For the professional beginning to promote his or her practice, mistakes are a way of life. For some, they’re a costly way. But no one can afford many mistakes in a tough economy, and now it needn’t be so; Practice Builders will share some of the biggest mistakes in practice marketing with you so you can avoid them.

Even though judgments of taste and creativity are often called for in promotion, there are some absolutes — especially absolute mistakes. So to assist you in your learning curve — and to save you time and money — here are the 12 biggest mistakes in marketing and advertising your practice. Now you’ll know how to spot them and how to avoid them.

1. Promoting at the wrong time.
On a limited budget, start your promotion just prior to your busy season and end it just prior to a seasonal fall-off. Don’t spend your money promoting during dead times unless you’ve spent sufficient money promoting during the up times. It’s always less productive and costs more money.

2. Choosing the wrong office location.
The right one is in an area with an advantageous professional to population (or company) ratio. The wrong one is selected solely on the basis of where you want to live.

2b. Choosing the wrong office location (part II).
A freestanding building almost always offers better outdoor signage opportunities than a professional building does. And signage is so crucial in attracting the public that, if done well, it can produce a third of your new patients or clients.

3. Not knowing how to handle objections.
If some professionals could hear their staff members handle an objection from a caller, they might well be distraught. Then they’d surely know they’re losing big dollars because their front desk often shoots answers from the hip. Instead: Script out sample answers for each common objection — no money, no time, no interest, no need and I’ll think it over. Results: optimal answers and many more appointments.

4. Not answering price queries correctly.
When people call to ask how much, don’t just mention the price. First, explain the unique benefits of receiving the service or product from you. Then quote the price. Without explanation, your services are just like everyone else’s, so price can be the only determinant. With it, you can charge even more.

5. Not preparing a marketing plan.
Without analyzing your competition, your objection, your budget and to whom you’re directing your promotion, you’re susceptible to two potential disasters. One — being swayed by salespeople into buying poorly designed and incorrectly targeted promotions. Two — failing to consider all important variables. Both lead you to big losses and dead ends. Instead: Construct a marketing plan first.

6. Sponsoring clubs or sports teams.
If it’s not mandatory that the players come in (or are brought in by parents) for a free service so you can meet them, then recognize your sponsorship as altruism, not practice building.

7. Promoting in school yearbooks or church bulletins.
These expenditures should come out of your charitable contributions account, not your promotional budget.

8. Putting your name in your ad’s headline.
Melvin Belli and Dr. DeBakey can put their names at the top of an ad to get it read. But rarely does a practitioner have enough public recognition to have his/her name entice a browser to read. Instead: Head the ad with strong benefits for coming to you, and keep your name and logo at the bottom.

9. Writing direct mail yourself.
Direct mail is the most difficult type of promotion to create. Why? Because it requires that specific techniques be built into a piece to stimulate immediate response. Practitioners rarely have the knowledge — or the talent. Unfortunately, most copywriters aren’t familiar with them. Instead: In direct mail, it almost always pays to hire direct mail specialists. Your response rates can jump 20 times.

10. Cutting prices first.
Prices should be the last element in your marketing formula to fiddle with. Before cutting prices, promote other aspects of your practice — experience, new services, selection, hours, convenience, etc. If all else is ineffective, then play the price game.

11. Not knowing your bottom line.
If it’s to attract new patients or clients or to retain old ones, that’s the goal. If it’s to please your colleagues (or competitors), that’s a different goal. And each one produces a different kind of promotion. If a promotion is well-done, your competitors will feel threatened, as they should. If they don’t, it’s probably not well-conceived. Knowing which goal is your true bottom line from the beginning saves you money and anguish.

12. Not coding and tracking your advertising.
Without effective tracking of which ads are producing how much in what media, you can’t stop the losers and pump up the winners. So to greatly improve ad results, insert keys into your ads — false phone extensions or individual telephone lines for each specific medium. That way, you know the source as soon as they call. Asking them where they heard about you yields 30% to 50% incorrect responses.

And a bonus tip:
13. Practice brochures that don’t sell you.
Most don’t because they contain extraneous or even negative selling points, like what to do in an emergency, a warning not to miss appointments, a requirement that you pay at once, etc. Instead: Put all the rules in an inexpensive brochure to be given to existing clients or patients. Put only convincing copy in your practice brochure.