Impossible growth: Tips for success in a saturated market

Dr. Arnaldo Lopez shares ideas for internal marketing that have worked for his practice. He says to give yourself a goal and don’t stop until you attain it.

1912 De Clop M01

Three years ago, my full-time office manager, two part-time dental assistants, and I opened a brand-new practice (from scratch) in the most dentally saturated area of Miami-Dade County. 

Fast forward to August 2019. We saw 117 new patients this month, without participating in any HMOs and just a couple of better- reimbursing PPOs. It’s been quite a ride! 

I’m often asked: “How can you do so well in such a competitive market?” and “Why is your office growing when others are struggling to make ends meet?” I have a simple and clichéd response: attitude. I have spared no dedication in the last three-plus years building my practice, but I never once thought I was living on a prayer or was uncertain about my vision. I met other successful dentists with astronomical statistics and said, “That’s my direction!”

Of course, with exponential growth, the future looks bright and exciting. I want everyone in our profession to share this excitement about the future of their practice. My journey was not a solo affair; I have many people to thank on the way up. I’ve also had the opportunity to give back to my colleagues with words of support and advice. I believe that every one of us shares in the same opportunities as dentists and small-business owners. We can have the practice we want, do the work we enjoy, while above all else helping our patients to become healthier. It is with that in mind that I will share some of the things I’ve done in my practice, with the hopes that they can positively impact yours.

Like most who decide to venture into practice ownership, I sat awestruck as I heard other doctors speak about their “100-plus new patients a month” accompanied by hundreds of thousands of dollars in production and collection. As you know, when you hear something like this, it is not uncommon to sit around after these lectures or events and discuss the impossibility of those goals. I’ve been guilty of the same thing. You think: “It’s impossible to do those kinds of numbers!” But instead, I started asking: “How? How are these people pulling it off?”

In many cases, I found gems I still use today. In the end, I think people will say the wildest things to avoid the fact that the only problem is themselves. My office manager has a favorite Walt Disney quote he shares with our staff all the time: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And that’s what we’ve always done.

Having had a surplus of bad experiences as an associate, I knew building my own office was the way to go. I got in gear and began to establish a baseline marketing budget using basic metrics for business. I’m big on the numbers. I started out with zero patients. I knew I’d have to dedicate some serious funds to marketing and that the marketing would have to work. I settled on 15% of revenues to begin with, and then I pulled back to 10% to maintain. While this may seem like a lot initially, it made the phones ring. 

Understandably, my resources were limited. I had just funneled all of my capital into building and opening my practice (and keeping it afloat). With some expert guidance, I was able to start direct-mail marketing 90 days before we opened our doors. I started small and ramped up from there. Once you implement something and it works, continue to do it. Never remove, edit, or change what is doing well. Just amplify!

Direct mail was my introduction to marketing. At first, deciding on how to market to my potential patients was hard. Many colleagues were experiencing great results with digital marketing, but I simply did not have the budget for it. I started an Instagram account for my practice, which was managed internally, and I had my staff work on growing our Google reviews to increase our exposure. As these methods generated growth, we increased the budget and simply did more of the same. My philosophy is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

As the organization expanded, marketing developed into its individual department in my practice, which brought about the need for my first new-patient coordinator. This staff member was tasked with ensuring that the community was aware of my brand. She managed my direct-mail campaigns and attended health fairs, art walks, business networking events, and local fundraisers—anything that would create awareness of our practice. Today, my new-patient coordinator is an executive on my team, and marketing is my right hand. She now manages a team of three new-patient coordinators. 

I am extremely passionate about my practice, but passion alone won’t get you results. There are some specific actions I took that generated an increase in new patients.

Internal marketing

In-office referrals—Ask your favorite patients to send you more patients just like them. You’d be surprised how willing people are to share a great experience. 

Online reviews—Again, simply ask your favorite patients to tell others about their great experience at your office. Don’t leave it up to them to do later—have them write their review while they are still in your office.

Website redesign and advertising—You will need a good budget for this, but it works. Just make sure you use a reputable company to redesign your website. 

Online presence—Update your online presence, including your Google My Business account, and add photos of your practice online. 

• Before-and-after photos of great patient results—Upload your successes online (make sure you get the proper releases signed). 

Pictures at community events—Share pictures of you at community events with your office staff.

Your philosophy—Broadcast your practice philosophy to attract patients who share your same ideals. This works like magic.

New-patient coordinator—Hire a new-patient coordinator and send this staff member into your community. Attend every event possible within a three-mile radius of your practice. Create print material to distribute at these events.

Direct mail to patients—Mail to your current patient database and let them know what you’re up to and what your values are. Share with the world what makes your office important. People want to feel your passion and know what you live for; that’s what I portray to my patients every day.

Email campaign—Start an email campaign to stimulate patient referrals.

As you begin to experience growth, stay strong and don’t let negative people bring you down. Give yourself a goal and don’t stop until you attain it. The sky’s the limit! Building my business has been the biggest challenge of my life. I have been fortunate to have some spectacular guidance along the way in the form of great friends, family, and mentors in the industry. It’s important to keep learning and gaining knowledge as a business owner as well as a clinician. I owe a lot of my knowledge and success to what I have learned from MGE: Management Experts, and there are a ton of other resources out there for practice management and business knowledge. Take advantage of them!  

Author’s note: More information on MGE workshops may be found at mgeonline.com or by calling (800) 640-1140. 

Arnaldo Lopez, DDS, is the owner and CEO of SOMI Dental Group in Miami, Florida. He is a graduate of the MGE: Management Experts Power Program.

More in Marketing