Tooting their own horns may not come naturally to most certified nurse-midwives (CNMs), but it's essential if you've taken the plunge into private practice. From advertising in the Yellow Pages to painting faces at local fairs, entrepreneurial CNMs share the best methods they've used to promote their practices and their profession to potential clients.
Use social events to explain your work to friends and acquaintances. "Unless we're very open about who we are, where we are and how we work, patients don't know we exist or how to find us," says Marion McCartney, CNM, director of professional services for the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Because of the public misconception that nurse-midwives deliver babies mostly in homes, McCartney never misses an opportunity to explain that fewer than 2 percent of nurse-midwife deliveries occur outside a hospital.
Start Marketing with the Basics
Marketing is not a dirty word. Advertise in the Yellow Pages, and launch a Web site. Cynthia Flynn, CNM, PhD, who has been in private practice for nine years and founded the Columbia Birth Center in Kennewick, Washington, refers to the cold calls her phone-book ad generates as "smile and dials." Her Web site also increases awareness of her birth center and generates clients, she says.
Recognize Future Clients
About half of Flynn's clients have worked with her before, and previous clients refer many others. "Provide every single client with the very best possible service," she says. "One day you will want their sisters, cousins, friends and daughters as clients, too."
In addition to building her business by word-of-mouth, Flynn also exposes potential clients to the birth-center concept and to the nurse-midwifery practice by providing free sports physicals to girls and women. A birth center where McCartney worked offered women a free weekly class on pregnancy and nurse-midwifery. "The information was valuable even if they decided not to come to us," McCartney says. "Women really want to know what their options are."
Get the Word Out
After Elizabeth Stein, CNM, MSN, MPH, went into private OB/GYN practice a year ago, she mailed a letter to 1,500 former patients from her work with a group of physicians. "My expectation was that they'd all come running in the door at once, but in fact, they're still coming in a year later, when they need a pill refill or a Pap smear," says Stein, who delivers babies at two New York City hospitals.
Stein also advertises in a local daily newspaper that's free to readers, although she had to experiment with a few different publications to find one that produced clients. Flynn has had luck advertising in her local Spanish-language newspaper, in which she touts the availability of her Spanish-speaking midwife colleague as well as free pregnancy tests.
Tell Your Story
Always accept invitations to speak or write about what you do. "People want to see what you look like, what you sound like and what you have to say" about topics related to women's health and pregnancy, McCartney says. The pen can be equally powerful. Stein has written for American Baby magazine and local publications. "Make it your goal to educate the public," she says. "If you get patients as an offshoot, that's great."
Get Involved in the Community
Raise your visibility and enhance your business by venturing outside the usual nurse-midwife circle, McCartney says. Join the local chamber of commerce, where you can form a network of colleagues who help one another out, she adds.
You could also become a community volunteer. McCartney and her birth-center colleagues and clients joined together to raise money for the March of Dimes every year. Give blood-pressure screenings, or paint faces at the county fair. "Sometimes you have to bend your colleagues' arms to do it, but then they realize it can be fun," McCartney says.
Celebrate Your Successes
Flynn's birth center hosts a huge party every Labor Day, complete with cake and an inflatable jump house for kids. While Flynn invites the whole community, the event mostly attracts families whose babies she delivered. Even periodic parties, like a celebration of the delivery of 500 or 1,000 babies, can generate publicity and attract potential clients.