This article is sponsored by Invest Ottawa and Digital Main Street.
Two weeks is enough time to kickstart the transformation of your business for the digital age, provided you commit the time and the focus.
Patrick Lalonde and Eleni Corbeil learned this first-hand when the pandemic left them having to rethink how best to serve their community. Lalonde is the owner of Lalonde Physiotherapy in the town of L’Orignal, east of Ottawa.
Lalonde Physio operates on the belief that professional, evidence-based care and quality physio products can be had without heading to the “big city.” Lalonde was inspired to become a physiotherapist after the care he received for sports injuries in his youth. Corbeil applies her background in business and finance to help manage the back office.
Since the clinic’s opening in 2016, the team has grown and satellite locations have been added in Hawkesbury and Vankleek Hill. Corbeil and Lalonde had considered, but not committed to, launching an e-commerce storefront for their therapy products. For both therapists and patients, in-person care was the expected norm.
All that changed with the pandemic and provincial lockdowns. Therapy had to go online.
“We didn’t want patients with active treatment plans to experience a lapse."
“We didn’t want patients with active treatment plans to experience a lapse and lose their progress,” Lalonde said.
With most case files, it was possible to coach and monitor patients remotely so they could manage their care at home, until such time as they could return for in-person visits. But the switch from in-person to remote presented challenges.
“Our patient retention rate was only about 30 per cent of our caseload,” Lalonde said. “That was enough to cover our cost of operations, but it took a lot of unbilled volunteer time by everyone to get telehealth up and running.”
Elderly patients who were not web savvy, or just skeptical of remote care, needed to be convinced. Lalonde Physio offered free discovery visits that did help to overcome some of that reluctance. Lalonde and Corbeil realized the time had come for a more focused and strategic online marketing effort.
Time for some professional help
Then Corbeil found out about Invest Ottawa’s partnership with Ontario’s Digital Main Street (DMS) program through Vankleek Hill’s business association.
“I was given the task by that point of applying for everything the clinic could get, so I applied,” she said.
Lalonde admitted they needed all the help they could get.
“We have in-depth knowledge of providing care to patients, and Eleni is the numbers whiz, but when it comes to digital marketing or upgrading the website, we are a two out of 10 on a knowledge scale of one-to-10,” he said.
During an intensive two-week exercise in December, Lalonde Physio worked with Invest Ottawa’s DMS team of business advisors, a web developer and a graphic designer to develop new visuals, improve the website’s user experience and appointment booking, and ensure all content was bilingual.
Through the shopHERE component of DMS, Lalonde Physio also launched that e-commerce site for physio products and supplies. The very first order made the clinic an international business through a sale to a customer in Russia.
“Lalonde Physio’s online marketing is definitely more organized now, and we have a schedule for social media posts and the knowledge to fill those posts with the content that will encourage people to visit the website,” Corbeil said.
“Pre-COVID, we had the mindset that our target audience was within a 50-kilometre radius of our locations,” Lalonde added. “Now we can be province-wide with patient care, and even worldwide with our online store.”
The key has been their all-in commitment to transform the business and to work with the DMS team.
“Business owners need to accept that, even before the pandemic, the world was moving online,” Corbeil said. “Lalonde Physio was already looking to up its social media game and move into e-commerce and DMS was a kick in the pants to do it.”