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Lately I've been hearing economists talk about how our nation's economy has turned a corner and is starting to improve. Consumer spending seems to be up, and here in California, recent months have seen growth in the housing market. Experts are claiming we're finally emerging from the recession that has cost so many of us jobs and opportunities and ground the world economy to a halt.

I realize my expertise is in marketing and not economics, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Most dentists I know are still feeling the slowdown, either in recall or case acceptance — or both. They probably are feeling that their advertising, if they’re doing it, is generating less new patient flow. This is to be expected. With gas and food prices jumping up every month, money is getting tight for some people, and something like dentistry is easy to put off.

It's never easy to profit in a down economy, but there are things you can do to make certain your practice emerges from the recession in good shape. First off, make sure that your front desk is firing on all cylinders. You can’t afford to lose a single new patient over the phone. (A recent study showed that as many as 50% of new patients are lost in the first phone call — don’t let that be you!) Answer the phone, answer it nicely, and make sure you get new patients in as quickly as possible — before gas goes up again.

Go for some extended hours, like Saturday, early morning or late evening. Some people can’t get the time off work or don’t want to miss the hours. Make it easy for them to visit your office.

Expect people to spend less. Times are a little tight, but you are in it for the long haul (for what they will spend over the next 10 years). Be there for them now and know that if you communicate who you are and what you do effectively, they will eventually accept comprehensive care when they do have money.

See all emergencies. Same principle as above. Start the relationship, help them with what they need, and do everything to keep expanding your patient base. Which also means…

Don’t stop advertising! You need new patients now more than ever. Gas may be expensive, but you’re not going to stop putting it in your car, right? The same goes for your advertising. You need fuel (new patients) for your practice even if they are more expensive.

The recession will end, and hopefully soon by the sound of things. With a little strategic thinking and some smart marketing, you can be ready for that moment with a practice full of patients.

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