The Mailroom: Kids, Boomers, Chiros, Gyms, Docs, Data (& more)

We love to hear from subscribers. Need a sounding-board? Want to bounce an idea off someone? If you take the time to ask, we take the time to answer.

Send us your question.

Here’s the latest round of questions we’ve tackled, some edited to fit:

1) Marketing a kid-oriented speech therapy practice

Our speech therapy clinic works with kids and needs a tagline for a small newspaper ad, maybe something about helping kids communicate or grow or bloom and a nature picture. Is that too sappy?

Radial/Leslie Nolen: Sure, all of those ideas have potential, although we think you should definitely include the communication concept – growth alone is too generic. Good taglines are a snapshot of your business. You need emotional power that captures the concerns that keep parents (who write the checks) up at night. Avoid puns and cute slogans – speech is terribly serious to parents and cutesy slogans will devalue your professional expertise.

Also: Avoid ads in newspapers – they generally are extremely ineffective in this market unless there’s a specialty local publication that targets parents especially effectively.

Our advice for marketing health-related services: focus on building word-of-mouth from happy parents and referral business from pediatricians and others likely to be consulted on how to develop speech and address speech concerns. Develop simple marketing materials that speak to the concerns and hot buttons of both customers (aka parents) and referral sources (MDs, teachers, audiologists, etc.).

2) Marketing a baby-boomer/retiree fitness business

We are launching a new fitness company, starting with personal training and planning to open a full gym within 2 years, then grow geographically. Our target market is retired baby boomers and we are emphasizing individualized programs. What should we think about as we develop our marketing plans?

Radial/Leslie Nolen: The physical condition of most people in their 30s and 40s is relatively similar, but enormous variation develops among people as they age. Some people in their 60s and 70s are bedridden even though they have no acute illness, while others are still going strong.

It’s the product of many lifestyle choices over a lifetime + genetics + environment, not so much a product of chronological age. So with this segment it’s even more important to market to them based on their capabilities/goals, not just on age.

But: as a practical matter, in most communities adults in their 50s and beyond are unfit and overweight and starting to experience health problems related to their inactivity.

Key concerns: fear that increased activity will harm or kill them; intimidation by equipment they don’t understand, a sense of hopelessness that they’re too old to succeed, fear of early disability leading to nursing home.

As a group, they tend to be much more motivated/loyal than younger customers. Designing your services to “meet them where they are” capability-wise and ensure small, early successes will be huge in attracting/retaining them.

3) Business challenges for chiropractors

What’s the biggest challenge for a new chiropractor? We’ve been told that we should advertise heavily and offer extensive free “try us out” services.

Radial/Leslie Nolen: Giving away free services isn’t really an effective business development tactic. In fact, traditional advertising and marketing approaches usually fail in the health/wellness sector, primarily because most clients won’t choose a chiropractor, for example, based on an ad. And even if they did, what are the odds that they’ll see your ad at the exact time that they need a chiropractor?

Most chiropractic clients choose chiropractors based on word-of-mouth referral from family, friends and coworkers. Don’t assume that clients know you want referrals – plant the seeds for referrals early in the relationship. Check our website for articles on referrals and marketing through organizations.

Bottom-line – the key success factors are 1) select an appropriate location; 2) take the initiative to build referral networks; 3) proactively build word-of-mouth business; 4) make yourself visible to your target audience and 5) give yourself quantitative goals for all of these.

4) New gym needs name

We are opening a boxing and fitness gym in the next 6 months and need a strong name. We’ll also have self-defense classes and cardio. We are targeting everyone, not just boxers. Any suggestions?

Radial/Don Muchow: 1) Couple of thoughts as you evaluate names: You said “The gym will service anyone…not just the aspiring boxer.” If you refer to boxing in the name, you’ll turn off people who aren’t interested in boxing or have a negative view of it. For example, you probably won’t attract women interested in general fitness (unless your focus is kickboxing, and even then…). You also probably won’t attract anyone who’s relatively unfit. Not saying that’s good or bad – depends on your business goals.

Keep in mind that the already-active folks out there have plenty of gyms to choose from. The underserved part of this market is unfit people of all ages/both genders.

2) Customers tend to respond best to straightforward names that clearly explain what your business is about. They don’t respond as well to “cute” names or plays on words.

Google your name ideas to see if anyone else is already using it. Find out if it’s available as a domain name. You can do a free search yourself at the US Patent & Trademark Office ( to see if it’s already registered. Sadly, any name that’s especially catchy is probably already taken, and even very small businesses can get cease-and-desist letters when they use names that are already registered…better to check it out upfront and consult an attorney, in our opinion.

We’ve got guidelines and examples of what to do/not do on choosing names specifically for wellness businesses; drop us an e-mail if you’d like a copy.

5) Specialty medical practice looking for health fairs

We want to expand our patient base by participating in health fairs but can’t find any in our area. Any ideas on how to find out where health fairs are being held?

Radial/Leslie Nolen: A couple of suggestions:

1) Talk to large local hospitals, specifically the wellness department or wellness center staff. They often host and staff health fairs.

2) Check the events calendar with large local indoor malls. They often host health fairs.

3) Fewer and fewer employers host traditional fairs, for a variety of reasons. However, depending on your clinic’s specialties, contacting nearby employers and offering to sponsor a day of screening might be well-received.

4) Ask your current patients for information about whether their employers currently sponsor health fairs. Keep in mind that if you do contact a patient’s employer you need to be careful to observe HIPAA privacy requirements.

5) We see fewer health professionals participating in health fairs, primarily because they don’t get enough future clients to justify the time and cost. A structured approach to getting referrals (staying clear of any Stark conflicts, of course) + increasing visibility of the practice & its professionals (not just the docs) in the community is usually much more effective. Just a thought…

6) How to market a pain management medical practice

My clinic provides pain management without surgery or drugs through a board-certified MD. I need a tagline that explains what I do, because potential patients are often confused about whether I am a chiropractor, a doctor, or a physical therapist.

Radial/Don Muchow: When you’re trying to develop a tagline, start by writing down the way your patients (clients) describe your clinic’s benefits to their friends, family, coworkers.

If you’re not sure what they say, we suggest that you actually ask a handful of them for their input. They’ll be incredibly flattered. Don’t ask them for a tagline, though – just ask them how they have described the services and (very important) the benefits to other people they know.

Then, to come up with your tagline, boil down the most promising comments into a very short phrase. Something simple and clear, like “no drugs, no surgery…no pain” is best.

Remember that taglines alone don’t win customers. In your line of work (which sounds similar to PM&R physicians), your best source of clients will be referrals from other professionals and happy patients, and networking in your community – for example, addressing parents of school-age athletes on non-surgical options, addressing women’s groups, etc.

Not saying you shouldn’t have a tagline – merely that it’s a “nice to have”, not a “got to have” for a successful strategy for your particular situation.

7) Projecting market growth

Is there a way to predict market and population growth in a community?

Radial/Leslie Nolen: You bet. If you have more time than money, you can get free census projections in Excel spreadsheets at It’ll include gender, race/ethnicity, different age groups, and more.

If you have more money than time, you can subscribe to a service like DemographicsNow for a month (about $130/month & up) and run a huge variety of reports that show detailed historical, current, and projected demographic data down to an extremely granular level (smaller than a zip-code region). You can pay more and layer on additional data (psychographics, for example).

It’ll probably take a first-time user most of a week to review the reports, customize as needed, create and print them, and analyze them. You can then use this data to feed your revenue forecast. If you need help, call us at 877-851-0098 and ask about target market analysis.

8) AEDs and equipment distributors

I would like to see an article on AEDs. My company distributes fitness equipment and I’ve been trying to convince it to carry AEDs for 3 years and it is still not offered in our product line.

Radial/Lucy Miele: We’re not currently planning an article on AEDs, but if you search the IHRSA, Fitness Business Pro (Club Industry), and Red Cross sites you’ll find coverage.


The Mailroom #2: Seniors, Hospitals, Referrals, Health Clubs, Integrity

We love to hear from subscribers. Need a sounding-board? Want to bounce an idea off someone objective who knows what’s going on in health and wellness?

If you take the time to ask, we take the time to answer.

Send us your question.

Here’s the latest round of questions we’ve tackled, some edited to fit or to preserve confidentiality:

1) Marketing senior programs to retirement communities

We develop programs to keep seniors active. How should we name and market our programs so that retirement communities will buy them? We’re thinking we need a fun and catchy name.

Developing programs and training the staff in communities for older adults is a rapidly growing area. The goal of these programs is usually to extend the period during which older adults still enjoy a high quality of life, and to compress the period during which they experience end-of-life disability…”health span” vs “life span.”

Choose a short, clear name that reinforces your focus on healthy and active aging – but remember that the name you choose is going to be much less important than demonstrating your expertise and know-how in working with this special population. Fun and catchy might be important if you were selling directly to consumers. However, since your real customer is the management team of the retirement community, we actually think you should avoid fun and catchy and go for a name that reinforces your competence and expertise in working with older adults.

You’ll also want to focus on your relationship-building skills, because you’ll be selling your services to community directors and it’s going to take multiple conversations over several months to close each deal. Choose your sales and marketing strategy carefully, because this is a sector where finding communities who value this expertise AND have the budget to pay for it can be quite challenging.

2) Improving public perception of small hospital

How can we change the perception of our small hospital system so that people don’t think “bigger is better”? We’ve grown by acquiring other health systems, but people still don’t seem to appreciate that we’re just as good as a well-known hospital in our region.

Forgive our bluntness, but virtually everyone in a community comes into contact with the local hospital. If they don’t experience it directly, they’re only one or two steps removed from it.

If they don’t perceive quality of care, that’s not a marketing problem. That means that they’re hearing bad stories – not positive experiences – from their neighbors, coworkers, friends and family members.

It’s virtually impossible to market yourself out of a bad perception. British Petroleum (BP) runs appealingly pro-environment ads. But a BP plant explosion in Texas that killed people – and the subsequent investigation that revealed company-wide substandard maintenance practices – are what people remember. Bad perceptions only change if people begin to accumulate pleasantly surprising, positive experiences over time.

That said, the most effective marketing focuses on your clients and customers – AKA patients.

Focus your marketing on wonderful patient human interest stories – ideally stories that showcase the underappreciated aspects of your health system. For example, a story about a preemie who made it because of a top-notch neonatal unit would be a great way to illustrate your expanded capabilities.

That’s much more effective than talking about the latest new brain imaging device acquired by your hospital or bragging about square feet and upcoming construction projects.

3) Reducing dependence on certain referral sources

Our wellness practice specializes in referrals from local agencies. How can we expand our client base? We’re worried about being too dependent on these organizations because they’re seeing budget cutbacks.

First, you’ve got to decide whether you want to expand your list of referring agencies, or switch your focus altogether to consumers or businesses.

Once you’re clear on your target customer, practice growth usually occurs as a result of relationship marketing strategies based on word-of-mouth, referral and credibility-enhancing visibility.

Depending on your type of practice, it may not be ethically permissible to proactively market your services or ask patients or clients for referrals. However, you can almost always seek referrals from non-patients.

Marketing strategies focused on networking and enhancing the visibility and credibility of your practice will also be effective.

4) Health club wants to keep customers longer

I just took a job as sales manager of a health club that’s been open about six months. We really need more customers to stay with us longer. Right now people are leaving within about 30 – 60 days. What should we do?

The most loyal member base for health clubs, fitness centers and wellness centers is one created through relationship marketing and an approach to post-sale customer service and relationship management that builds strong ties with your members – not one strictly based on price. If you do it right, you’ll actually have members who stay in touch – for example, sending you referrals even after they move away. You can’t beat that kind of goodwill.

You can certainly run promotions and offer special deals, which is the traditional health club sales approach (think Bally’s, Gold’s, 24Hour, etc.). Avoid discounting your monthly fee under all circumstances. If you must discount (and we strongly advise against it), discount only the initial sign-up fee.

Even better, hold the line on price but offer extra value in the form of a complimentary personal training session or something else that gives them a “taste” of other appealing products and services you’d be pleased to sell them more of (energy bar, smoothie, massage, etc.)

If you discount your price or start out with a very low introductory price, unfortunately that means that you’ll have attracted primarily extremely price-sensitive members who leave when they see a better deal down the street. And among health clubs, a better deal is always coming down the pike from somebody.

As a result, you’re constantly on a desperate search for new members and never have the opportunity to build strong and lasting relationships that enable you to keep selling products and services to a member base whose needs you truly understand.

5) Marketing medical equipment to docs with integrity

What’s the best way to market with integrity to physicians? I represent a great product with good science behind it, but I hate cold calling and I refuse to manipulate people with typical sales pitches.

Several ideas to get you started:

  • Get clear on who your buyer really is. Depending on your equipment, is it docs (and in what specialty and with what kind of patient panel?), physical therapists, specialty nurses, practice managers, business managers, facilities managers, or someone else?

    Then, identify folks who are gatekeepers or key influencers of these individuals – for example, professional associations are often key influencers. Make sure your marketing efforts address these gatekeepers/influencers, not just the ultimate buyers.

  • Look for creative ways to increase your firm’s/product’s visibility to your target customers outside a traditional sales relationship.

    For example, we’re working with a wellness firm right now that is partnering with someone else in their field to conduct a study. They reach out to docs (their prospects) to invite them to nominate patients for participation in the study. It’s a very effective and non-threatening way to initiate the relationship. And it offers genuine patient benefits, which the docs respect.

  • When you’re in a sales discussion, use consultative and question-based selling techniques that focus on uncovering the real needs of the potential customer. Avoid “leading questions” and other traditional hard sales pitches – they don’t work well anyway, and they often feel sleazy to both the salesperson and the prospective buyer.
  • Conference and convention participation can work. The key is to pick appropriate venues and create a crystal-clear, highly detailed plan for follow-up and staying top of mind after the initial contact at the conference..
  • Hint: follow-up should NOT be a one-time telephone or email sales pitch, which is ineffective and insufficient. A well-thought-out plan can often even avoid the expense of renting a trade show booth.


The Mailroom #3: Newbies, Attrition, Giveaways, One-Time Clients, & Franchises

We love to hear from subscribers. Need a sounding-board? Want to bounce an idea off someone? If you take the time to ask, we take the time to answer.Send us your question.

Here’s the latest round of questions we’ve tackled, some edited to fit or to preserve confidentiality:

1) Avoiding “newbie” mistakes in a wellness coaching practice

When I start my new business, what mistakes should I avoid? I plan to do wellness coaching and sell nutritional products online. I’m currently working as a registered nurse and I’m also a 500-hour RYT, but I haven’t had my own business before.

First, focus your energies on creating a business that really meshes with your own aptitudes and interests.

Be realistic about what your strengths are and get help in the areas where you lack knowledge or experience. Entrepreneurs often act as if they have unlimited time to figure it all out – but new businesses routinely stumble along and ultimately fail due to lack of business know-how.

Consider investing in outside help to figure out the parts of the business where you lack knowledge or experience. For example, if you’re not comfortable with financials, get an accountant right away. If you haven’t run a business before, consider investing in some business coaching. An investment of a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars can increase your profits by many times more than you spent, often much faster than you could figure it out yourself.

Next, surround yourself with strong people – employees or contractors (if needed) as well as outside professionals like attorneys and CPAs. Look specifically for people who will complement your own weaknesses as a businessperson. This is not the time to hire your brother, a high school student, or your best friend from college – unless they truly have strong skills. And before you hire customers, make sure you can count on them to be solid employees. We often see businesses suffer painful consequences as a result of hiring people based on enthusiasm for your business or on personal relationships rather than skills and capabilities.

Finally, make sure you really can afford the time and money it will take to build a customer base. And have a detailed plan for actually going out and acquiring customers. We hear from many new business owners who believed that their idea was so good that customers would flock to them. As a result, they never created a specific plan for attracting business other than “word of mouth.” Even word of mouth requires a detailed plan and hard work on your part!

2) Wellness center’s customers are steadily trickling away

Our fitness center is steadily losing members. We’re in an upscale area and have a nice facility, but our customers are just trickling away. We’ve tried all kinds of things like new machines and discounts, but nothing’s really working. Help!

Struggling businesses often take a shotgun approach and throw everything at the problem – new equipment and programs, new staff, dropping prices, rebranding, launching new ads, etc., etc.

Frankly, that’s putting the cart before the horse. It FEELS good – because you feel like you’re really taking action on the problem. But it often doesn’t actually turn the membership picture around, because the root cause of the problem hasn’t been identified and addressed.

The key issue to address first is why you’re losing members – or, perhaps, keeping the ones you’ve got but not getting many new ones.

Regardless of whether they’re independent or part of a national or regional chain/network, health clubs and fitness centers are fundamentally local, community-oriented businesses. Hordes of sales reps are far less effective than passionate word-of-mouth – but that requires actually doing a wonderful job of creating relationships with members.

And that’s pretty tough to do in the health club world, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with traditional health club management thinking. Despite the tendency of many club owners/managers to blame fickle members, it’s usually management that’s to blame for retention problems.

That’s why the key question is:

Why don’t your current members love your club enough to 1) stay and 2) bring more members just like them?

Your opinion about the reasons isn’t really what’s important. What IS important are past and current members’ honest answers to those questions.

If you haven’t already done this, start by reaching out individually to them and asking for their help. Make sure you talk to more than just 3-4. By the time you talk to 7-10 of each type (past and current), you’ll really see patterns in their feedback.

Then you can create the most appropriate action plan to address their concerns and dissatisfaction.

3) Should we skip health fairs if we can’t afford giveaways?

Are women’s expos and health fairs good places to find customers? I sell a functional food product, but I can’t afford the giveaways that all the other booths have. It seems like the booths that give away the best items, like iPods, get the most customers.

Don’t confuse people who grab the giveaways with paying customers!

Events like this are tempting because it seems like you’ll be reaching hundreds or even thousands of potential customers! But if you look at how many actual customers you get as a result of the event, wellness businesses often realize that standing in a booth is not necessarily the same as actually making a sale.

Your objective at an expo should be getting the names/contact info (e-mail, for example) and permission to contact them in the future. That way you can send them a short e-mail, for example, with a customer success story and a link to your website where they can buy the same product or service that helped your testimonial customer. People normally need several exposures to something new before they decide to buy, which is why it’s so important that you get their contact info – it lets you follow up with them after the expo.

For example, let them give you their contact info in exchange for entering a drawing for one case, let’s say, of your food product. That’s an impressive giveaway, but should be pretty affordable (if it’s not, offer a pack of six or whatever you can afford). And give everyone who drops their name in the fishbowl a discount coupon, say.

Instead of giving everyone a sample of your product, give away something that will encourage them to think about how wonderful it would be to lose weight, have more energy, or whatever benefit your product offers.

For example, offer a fun or interesting tool that focuses their attention on the problem you product can solve. For example, if your food product offers more energy, offer a one-page flyer with a free five-question “personal energy audit” to jumpstart conversations. On the reverse side of the quiz, put brief information about your product plus your contact info/website/etc.

Avoid the typical tradeshow giveaways that are unrelated to your actual product. The problem is that they just attract people who want the freebies. That has nothing to do with whether they will buy your product or not. In fact, they usually pay no attention at all to what you’re selling – they just grab the freebie and move to the next booth.

And contrary to popular belief, just imprinting your company name on a trinket that will hang around on someone’s bathroom counter or desk will not result in a sale a year from now.

4) Growing a chiropractic practice without repeat customers

What marketing approaches work for a chiropractic office focused on relieving pain and showing patients how to stay out of pain so that they don’t become patients for life?

We think you need two strategies: one strongly focused on building referrals and word-of-mouth, and a second focused on adding some kind of product or service that will create repeat business. If you only transact once with each client, you’re leaving money on the table. Moreover, you’re not building lasting value in your practice.

First, focus on a niche — it’s often easier to promote a specialty. Examples: low back pain, sports injuries, women’s health. Choose one based on your own interests/capabilities and the clients you’re most effective with.

Then, reach out to docs and other health professionals who focus on related areas. Some are resistant to chiro, but many understand the role and respect it.

Consider rewarding each client who refers others. This is especially important because your practice approach means you probably won’t see a lot of repeat business. If you specialized in women’s health, for example, a referral incentive for a complimentary skin treatment provided by one of your networking contacts might appeal.

Seek out local groups tied to your niche. We know of a chiropractor who specializes in working with performance artists and has connections with the professional musicians’ union, among others.

And consider whether a local newspaper or community “shopper” would be interested in doing a feature on a patient success story with strong human interest elements.

Start thinking about related products or services you could incorporate in your practice so that happy clients have an opportunity to continue their relationship with you. The possibilities are limitless, so don’t just copy what you’ve seen other chiropractors do. Choose products and services that are true to your business philosophy and values and that will appeal to your specific client base.

5) Turning a one-location business into a franchise

How do we franchise a successful wellness business? We’ve operated a program focused on women at our location and it’s really popular. Everyone says we ought to franchise it and be the next Curves.

We’ve worked with several businesses who were interested in franchising their operations as a way to grow.

First, we encourage you to add a second local site and then add a more distant site, so you get real experience in what it takes to successfully operate a site that you can’t watch over throughout the day. That’s probably going to take you a couple of years.

That’ll also force you to look at your team and make sure you have the people in place that can keep your original location going while you expand into Sites 2 and 3. That’s important, because you’ve got to be able to keep your original business healthy while you expand.

If you can’t do that, how will you be able to take on the extra burden of creating a franchise model and selecting and supporting your franchisees?

You’ll need a day-to-day operating model that is well-documented, so you can train others. The customer experience needs to be IDENTICAL (not just “kinda close”) from location to location. That means that all of the day-to-day details need to be consistently followed by your franchisees. Pricing structure should be consistent. The way you clean the equipment every night needs to be the same. The credentials for staff need to be the same. The quality of the toilet paper needs to be the same. The services, programs and products you provide need to be consistent. You get the idea.

Have a clear set of marketing messages and a promotional plan that is proven to actually work. By “actually work”, we mean that it must successfully attract customers at a cost per customer that works within the overall financial model.

And make sure that your day-to-day operations are consistent with the marketing message. That’s part of why training is so important. For example, if you promote yourself as having “sparkling clean facilities” but the operations manual is silent on how often the treadmills get cleaned, customers will quickly spot the gum stuck in the cupholders.

Your franchisees will probably fail if the franchisor (that’s you) doesn’t drive the marketing plan. Most franchisees aren’t sales and marketing gurus. Plus, they generally have their hands full just managing the day-to-day operations. Providing them with a bare-bones marketing plan (say, a standard newspaper ad or two) usually doesn’t work well.

We’ve seen quite a few health and wellness franchises that were primarily focused on getting the upfront franchise fee – and then left the franchisees to figure out the actual business.

Unhappy franchisees either sue or sell. One metric that potential franchisees usually check out is the churn rate among your existing franchisees. If lots of them are selling, that’s a red flag and potential buyers will shy away from your business model. So you need to create a model that really does help your franchisees succeed.

Last, remember that franchising is a heavily regulated legal relationship. Do your homework, both with an attorney and checking out the franchise scene informally, before you get started. Some franchise developers will tell you that you can avoid state and federal franchise regulations by structuring a “licensing” relationship rather than a franchise. However, for legal purposes, licensing and franchising relationships are often identical.