Therapy Expo 23 – The Good and The Bad

Updated November 25, 2023. 2-min read

HMDG attended this year’s Therapy Expo for the first time as an exhibitor. It turned out to be a better event than we had expected, and it was great to meet so many of our customers and friends face to face, as well as having socials with the team.

It was also fab to see people for the first time in real life who over the years had smashed their targets. Alistair Beverley, The LD physio, amazing to see where he’d come from our initial conversations all those years ago. Will Ferguson of The Caring Physio, who started as a one-man band, decided to go after a niche and is now an amazing success story.

As an event overall, the entire HMDG team had a great time and we’ll be back next year with something a little innovative. Watch this space!

But it was also disappointing in a number of ways.

Doing the Basics

We spoke to many, many clinic owners, and it reaffirmed to me that HMDG is sorely needed in this space. It was again apparent that people didn’t have the fundamentals of their digital infrastructure right and were trying to run before they could walk. 

A case in point, we met a person that was pushing this convoluted marketing strategy when his clinic isn’t even visible in their local town for their primary service on Google! Quick fix, we set a sitemap and indexed their website which their web developer hadn’t done. A two-minute solution which is going to bring new patients through their door because finally, patients could actually find them!

You’ve got to get the basics right and have a good foundation to build on. Too many people were spending all their time on social media hoping that they’d find some way of creating the demand to fill spots. We work with many £1m+ revenue MSK clinics and I can promise you, none of them are running around on Facebook trying to get ‘leads’. They got there through hard bloody work, creating a base they could build on, and doing all the things that so many people consider unsexy.

Silver Bullets don’t exist and doing things properly is hard. There are no shortcuts. My co-founder Hannah worked on her birthday until 9 pm this year because things needed doing. Anyone reading this with a successful business knows the blood, sweat, and tears that go into building something great.

At least 85% of clinic owners we met hadn’t thought about their digital infrastructure, the fundamentals of marketing, or had the time or investment to build a good foundation. However, this isn’t about blaming them. No one becomes a physiotherapist and knows how to do marketing properly. It’s not something that comes naturally, and the knowledge certainly isn’t part of any uni course.

A good example of that was during my talk when I asked people to put up their hands if they thought getting hundreds of reviews for their Google My Business helped their rankings. Literally, everyone put their hands up. Hint: They don’t.

Tracking and metrics. Not one person was actually tracking the performance of the things they were doing, you must put in place methods for knowing if what you’re doing is working. It’s like treating a patient with ear defenders and a blindfold on and not being able to ask any questions. You’re just shooting in the dark.

I think a lot of this comes down to two things:

  1. Marketing agencies have a bad reputation for overcharging and not delivering.
  2. Clinicians aren’t taught ROI, the concept that if you put money in, you get money out, and they’re scared to spend money on the boring stuff.

As an aside, not doing the basics actually applies as much to established businesses as it does to startups. How many of you look at your conversion rate on analytics, or bounce rate? How many blindly write blogs and then have no idea if anyone’s actually read them, never mind generating new patients?

Marketing Advice

I don’t like bashing competitors, and in fact, I think competition is important and I welcome it. Competitors keep us on our toes, help us to innovate, and often improve our own offerings. In fact, I’m even happy to name agencies that we quite like and know to do a good job. For example, Medico Digital, probably our biggest competitor both financially and from a quality level. (We’re better, of course) 🙂

However, some of the nonsense we saw really made me quite sad. One of the sillier moments was being informed that a company could tell me the best time to post on socials because they have an AI which has worked it out. No, you didn’t create an AI. No, your AI didn’t break the Facebook algorithm, and this is not relevant in MSK to the people you’re talking to; it might be if you’re John Lewis.

So right now, for free, I’ll give you the answer. Anytime that isn’t stupid. 3 am on a Monday night probably isn’t clever, but beyond that, you’re playing with percentages against an audience of 500 people, and at best 2% of them will see it versus 1%, which is the norm. Don’t pay money for that and don’t stress about it. You have more productive things you could be doing. Even if you got it exactly right, it’s not getting you any more patients anyway. You’re welcome, the invoice is in the mail.

The aim of a marketing agency is not to make money peddling a product. It’s about helping your clients succeed, understanding their business, having them spend less time chasing potential clients, and more on the day-to-day running of the clinic, putting into place a marketing strategy that achieves their revenue goals for the year. It’s about working together to create a great brand, one they can be proud of, and continue evolving as an ethical practice that improves patient outcomes. Finally, it’s about building a relationship built on honesty.

Being paid is a product of that, not the starting point.

Some of what we saw was contradictory to almost all of the above. It was about selling something that charades as marketing but really is just about making as much money as possible, most of it short-term. Convincing clients that your one-size solution fits everyone. It doesn’t.

“Do this one thing and make a million pounds a year.”

Really? You see, our first question when we meet a potential client is, “what do you think you need?” We don’t assume you have the infrastructure to even make an extra million pounds a year! Much of the time, the answer isn’t what they want to hear. An example of this was a client who wanted to grow their business from £150k to £500k next year. He’s a one-man band. So my first question was, how are you going to increase your capacity to handle that? He has a one-room clinic, so we wished him luck and said we’d be able to help when he has the ability to grow his revenues. We also suggested he speak with Katie at Thrive, who was far better placed than us to help him do that.

We watched as he moved to the next stand and had a deep conversation about getting new patients with a ‘competitor’ who proceeded to push a marketing package to ‘get more leads’ on Facebook. 

Here’s a home truth. The reason so many people push social media and similar strategies is because:

  1. It’s really easy. I could create a campaign on socials in about 5 minutes that gets free or discounted appointments.
  2. Creating and implementing a real marketing strategy for the long term takes a lot of bloody effort and a lot of people doing the work, and thus investment, so anyone can start a marketing company with one person doing all the work.
  3. The KPIs and results are soft. “Oh, look how your engagement has grown!” I could put my puppy on your socials, and engagement would grow.

As a youngster getting started in the corporate world, I was always told, “you’re not selling a product, you’re selling a solution”. Sadly, that isn’t what I saw over those two days.

Health Tech

You won’t find a bigger proponent of health tech than me. It’s incredibly important, both from a patient outcomes perspective and for revenue generation. For example, I think every clinic, if they are at a certain level, should have a VO2 Max, especially if they have an S&C facility.

I love companies like VALD that really push the boundaries. Gait and Motion, as well as Rehab My Patient, are two others. They offer great products that every clinic should be considering.

I’m personally no physio. But having worked and done marketing for people like Jack Chew, Adam Meakins, Ben Cormack, being an avid fan of Aaron Kubal, and having been part of Therapy Live and Physio Matters adventure with access to the best in the industry, I know how important good health tech is.

As an owner of a marketing business, there’s always an internal conversation in my head between making people money and providing high-quality healthcare. But at HMDG, we want to be involved with businesses that care about patient outcomes and treat patients ethically, not just conveyor belt clinics that squeeze every last penny out of a patient with a click in their elbow or a wonky shoulder. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked Jack Chew or the Physio Matters team whether something is good or not and received a sigh and an exasperated look about what I’ve shown them. They’re my go-to source whenever a vendor approaches us or a client wants to buy kit.

I have my own story about this. I had a spine issue a couple of years ago, and it wasn’t fun. Worst time in my life, actually. It was amazing getting consistent advice from all the people above and having the knowledge to get through it. Who knew painkillers didn’t kill pain! 🙂

But there came a point where someone contacted me with a unique (they’re always unique, aren’t they?) product that could fix it for just ten thousand pounds of treatment. I was ready to lay down my money because, quite honestly, I just wanted to be better, to get back out with the kids – spending time with them instead of being in agony on the sofa.

I did my routine check with the guys of “is this a thing?” And about 5 people came back on our WhatsApp group with a resounding NO! Fortunately, I had people and customers surrounding me to help me through it. And that “let’s make money” voice in my head became a lot quieter because I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else being swayed by snake oil.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I was quite disappointed with some of the products being pushed by exhibitors at the expo. Many were great, but some were just woo-woo.

I get that exhibitions have to make money, but it would be great if the team at Therapy Expo had a couple of people they could go to ask about products and whether they were ethical or, at the very least, safe. It’s been a problem with Therapy Expo and every exhibition out there for years and it’s a very big request to make, but it’d be fab to see truly great products on display, ones that we’d like to market and that patients could really benefit from.

I’d also suggest that if some of the bigger names were involved in those discussions, they’d likely help get much better companies and products involved, hence more money, and a lot of people that avoid the expo by not attending might, in the future, buy tickets and turn up.

So what’s the problem?

Let’s start with social media. Lead generation strategies lead to a few things:

  1. You generally have to offer cheap or free appointments to make your campaign a success, this:

    a) Cheapens your brand
    b) Impacts the profession as a whole
    c) Gets the wrong kind of patients (those looking for price over quality)
    d) Damages your brand
    e) Turns you into the ‘cheapest option in the area’

    This is often difficult to recover from. We’d had clinics come to us who haver been running these cheap or free campaigns for years and their reputation is through the floor. “Those are the cheap guys”. Always sell on quality!!!

  2. If you do manage to get lots of leads you need to factor in the time it takes to deal with those leads. It’s all well and good saying “I got 100 leads for just £500” but if it takes 30 hours to chase those leads up, there’s a cost associated with that. What’s 50 or 100 hours worth to you? Some agencies will follow them up for you but then they’re charging for that and often a few thousand.

  3. Generally the numbers simply don’t stack up. There’s very little profit in such campaigns even if you are seeing lots of patients. They don’t return that much, they’re after freebies, they don’t have any money and they’re really not interested in you as a quality provider of healthcare.

  1. You saturate the market and start annoying people with your ads. Because most people don’t understand frequencies when it comes to social media marketing, you show the same ad to the same people hundreds of times.

  2. Tracking – It’s very hard to track these things. Whether it’s a cheap appointment or a free one, are you tracking those people from start to finish and and reporting on your spend vs return? When we look at it and match that the clinic net profit we rarely see a significant increase.

Next Year

We’ll be back next year, hopefully with something a bit different ready to make a bit of noise. In the meantime have a great end of year and Christmas!

If you like what you read, give us a shout.

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