Marketing success costs less than you think

Tips to get you started

One of the biggest mistakes small business owners and managers make is not marketing. They may be afraid that marketing will be too costly, too complicated, or worse — both. But in neglecting a marketing plan, they are overlooking a vital part of any successful business plan.

Today, with Internet and on-line search capabilities, home health agencies have the advantage in that they can market themselves aggressively without spending the entire annual budget. "There are a number of things a home health care agency can do," says Don Cooper, a partner in The Guerrilla Group, a Boulder, CO-based international training and consulting company.

"One of the most important things for those in the home care field to do is develop a personal relationship with area discharge planners. The No. 1 buying and referral factor is confidence. People will refer to people in whom they have confidence, and that comes from their past experience with a company, its reputation, and a personal relationship they have," he explains. "Luckily, there are a number of weapons you have in your arsenal to further this relationship."

To get the most bang for your buck, try following some of these Guerrilla marketing guidelines:

No money? No problem.

"Marketing" and "inexpensive" are not mutually exclusive terms. Notes Cooper, "Some of the easiest things to do have the greatest impact." There are a wide variety of marketing strategies that cost little to nothing and with some common sense and creativity can reap big results. A great resource guide for small businesses is Guerrilla Marketing Attack by Jay Conrad Levinson, of The Guerilla Group Inc. This book lists 100 marketing tools, including 50 that cost nothing.

Get them talking.

Use patients’ testimonials. This might not be the most cutting-edge idea, but it is one of the more effective means of getting your agency known. Cooper suggests getting patient testimonials, which can be used in brochures, fliers, and newsletters which are sent out to community organizations, patients, and hospital discharge planners. Direct-mail pieces are a great way of keeping everyone updated on your agencies goings-on, specialties, and new branch offices.

What do you say?

Always thank someone for a referral, says Cooper. No matter if it’s a hospital discharge planner or a family member of a former patient, it’s a good business practice to say "thank you." And while you might be tempted to cut corners and shoot off an e-mail, take the time to write a brief note. "The personal touch really packs a big wallop," notes Cooper. "It can just be two lines on a plain note card, but it’s sincere and it shows you took the time. It carries tremendous impact."

Aim for a bull’s eye.

Connect with your target group. That means unless you have a clear idea of who your target market is (community’s residents, hospital discharge planners, etc.), you will end up with no market at all and all your efforts will be wasted. Before you get started, ask yourself these questions: Who are your customers? What does your agency offer that no other home health agency can?

Who are you?

Promote your identity and turn your business card into a brochure, says Cooper. "Use both sides of the card. Put your company motto or mission statement on the back of your business card. Put your address, phone, fax, e-mail address, and Web site on it. And if you have any specialties, list them as well as your branch office locations."

And, he adds, "put your picture on your business cards. The part of your brain that remembers faces is 10 times the size of the part that remembers names. It costs nothing to add a black-and-white photo and only a few cents extra per card for a color picture."

Once you’ve gone to all this trouble, don’t just keep your cards in your desk drawer — pass them out. Hand them out at local business meetings, conventions, and church and school functions. A good way to promote your company identity is to turn your voice mail on-hold message into a radio-style commercial. Write a short commercial expressing who you are, what makes you unique, and why people should consider using your home health care services.

Use a full-court press.

It has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Whether this is true is questionable, but the theory behind it is correct — even (especially) bad publicity gets your company’s name out in front of the public eye. To make certain your publicity is friend rather than foe, make friends with the local media. By making connections with local press, small businesses receive enormous free publicity with low costs and minimal effort.

Package your home health agency’s events and happenings into press releases. Send out a press release to your local paper’s business section whenever someone new is hired or promoted. Hosting an informational seminar? Let someone know about it through a press release.

If you’re unsure as to where to begin, consider checking out books from your local library on marketing and public relations. (For more information on marketing your agency, see Hospital Home Health, June 2000.)

Avoid information overload.

While many mediocre marketers believe "short is sweet," marketing moguls coin the phrase "more means more." The truth is that readership does fall off after the first 50 words, so keep this in mind if you’re preparing a brochure or "white paper." And be sure not to overlook the five Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.

Talk it up.

Volunteer to speak at a local community club or church meeting. "They are always looking for speakers," says Cooper. He suggests calling the group’s president or activities chairperson and telling him or her you would like to give a talk. Make sure you have a specific subject in mind, maybe something on how the elderly can prevent falls, what you need to do to prepare for a stay in the hospital, or how to speed recovery from surgery.

The key to this approach, he warns, is to "share your experiences and stories. Give them information and advice, but don’t try to sell your agency. It will come off as a spiel, and the more you try to sell, the worse the results will be. Give them information that is useful to them, and you will get a better response. Now is the time to be selfless."

Use fusion.

Fusion marketing, explains Cooper, is when two or more organizations work together for mutual benefit. An example of this would be a home health care agency partnering with the local library and having employees volunteer to read to the elderly, or to work with an area animal shelter and bring (well-screened) pets onto hospital wards to meet and greet the patients.

"You’ll be right up front with your target market," he points out, "and you’ll be splitting whatever costs are involved with another organization."

Remember that patience is a virtue.

Once you start a marketing campaign, stick with it. You may be sick and tired of your current campaign, but your prospects may just be beginning to take notice and to recognize your identity. Rather than updating your advertising, be repetitive. Allot money for reiterating the same message over and over and over again. Remember, once is never enough.

[For more information, contact:

Don Cooper, Partner, The Guerrilla Group, 1002 Walnut St., Suite 101, Boulder CO 80302. Telephone: (800) 247-9145. Web site: www.guerrillagroup.com.]