Should refractive surgeons focus on advertising or referral generation?

Over the past 20 years working with over 100 refractive surgery practices at every stage, I’ve learned that the journey from starting up to scaling up isn’t about choosing between advertising or focusing on patient referrals—it’s about knowing when to prioritise each strategy.

Here’s how I see it unfold:

Early Days (Pre-Revenue):

Financial resources are often limited in the initial stages of setting up a refractive surgery practice, but what surgeons do have is time. That critical asset can be leveraged wisely. Bold surgeons don’t just open their doors and wait for phones to ring; they use this time before opening to build up warm referrals. They open their practice with a waiting list. This early effort is crucial for building momentum without needing to spend a lot of money.

Reaching $1 Million in Revenue:

Once your practice hits the $1 million revenue mark, the focus naturally shifts toward expanding your patient base. Advertising (making one’s business known) is critical here. To get patient referrals, you need patients first! The most successful surgeons aggressively get their name out there. They keep it simple: one offer, one avatar, one channel. This clarity helps them focus their resources effectively and avoid the complexities that don’t contribute to growth.

As more patients experience the practice’s services, the groundwork is laid for a sustainable system of patient referrals, fueling further growth. This phase is about smart, focused paid advertising to build a large enough patient base from which organic, word-of-mouth growth can spring.

Scaling from $1 Million to $3 Million:

As practices evolve from reaching $1 million to targeting $3 million in revenue, the foundational strategies that initially drove their success remain paramount. Some practices try adding adjacent offers, and that’s okay, but simplicity usually wins. Sticking to what has proven effective helps to keep the focus sharp and the operations streamlined. Continue with effective advertising and focus your energy now on delighting the customer.

At this stage, enhancing the patient experience becomes equally important. Practices that excel prioritise delivering exceptional care and service, transforming satisfied patients into enthusiastic advocates.

NOTE: The best way to answer that nagging question about practice growth or marketing or patient volume in the back of your mind is to book a free 15-minute compatibility call. Get some options and go away with a clear idea of what’s possible.

Growing Beyond $3 Million:

As they approach and exceed $3 million, they’ve proven their ability to acquire patients from scratch. Successful practices at this stage focus on reducing the costs of acquiring new patients by doubling down on improving patient experiences. This is where the “exponential effect” of referrals comes into play (superior delivery of excellent outcomes AND patient experiences kick this off from Day 1, but it takes time to build). As satisfied patients tell others, the referral network grows dramatically and significantly reduces their need to spend on direct advertising.

Imagine this:

1 tells 2

2 tell 4

4 tell 8

8 tell 16

16 tell 32

32 tell 64

64 tell 128

128 tell 256

256 tell 512

512 tell 1024

Establishing a Strong Brand (Post $10 Million):

With a solid patient base and a robust referral system, their focus shifts towards branding (which still requires advertising). They build a brand with associations and measure its power on the strength of their patient relationships and willingness to refer others. A strong brand magnifies the effects of these referrals and transforms patients into advocates who actively promote the services. As the percentage of patients from referrals increases, their patient acquisition costs decrease!.

They transition from needing to tell the world about their services to letting satisfied patients do the talking, enhancing their market reach and operational efficiency.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, growing a refractive surgery practice isn’t just about choosing advertising or referrals; it’s about timing them right. Start with building referrals and use targeted advertising to expand and enhance patient experiences for growth. As your practice matures, focus on branding to turn patients into advocates, boosting your presence and efficiency. Mastering these strategies leads to sustained success.

If you’re curious how your practice can improve its marketing efforts, I encourage you to take our Practice Marketing Assessment quiz. Or, if you want to have a quick chat, book a free 15-minute compatibility call with Laura today!

About the author

Rod Solar
Founder & Scalable Business Advisor / fCMO

Rod Solar is a co-founder of LiveseySolar and a Scalable Business Advisor for its customers. Rod mentors and coaches eye surgery business CEOs/Founders and their leadership teams to triple their sales, double their profit, and achieve their “ideal exit”.

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Rod Solar

Founder & Scalable Business Advisor

Rod Solar is a co-founder of LiveseySolar and a Scalable Business Advisor / fCMO for our customers. Rod mentors and coaches CEOs/Founders and their leadership teams to double their sales, triple their profits, and achieve their “ideal exit”.

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LiveseySolar completely transformed the way we were approaching this… We’ve gone from having just the dream of having a practice to having a practice up and running with people making inquiries and booking for procedures… It’s extremely pleasing. We feel lucky we connected with LiveseySolar.

— Dr Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO, specialist ophthalmic surgeon and founder of VSON and OKKO

Laura Livesey

Founder & CEO

Laura Livesey is the co-founder & CEO of LiveseySolar. She has developed powerful refractive surgery marketing systems that increase patient volumes and profits for doctors, clinics, and hospitals, since 1997.

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Rod and Laura know as much about marketing surgery to patients as I know about performing it. They are an expert in the field of laser eye surgery marketing. They know this industry inside out. I believe that they could help many companies in a variety of areas including marketing materials, sales training and marketing support for doctors.

— Prof. Dan Reinstein, MD MA FRSC DABO, founder of the London Vision Clinic, UK