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How Much Should You Budget to Market Your Clinic Online?

9 min read

A lot of small and medium-sized medical clinics aren’t getting measurable results with their healthcare marketing. The $500-$1,000 they budget each month feels more like a bill than an investment in their practice. When there’s no apparent benefit to the clinic, it can feel like digital marketing doesn’t work. That’s a false conclusion, and there’s a different way to approach your marketing.

A website used to be a clinic’s entire online marketing strategy. 

A few web pages displaying a logo, address, phone number, and a practice description were all it took to be visible to prospective patients. In those early days of the Internet, that was enough.

Those days are gone.

A passive, “set it and forget it” strategy doesn’t work in 2021.

Now, patients search Google, scan social media and read online reviews to see what others say about you and the care you provide. With so many Internet resources, health websites, and local competitors, it’s getting more complex every day for right-fit patients to land on your website.

If they do find your medical practice online, you have less than 15 seconds to convince them that you’re the go-to expert for their problem. 

These challenges are why a stagnant, “set it and forget” online marketing strategy is no longer enough. To gain visibility to patients in your local area, you need a plan to take consistent action and engage with prospective patients. 

And this is where things get tricky. You’re likely seeing patients, managing staff, and running a busy practice. You don’t have time to stay up to date with the forms of marketing that produce tangible results. 

So you’re likely to turn to a consultant or agency to help you stand out online and turn website visitors into scheduled patients. But how much is this going to cost? And how can you make sure that it’s generating actual results? 

Let’s explore why an online marketing budget aligned with your goals is a valuable investment. What’s a budget that will generate results? Who can help implement an active approach that benefits your patients and practice?

Online Marketing Budget Aligned with Your Professional Objectives

It’s embroidered on your clinic coat. It’s featured prominently in your business name. And it’s probably written on a piece of paper hanging in a frame in your office…your medical specialty.

If you’re a podiatrist, people see you as the foot doctor. But you’ve gone through residency and have a specific sub-specialty that you love. And even within that sub-specialty, there’s probably some particular patient demographic or surgical procedures where you are the go-to expert and concentrate your focus.

If you stop to think about it, you have a clear understanding of the types of care you provide and who you can best help. But people in your local community won’t know that unless you can find a way to tell them.

So it only makes sense that you build a website, marketing, and online presence around the care you most want to provide.

For example, suppose you love treating runners. In that case, your website should have images of you at the local marathon medical tent, mentions on your website about working with the local college track & field team; testimonials from runners about how you’ve helped them, etc.

If you show people in your local community that you aren’t the same as the other clinics in town, you’ll attract more of these right-fit patients.

To create that well-crafted plan and message, it takes attention to detail and consistent efforts. Most marketing agencies, website design companies, or “practice growth platforms” can help you get started. But they generally rely on providing the same service to thousands of other providers.

At a price point of $500-$2,000/month, it feels like an attractive and affordable option to try out online marketing. Along with a highly templated website with stock images and cookie-cutter blog/social media posts, there is generally a lack of consistent efforts that generate real-world results.

So if you’re looking to gain momentum, grow your practice and align with your professional objective, you’re looking at an active approach with a marketing budget in the $2,000-$5,000/month range.

Sound like a lot of money? We’ll discuss how this investment can bring 5x or more of a return.

Knowing your Financial Numbers

Do I have to spend that much money on my marketing? The answer is ‘no.’

If you’re part of a large multi-specialty clinic, VA hospital, and have little local competition, you can skip this article.

But those in private practice that want to grow, differentiate themselves from local competition, or provide more of a specific type of care, should start by understanding their clinic’s financial numbers.

What is the lifetime value of a new patient to your clinic? Which diagnoses, procedures, or types of patients sustain the practice financially?

Once your professional objectives align with the financial realities of your practice, you’re in a better place to determine where to focus your healthcare marketing efforts and budget.

For example, let’s say you enjoy treating patients with heel pain. By running your numbers, you determine that every heel pain patient generates $2,000 of revenue over their lifetime in your clinic.

When a marketing budget of $3,000 generates 9 visits from patients with heel pain per month, that’s an additional $18,000 of revenue or a 5x return on investment.

All-in-one platforms and some agencies will push hard that this is achievable at a low cost. And I will agree that some software solutions can help a healthcare practice make improvements.

But to develop and execute a plan that provides significantly higher returns, there must be attention to detail that’s not currently possible through software or automation alone.

Navigating new opportunities, testing new tools, and doubling down on creating measurable results requires knowledge and expertise.

These initiatives require time to gather data and for clinics to reap the benefits. No, you shouldn’t be waiting around for years, but looking at results and making decisions on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis will help you achieve long-term objectives.

Determining a Realistic Timeline

Like building your professional reputation, it takes time and consistent action to build up an online presence for the care you provide.

I often hear, “Our clinic tried Google Search Ads, and they didn’t work.” And while I’m sure there are a few cases where that’s true, they’re never able to explain why. And usually, they tried for a month or so and stopped.

Maybe it’s because we use the Internet every day and that Google gives us great search results instantly, but a lot of health care providers expect instant results from their marketing efforts.

Like when a new patient schedules an office visit, you don’t jump straight to the treatment. You must ask the right questions, develop a plan, perform some specific action to get optimal results. The same thing goes for right-fit patients scheduling appointments.

Short-term thinking doesn’t work well in medicine or online marketing. It’s a long-term approach and pairing that with daily action that creates positive results and growth.

A marketing plan focused on creating attention in your local area, connecting with patients to show them you are the go-to expert, and prompting right-fit patients to take action are the keys to success. 

Deciding on an Online Marketing Provider 

You see the value of having an online marketing budget to help you achieve your unique practice objectives. How do you make it happen, and what should you budget?

There are few different options and pros/cons:

DIY

If you have more time than money is interested in getting started, it is possible to keep your budget low by building something yourself. There are many website, marketing, and advertising platforms at your disposal.

One of the main downsides is the amount of time needed. The time spent on becoming a marketing expert could be better spent seeing patients and generating revenue for your practice.

Pros

  • Least expensive
  • Lots of online learning and tutorial materials

Cons

  • Lack of expertise
  • Requires time to learn and implement, instead of performing patient care/generating revenue
  • Challenging to filter the information that will generate results

Marketing Agency/Practice Growth Platform

Those looking to develop and maintain their healthcare facility’s online presence generally seek out a third party. It can be confusing to understand the different options available, and those at a lower price point can be an attractive place to get started.

The main downside with this option is that some providers will try to retain ownership of your website, the domain name, and all of the content they’ve created on your behalf.

So if you want to switch, you’ll have to build up your online presence from scratch. 

Pros

  • Less expensive ($1,000-$1,500/month)
  • Will likely generate some positive results
  • Some platforms offer EMR software integrations

Cons

  • Output not tied to specific practice objectives
  • Website and content ownership
  • Your clinic being 1 of a 100s or 1,000s other clients
  • Layers of management to navigate

Consultant

The consultant option provides the highest level of customization for those looking to stand out in their local marketing and see their marketing budget as an investment in growth.

The entire digital marketing plan is developed, executed, refined, and improved upon consistently. Achieving outcomes that positively impact the clinic are how progress is measured.

It’s more expensive and will require the buy-in and some participation from the clinic owner. 

Pros

  • Custom plan and actions for practice’s specific goals
  • Clinic retains ownership over online presence
  • Single point of communication
  • You’re 1 of 10 clients

Cons

  • Usually more expensive ($2,000-$5,000/month)
  • Communication and coordination is needed

Conclusion

You should now have a better understanding of creating your clinic’s digital marketing budget. You should now be capable of getting started and building out a long-term plan.

Understanding your professional objectives, determining your clinic’s numbers, taking a long-term approach, and understanding your options are needed to generate a marketing plan to deliver actual results.

This post was written by Jim McDannald. Jim is a surgically trained podiatrist and the owner of Podiatry Growth, a digital consulting service for private clinic owners.

After 8 years in practice, he shifted careers to take on communications and marketing roles with the New York Times’ Wirecutter.com, Polar, and the Canadian Olympic team at the 2016 Rio Games. He now partners with his podiatry peers and colleagues to help them grow their practices.

You can connect with Jim on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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