Looking for new ways to market your business can be a full-time job. Samantha Trenoweth uncovers some options you may not have considered before
Information evenings and client workshops can help to expand your client base, reinforce existing client loyalty and, most importantly, provide take-home information that has everyday health benefits for the animals you see only occasionally at your practice. It’s no wonder they’ve become so popular.
However, the information night doesn’t work in every situation or for every practice. So how can you know whether an information event will work for you? There’s no foolproof method, but the following tips should get you started.
Know your audience
It’s important to know your clients and try to gauge whether there’s some genuine interest in an information event before you take the next step.
Kate Fahy, head nurse at Vet HQ in Sydney’s Double Bay, says that the majority of her clients (primarily busy urban professionals) don’t have time for information nights in their packed-to-the-rafters schedules. “Our clients definitely want what’s best for their animals but, at seven o’clock at night after a long day at work, they probably don’t want to be sitting in their vet clinic.” Vet HQ trialled a few information events but ultimately decided that their clients “would rather see the information in our newsletter or on social media”.
Choose your subject wisely
Dr Anne Jacobson, head vet at Rosehill Farm in Clarkes Hill, near Ballarat, Victoria, held one roaringly successful information night last year and is about to gear up for her second. She stresses the importance of listening to your clients and choosing a subject that’s of interest to them.
“We field a lot of queries from horse breeders who want to know more,” she explains. “So we thought that, rather than spend the time on the phone, we would advertise an information evening and try to answer all the questions at once.
“There is a temptation to choose a subject that will promote your own business but people don’t really want to come along and hear you talk about how good you are with your fancy new piece of equipment. So my advice is to listen to the questions clients ask and let that guide you,” says Dr Jacobson.
Be clear about your goals
Avoid disappointment by deciding what you want to achieve ahead of time. Will this be a service to clients and their animals, pure and simple? Or is the primary goal to bring in new clients, develop relationships with existing clients or to establish a point of difference for your brand?
Dr Jacobson says that, when she began work on the event, her aim was to educate her existing client base, so she didn’t do a lot of advertising.
However, if your primary goal is to attract new clients, you’ll need to make sure people know about your event. That will mean giving them plenty of notice, using your newsletter and social media and encouraging existing clients to bring their friends. Local newspapers and community radio stations are always on the lookout for a good news story. The Macarthur Vet Group drew a lot of attention to a recent information night with a feature in a local western Sydney newspaper.
Allocate time and stick to it
These events take time. You might need to allocate time for: planning, advertising and promotion, writing speeches, creating PowerPoints, sourcing images, locating a venue, fielding enquiries, sending invitations, and collating RSVPs. In a generously staffed practice with a long lead-time, all this is possible. However, in a busy practice that’s short on staff, this might be one project too many.
Dr Suzanne Craddock, from The Veterinary Surgery, Yarrambat and
North Warrandyte, Victoria, has held successful information evenings in the past and would like to put them on again but has been waiting for life to quieten down a little.
“We’ve been busy,” she says, “expanding the practice and taking on new vets, and these information events are very time consuming. You have to be prepared for that and decide how much time you’re willing to put in.”
Set a budget
Sometimes this is easier said than done but try to set a budget and stick to it, and don’t be afraid to ask for a nominal cover charge or a donation. Ask for RSVPs too. Everything will be simpler (and more cost effective) if you can predict numbers.
Dr Jacobson had no idea how many people would attend the Rosehill Farm information night. “We did minimal advertising, mostly on social media, and left a few flyers around the local feed stores. We were expecting maybe 30 or 40 people and we ended up with 160.”
“People don’t want to come along and hear you talk about how good you are. My advice is to listen to the questions clients ask and let that guide you.” Dr Anne Jacobson, head vet, Rosehill Farm, Victoria
It was exciting but it required the hire of a substantial venue and Dr Jacobson estimates it cost the practice around $1200. “We made it free,” she says, “but I think next time there will be a nominal charge, just to cover our costs.”
Choose the right venue
Here’s where knowing your numbers pays off. It’s possible to have an immensely successful night for a small group in your own conference room. If, however, you have 50 or even 100 people, you will need to find another location. Make sure the venue is nearby, so your clients don’t have to travel too far out of their way, and check that it can provide the technology and perhaps even the catering you need.
Plan your event
Set out a plan for the evening, allocating time for each speaker, for demonstrations or videos (if applicable) and for a substantial question-and-answer session at the end. This will ensure that the event runs to schedule.
“A lot of people came to our event because they’d heard about it through word of mouth,” says Dr Jacobson. “Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising that vets have and, from a client’s point of view, an evening like this is the perfect way to get to know a prospective vet.”
Most importantly, be sure to mingle before or after the event.
Break a leg
Finally, here are 10 tips from Toastmasters to get you through the presentation itself:
• Choose a topic you know well
• Use conversational language
• Include personal anecdotes
• Practise. Then practise some more
• Arrive early, get familiar with the room, practise using the microphone and equipment
• Breathe, relax, smile
• Don’t read your speech
• Move around a little (but don’t fidget)
• Make eye contact
• Break a leg.