allowed by your town’s building department – go bigger!

My office is located right across the street from the train station. It also has direct visibility from ongoing traffic. I still get patients that tell me they saw the sign from the train when it’s stopped directly across from our office.

I had a limitation of a certain size – so my goal was to get the word “Dental” or “Dentist” in there along with the phone number.

Don’t overthink this. However, the first thing you need to do is check in your lease as well as your local building department for regulations for signage.

Depending on what’s allowed. Just remember the following:

  • Go as big as you can with the size of the sign, and include the word DENTIST or DENTAL
  • If you’re allowed to have colors in your signs, then go with whatever color that makes the word DENTAL stand out from someone driving across the street
  • Although not as important, if you can, try to get the phone number in there as well. And again, bigger the font size, the better!

Cross promotional marketing

When you’re starting out, cross promotional marketing can be the least expensive (besides referrals) form of marketing if done right.

It means you’re collaborating with other businesses to promote your business. These businesses usually complement the services you already offer.

For instance – salons, gyms, dermatology centers, massage parlors – all these businesses provide services that don’t compete with what you’re providing.

If a prospective patient is looking to get their teeth whitened during the wedding season, they may also be interested in getting a makeover on their hair-do in a salon.

They may be interested in finally getting started with a trainer at their local gym. Or, they’d like to address their skin issues finally now that the dermatology office near them is offering a laser special for skin tags removal… you get the point.

Having said so, the business you decide to collaborate with doesn’t always have to complement the services you offer. Just takes a bit of outside the box thinking.

During the first three months of my practice, I had collaborated with a real-estate agency. I found this agency because the agent who represented my landlord during the lease negotiations was employed by this agency.

So what exactly did I do to get the ball rolling?

Since I knew she was a big agent in the area – with bill boards in the town, news paper ads with her face on it, ads in the magazine – I asked her if I could generate some new patient promotional folders for her to give out to her clients.

The folders included specials for the whole family, with a voucher for free teeth whitening, along with specials for kids – She can give these folders to her clients who are new movers into the area – who buy a home from her.

What’s in it for the agent? – Well she looks good in the eyes of her clients who just bought a new home, who may possibly be looking for a new dentist for their family. She spent $0 for all this, and builds good will among her clients who may refer her even more family members who may be looking to buy or sell a home.

The patient folder (with a nice red ribbon) included the following things:

  • A congratulations and welcome letter for the family – with details of what’s included in the folder
  • An “About us” letter with professional photos of myself and my wife, and our credentials
  • Our office brochure that highlighted photos of our kids’ room
  • Voucher for Free teeth whitening for the parents and complementary Preventive visit for kids (for patients with no insurance – this works!)

I created about 25 of these folders to be given out to different families who buy homes from the agent.

I then took the folders, and created a big gift basket and hand delivered it to the agency office – a five minute drive from my practice.

What was my return from all of this?

My agent and her family became our patients. Out of 25 folders, 5 families became our patients – they’re still with the practice. There were 3 other families – with young couples with no kids, who took advantage of the free whitening offers.

At the time, it was worth doing it because we were just starting. The cost was mostly my time – which you have plenty of when you’re starting. The returns on this investment were actually really good considering the families are still our patients.

I’m going to pause here and in the next post, I’ll cover an overview on the digital marketing aspect when it comes to startup dental office marketing.