Marketing Your Occupational Therapy Practice

According to Vic Gatto, the founder and CEO of Jumpstart Foundry—a Nashville, Tennessee-based healthcare startup accelerator—health care is the most promising market for investors in 2015. More investors means more competition, so it’s crucial that you set yourself apart from other providers by using specific and targeted marketing tactics. Here’s how:

Choose Your Niche

To create your marketing plan, you’ll first need to know—or find—your niche. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. While this may not be the best career advice, it’s still important to discover what kind of work you like to do and which type of patients you enjoy treating. Just make sure your professional experience and education align with those parameters. Also, keep in mind that marketing your private practice is a marathon, not a sprint; identify a niche that will help you break out of the pack and go the distance.

Not sure where to start?

The AOTA defines six key practice areas and their respective emerging niches (along with helpful descriptions, background info, and advice on how to get involved):

Emerging niches in Children and Youth:

  • Broader scope in school
  • Childhood obesity
  • Transitions for older youths
  • Bullying
  • Driving for teens

Emerging niches in Health and Wellness:

  • Chronic disease management
  • Prevention
  • Obesity

Emerging niches in Mental Health:

  • Depression
  • Sensory approaches to mental health
  • Recovery and peer support
  • Veteran and wounded warrior treatment and support

Emerging niches in Productive Aging:

  • Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Low vision
  • Aging and home modifications
  • Community mobility and older drivers

Emerging niches in Rehabilitation and Disability:

  • Autism in adults
  • Hand transplants and bionic limbs
  • Cancer care and oncology
  • Veteran and wounded warrior care
  • New technology for rehab
  • Telehealth

Emerging niches in Work and Industry:

  • Aging workforce
  • New technology at work

Still uncertain of which path you want to take?

Check out these YouTube clips from the AOTA featuring OT students who reveal how they chose their specialties. You’ll hear stories from OT students planning to work in schools, early intervention, special education, mental health, and skilled nursing facilities.

Research Your Market

The AOTA asserts that OTs must “respond to how society is changing and evolving” to meet the occupational needs of society. Aligning your practice to meet those needs will ensure your services are in demand, so you’ll need to determine whether your desired niche fits into your current market.

But that’s only part of the equation.

If you’ve ever taken a business class, you’re probably familiar with the fundamental economics concept of supply and demand. Basically, to command top dollar for your services, you have to offer a much-needed—yet undersupplied—service. How do you know if your desired niche nails the OT supply-and-demand sweet spot? You’ll need to do some research:

  • Consider your city’s statistics and local trends—like population size, average age, and growth rate. These are good indicators of what specialty may be most beneficial (i.e., marketable and profitable) to the folks in your area.
  • Search the internet to find out if your market has a need for your niche. A Google keyword search for terms associated with your desired niche (e.g., autism, Alzheimer’s care, or workers’ compensation) will give you a good sense of how many folks in your area are looking for services in that particular specialty.
  • Determine how many OTs already provide this service in your area and compare that figure to what you know about your market. If the supply outweighs the demand, there may not be enough patients to go around. Plus, you—and your potential patients—will probably have a tough time distinguishing your practice from the others.

If your desired niche doesn’t fit into your current market—or if the market is saturated with OTs specializing in that niche—you’ll likely need to decide whether you want to stick with your niche and move somewhere you can readily establish yourself, or change your niche altogether.

Create a Plan

Once you’ve narrowed your options down to one niche, it’s time to start marketing to draw in patients. With the majority of healthcare consumers turning to the Internet to help them find providers, digital marketing—social media, blogging, and online reviews—helps you leverage your best asset: you. In fact, providers who blog and use social media increase their website traffic and make their patients feel more valued, so take the time to educate yourself on digital engagement tactics.

In addition to using blogs and social media, you can reach prospective patients who are interested in your services via niche-based publications, websites, and events. Consider joining local groups and organizations aligned with your niche (i.e., sponsor a team for disabled youth or attend a charity event dedicated to raising awareness and research funds for Alzheimer’s) to further promote yourself within the community.

Developing and implementing a strategic marketing plan might be difficult or uncomfortable at first; you may even have some preconceptions about what it means to sell your services or the value you provide to patients (after all, most occupational therapists don’t receive any formal education on how market their practices). But marketing is the key to positioning yourself and your practice for success, so make sure you’re committed. You became an OT to help other people, yet to become—and stay—profitable enough to keep your doors open, you must help yourself, too.

About the Author

As a content producer for WebPT, Lauren creates, edits, and contributes to engaging content and marketing strategy for WebPT and various relevant outlets. She graduated with distinction from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys cooking, organizing, and being active. She lives in Phoenix with her fiancé and their rambunctious dog, Mollie.

Occupational Therapy and Rapid Prompting Method

Debra Young, MEd, OTR/L, SCEM, ATP, CAPS