It is most unlikely that you will have had any training during your whole medical career on how to market yourself. Yet marketing is a fundamental part of running any organisation, and as a freelance GP you will now be running your own business, albeit with just the one of you. This involves sales, customer relations, advertising, accounts, everything.
You need a brand
So how do businesses go about marketing themselves? An important thing to ascertain is their brand, which is not necessarily something they have full control over. In your case you may want to be known as ‘Friendly GP Ltd’ or ‘Flexible GP’ or ‘I Want to be a Partner Ltd’.
All are worthy aspirations, but bear in mind that the most important branding is the one your customers - both practices and patients - give you. The more that you understand what sort of reputation you want to have as a GP locum, the easier it will be to portray that to practices.
Of course, this idea of a ‘brand identity’ may be totally against everything you’ve ever stood for, which is fine. Just bear in mind that that’s still a brand - your identity, your reputation - whether you like it or not.
How do you portray this brand to practices? Business cards have probably been largely superseded by digital methods, but there are lots of people who still use them and appreciate them. They can also be a great way to portray something about you: organised, open to approaches for work.
You could have a phrase printed on there about your career aspirations: ‘Looking for the right partnership', for example, could lead on to you being asked what your ideal partnership is. Or perhaps your interests, like medical education or women’s health. And business card companies like Moo also let you add photos or images, and I’ve seen locums’ business cards with pictures of their cat, or some of their paintings, all things that can get a friendly conversation going.
Perhaps even more important than a business card are your emails because you’ll be using this for all sorts of communications with practices.
Make sure you’ve added your email signature professionally and consistently to all your devices. It only takes a few minutes to work out how to change your phone’s email signature from ‘Sent from my iPhone’ to something that’s actually helpful to the recipient - and it might say more about you if you do not change the default setting.
I’m not going to go into the all the issues around the sort of documentation and paperwork you need as a locum because most of that is more to do with actually running your daily operation.
- Read more on the documentation you need in Starting out as a GP locum.
But one piece of paper that it is essential to have, and also core to your marketing, is a CV. This should be printed and presented as best you can, and physically taken around by you (accompanied by your best, friendliest smile) to all the practices where you would consider working.
You’ve heard this before, but apart from 100% perfect spelling and grammar, also make sure it is down to just one page and includes a photograph. At this stage, I wouldn’t recommend bringing round any of your compliance paperwork - this contains sensitive information, can easily get mislaid by the practice (especially if they weren’t expecting you), and by the time the practice might need you to come in, most of it could be out of date.
At NASGP, we’ve largely got round this by developing LocumDeck’s online ‘credentials’ section, where members can upload all their paperwork in one central place and keep it all up-to-date, ready for you to give practice managers access to it as and when needed.
Getting out there
So now it’s time to do the real marketing - not sales. Sales is what you do to actually book sessions, and that’s not what you’re doing here.
Going out to meet practice managers is about you finding out about the practices that you might want to work in. Ask questions about what sort of IT they use, their patient profile, their most recent CQC report, what sort of permanent positions they’re looking for, or anything else you want to know. The question about GP vacancies is a particularly good one, since it can reveal the sort of caseload to expect when locuming there.
The key to marketing is to find out from the practice how you can help them. It’s a listening exercise, where you build a relationship together and you’re the one who can help them for a problem they have. It’s no different really to the empathic, therapeutic relationship you’re already so used to nurturing with your patients.
From this point on, assuming you’ve got on well with the practices you’ve met, it’s now sales. You will need to set up your own system for booking your sessions and tracking your work.
There are tools out there to do this, including the NASGP’s LocumDeck online booking system. This is a completely transparent way for locum’s to arrange bookings based on a balance of their personal professional competencies, standards and skills, and the needs of the practice. It has been designed by GP locums to make sure that all aspects of the booking are exactly specified and agreed upfront.
- Dr Fieldhouse is chairman of the National Association of Sessional GPs. https://www.nasgp.org.uk/