I don't often get in a slump but after experiencing a decline in sales and listening to the grim economic forecast, I found myself in one. Couple this with the fact that I just expanded my office and you may understand why I was faced with a few restless nights. My practice has had the good fortune, or good planning, to experience steady growth each year for the past 25 years. While the business is equipped to handle a couple of slow months, this isn't a trend I want to continue. So, I set out to discover,
“What must I do to increase business?”
After some investigation, I was reminded that in many ways a hearing healthcare practice is no different from any other type of business and I needed to get back to basics. This is some of what I uncovered:
Focus attention on your current patients: When business is slow, your best sources of potential revenue are your own patients. People who suffer with hearing loss are always interested in hearing better. While not every patient is ready or in a position to purchase new hearing aids, all of them do want to be kept informed of what's available. If you don't tell them about the latest technology, your competition will. Send out newsletters and follow-up letters to reconnect with patients who have been out of touch. Consider offering a trade-in program, a service plan, and more flexible payment options. Business slowdowns are the times when you should strive doubly hard to exceed customers' expectations, so concentrate on providing outrageous customer service.
Check your financials: When you're busy, it's easy to let costs get out of line. Take a look at your P&L and figure out where you are making money. Are there any areas where you can cut costs or negotiate better pricing? Are you charging enough for the services and products you offer? Study your accounts receivable and get to work collecting balances that are over 30 days. When times are tough, good cash flow is critical to staying afloat.
Cultivate referral sources: Investigate new ways to get your patients to refer their friends and relatives. Perhaps you could host an educational seminar and ask patients to invite their friends. Contact your referral network and give them “new” reasons to refer to your organization and let them know how much you appreciate their confidence in you. No matter how long you've been in business, you need to take advantage of every opportunity to spread your message. Go out and give presentations to anyone who will listen.
Seize the competitive edge: Don't just sit there and worry about what the competition is doing. This is the time to put your creative thinking caps on and to find new ways to attract clients from your competition. You may need to reach out to a greater number of prospects to increase your patient base. Consider what new services or products you can offer that no one else in your target market does. This doesn't mean you should veer off in a completely unrelated direction from your current business mission. Instead, see if you can expand its scope. Providing on-the-spot service and repair may be one of the easiest ways to outdistance the competition.
Market, market, market: I've said it before and I will say it again: “If you want to grow, you have to market.” In lean times, businesses make the mistake of cutting or even eliminating their marketing budgets. When times are tough, consumers explore how to make changes in their buying practices. Make it easy for potential patients to find you and let them know why your organization is the best place to help them hear better. However, you can't afford to waste money on campaigns that don't reach your target, so measure and monitor your efforts to make sure they're effective. If you are looking for marketing ideas, go to www.audiology.org and order a copy of the new Marketing Handbook for Audiologists.
Reinvent yourself: Are there any new services or products you can offer? In case you haven't noticed, millions of Americans are walking around with something in their ears. Can you capture a new market by offering custom earpieces for cell phones or iPods? Is anyone working with industry in your area? Can you focus on the hearing needs of musicians? Think outside the box!
Recharge your battery: Slow times don't last forever, so make the best of them by focusing on tasks that you put aside when you were busier. These may include professional development and training, upgrading equipment or facilities, or research and planning. You might even use your down time to have some fun. One of my favorite books, The Wealthy Spirit by Chellie Campbell, asks, “When did human beings become human doings?” Some rest and relaxation may be just what you need to refocus and to come up with new ideas to grow your business.
There's absolutely nothing that will make a business 100% recession-proof, but implementing some of these ideas can ensure that your business survives tough times and may even profit from them.
As of the date of this publication, I am happy to report that business is growing again. Go to our web site at www.prohear.net to see some photos of our expansion.