In this episode, Barbara and Lori discuss:
- How Lori struck out on her own and grew her business from a one-woman show at the kitchen table to her current 2 agencies.
- The myth of work-life balance.
- Lori’s work and activism with suicide prevention and awareness.
- When you are stepping away from work, like on vacation, completely disconnect and give yourself the time away.
- Be proactive with your customers, don’t just set it and forget it.
- COVID is going to change the landscape of telemedicine completely, even after the current crisis has passed.
“People can follow a video far better than they can follow written instruction.” — Lori Hibma
Barbara: Welcome to another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors. I’m your host, Dr. Barbara Hales.
Today, we have with us Lori Hibma. She is an entrepreneur and has had the experience of going from a one-woman operation at the kitchen table to running two marketing agencies that serve clients from coast to coast. As a beloved CEO and leader, she shares a wealth of wisdom and knowledge acquired while building her business and leading a dedicated team of marketing professionals.
One of Lori’s many strengths as a businesswoman, presenter and speaker is that she is not afraid to tell it like it is. She’s open and candid about other subjects that are near and dear to her heart such as family, adoption, PTSD and suicide prevention. As a podcast guest and host, Lori recognizes that one of the biggest challenges facing podcasters is finding guests who are sharp, witty and know how to keep an audience interested. Lori’s insights and both professional and personal stories from her experiences keep audiences and listeners simply captivated. So you’re in for a treat today. Welcome, Lori.
Lori: Thank you, Barbara. It’s great to be here. I appreciate you having me on.
Barbara: How did you get started as a business owner? I think that for many people hearing that you got started out of your house and then progressed to where you are now has piqued the curiosity of a lot of people. A lot of ears are perking up.
Lori: Yeah. I mean, it’s a fun story. I worked in a medical office as a practice administrator. And while I was there, I finished my degree in IT, IT with an emphasis in multimedia. So, marketing has always been in my blood prior to that. I was in hospitality and tourism. I’ve done a lot of different types of jobs. Prior to that, I had my own photography business. I’ve always had a little bit of a bend towards being an entrepreneur and being on my own. So, while I was working there, somebody put a little bug in my ear. They even asked me the question. Why are you working for somebody else? And so, it was a fun journey to start. The idea was I was going to — I lived in Michigan at the time and we were coming up on winter and I just kept thinking about the fact that I really didn’t want to go out in the snow.
Barbara: It’s cold there.
Lori: Yeah, it’s cold.
Barbara: That’s why I live in Florida.
Lori: That is — I mean, really honestly, my idea was, you know, I’m going to work from home. I’m going to be here for my daughter more than I was for my older kids. And I’m going to work in my fuzzy slippers and I’m going to drink my hot cocoa and wave at my neighbors as they try to go through the Michigan blizzards during winter. It was get started and started just doing some freelance work here and there and started working with different doctors doing some of their digital marketing which at the time — I mean, it was 11 years ago so it was a totally different landscape than it is now. But yeah, it was just a lot of fun. And I don’t know, within probably four months, I ended up having to hire an assistant. And within, oh my gosh, I think within a year, I had six employees and we were all still at my kitchen table. So yeah, big difference now.
Barbara: Yes. It certainly is. How did you get into the digital marketing field exactly?
Lori: Well, like I said, I had been going to school for IT and I went with an emphasis in multimedia, meaning I was most interested in using technology for communication. So going into it, learning — At the time, I was basically designing websites. I was doing so from, you’re going to laugh, Dreamweaver. This is back when you actually had to know code in order to do a website. So yeah, I was back then doing it the hard way and just wanted to branch out. And then of course, I got into graphics and video. And I already had a natural bend towards photography. I had done it with film. So going to the digital world wasn’t a big jump.
Barbara: Well, I remember using the DOS system and giving my computer some choice words when it said it didn’t compute. So, bless Bill Gates’ little heart.
Lori: Yes. I hear you. I agree. I remember doing it the hard way too. And it’s funny because every once in a while, those skills actually still kind of show up useful.
Barbara: Yeah. What kind of markets do you pursue? And why is it that you chose them?
Lori: I have two agencies. And so the first agency I have, it’s Virtual Marketing Director Services. We go with VMD Services to shorten it because otherwise it’s a lot of words. And that entire agency is geared currently towards the medical industry, the medical niche. And so we work with orthodontists, plastic surgeons, podiatrists, physical therapists. We have a big variety, a couple of PCPs. A big variety of a bunch of different doctors. We’ve worked with — In the 11 years, I’d say we’ve probably worked with almost 500, maybe 600 different doctors. So it’s been interesting.
And then we also have my other agency which is CP Solutions and that one’s geared more towards our local businesses here in West Michigan. We work with a lot of nonprofits. We work with churches. We work with, you know, more of the smaller mom and pop shops. So yeah, a big variety. It’s kind of fun and different and interesting all at the same time.
Barbara: Sure. Every day is a different day.
Lori: It is for sure.
Barbara: What makes you different than other business leaders?
Lori: I would say we’re a lot more hands on as an agency which requires us to be a lot more hands on. Even just with our team, our culture is — I truly believe if you take care of your team, they’ll take care of your clients and then everything is right in the world, you know. We have a much bigger sense I think of hands on, listening to our team, listening to our clients. We work with them. My COO before the whole COVID thing hit, he was going out of state and traveling and visiting some of our clients, spending the day with them in their practices and in their businesses, learning what it was that they needed. I don’t know too many COOs that will do that, you know, honestly.
Barbara: I would agree there. Do you work with mostly local businesses?
Lori: No. A lot of — In the one agency, CP Solutions, yes, it is mainly local, West Michigan, probably going as far as Ludington and going down to say the Indiana border from say Lansing West. But for the VMD Services, not only is it coast to coast but we even have a couple of doctors in Canada.
Barbara: Well, I know that the women in the audience are going to really laugh at this one. But why do you believe that work-life balance is a myth?
Lori: Well, first of all, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as work-life balance. I think that you’re either really heavily involved with work for a season. And during that time, your life has a tendency to take a backseat, honestly. And then I think there are times where you have to shut business down, at least shut it out, not shut the business itself down but shut it out of your mind and focus on life. I think it’s one or the other. I’ve tried the whole balance thing. At least for me, it doesn’t work. And I haven’t spoken with another woman in business who’s a mother and a wife and I’m a grandmother, I’ve just never spoken with anybody who can tell me they’ve figured out that magic key.
Barbara: Well, that’s why some people feel that isolation maybe just what they needed to settle down and get that balance back in their life.
Lori: Yeah. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they actually are working more.
Barbara: What’s your answer to the struggle?
Lori: Oh, you know, like I said you have to learn how to shut that down, right? I mean, when I decide it’s time for me to take a vacation, I very specifically look for places to go where I’m not going to be able to even be reached online. They honestly can’t even call me. I look for places that — My husband and I, we actually live in Colorado. And so, one of our favorite places to go, there’s no cell service. There’s no internet service. There’s nothing. I mean, there’s electricity and running water but that’s about as good as it gets.
Barbara: That would make me really nervous.
Lori: I really like it. I mean, if we need help, we can get it. But yeah, there’s no phone service. There’s no internet service. There’s no cable TV. There’s nothing. I mean, if you want to learn about having to shut down and really, really just be present in the moment, you take electronics out of it. I know it’s a big deal right now. People are spending on average three to four extra hours a day tuned in to media.
Barbara: At least. Yeah.
Lori: That’s big. That’s a lot of time.
Barbara: You have such a big team from when you first started. How did you build it?
Lori: You know, the business kept growing itself. And one of the things that we’re a little bit different is we’re not an agency that believes in set it and forget it. That’s actually something I really struggle with when I talk to a lot of people who come to us from other agencies, is they’ve paid a lot of money and the agency set up their campaigns or something like that and they set it and forget it. And it isn’t until the client raises their hand that the agency jumps in and does something about it. And we just aren’t that way. Our struggle would be to continue to grow and balance that but then at the same time doing it a little different, making sure we don’t set it and forget it.
Barbara: Sure. Why are you an advocate for suicide prevention? It’s not due to a personal story involved in that, is it?
Lori: Unfortunately, it is. My oldest son was an Iraq vet. And when he came back, he came back and was struggling with PTSD in a big way. And he came back and he went on to become a teacher. He was a pilot and so he was teaching aviation. We thought everything was coming together well and it’s not. So mental health, PTSD. I’m a big, big advocate for our vets. It’s petrifying to me how they slip through the cracks. And so, when I am talking to people about suicide prevention, I am typically looking at our vets and what does that look like. I mean, on average, 21 vets a day commit suicide.
Barbara: Oh my!
Lori: It’s a scary statistic. It really is. And those are the ones we know about, right? Those are the ones that get reported that way. It’s just a really scary statistic and it’s a big reason why I do spend as much time as I do in outside activities working with people who need mentoring and the coaching and are looking for help and can’t get help. I have a heart for that unfortunately through personal circumstances. But I do think it’s important. And I think if you can do something about it and you can be a part of the solution, you should be.
Barbara: Well, I’m really sorry for the personal connection but I’m glad that you are actually doing something positive about it and turning it around. How can other people get involved and bring awareness to suicide prevention?
Lori: Yeah. I mean, there are a couple of different things. There is one. It’s called Walk Out of the Darkness and it’s a super easy way to get involved. You basically can — It’s in every city across the country. I mean, obviously right now, things are postponed because you’re not supposed to meet in groups. But this particular Walk Out of the Darkness, what they do is you sign on. You can sign up as yourself. You can sign up as a team. You gain sponsorships through that and then you walk. Sometimes, it’s a small couple of miles.
They also have one called Walk Through the Night and you literally walk an entire night. So it’s very, very interesting and it’s a really good way to get involved without feeling like you’re going to get put on the spot. You’re just building support. They take that money and they use that to bring awareness, to bring suicide lines on track, getting counselors for that in place, making sure lower income and families that are in need that maybe don’t have health insurance and can’t get to a counselor that they can get the help they need. So it’s an extremely worthy cause. I would definitely — I think that’s the easiest and the first place to start.
Barbara: Well, thanks for that tip. What kind of mentoring and coaching do you do to help those struggling with life obstacles?
Lori: Yeah. So, this kind of falls in line with the same thing. I’ve worked with a number of different groups when it comes to what we call the underemployed or unemployed. I work with groups where people are looking for jobs and they just can’t find it. I think that’s going to be a really big deal coming here post COVID. There are going to be a lot of unemployed, underemployed people. But basically, we sit down and we walk them through the whole, entire process.
Everything from interview skills, building a resume, helping them figure out how to use online searches. And it depends. I mean, I’ve worked with people who have doctorates and were just not working in the field of their choice and they needed to figure out how to get there. And they were smart. They were crazy, crazy smart people and they just didn’t know where to start to get themselves into the position they wanted to be. We’ve worked with everything from people who, maybe they’re multigenerational that’s been living through the welfare system or people straight out of prison and all the way up to like I said people with masters and doctorates. It’s definitely not, it doesn’t favor one type of person or not. It’s just who needs help.
Barbara: Absolutely. Well, this crisis is definitely changing the landscape of everyone regardless of the walks of life that they’re in or the professions that they’re in. I know from my medical clients the question that they’re going to have is for those who are using telemedicine for the first time so that they don’t lose touch with their patients. The question will be whether they continue using telemedicine or whether they go back to just seeing their patients directly in the office.
Lori: Yeah. I really hope that the doctors are not thinking that that’s going to happen. I mean, yeah, obviously they’re going to be seeing their patients in the office again but I think they need to prepare. I think that this is going to be a new, this is going to change the landscape completely. I think that cold and flu season, right, they may not — Here in Michigan, my goodness, that’s October through March. Yeah.
Barbara: Excuse me. Sorry.
Lori: I just did. I mean, it’s crazy. Everybody is sick here for six months. And so, if you’re here in Michigan or if you’re in a colder climate, you have to sit there and think, okay, what if they do this again? What if we go under stay home again, stay home orders again and it’s for three or four or five months? I mean, that’s crazy. So I think —
Barbara: People don’t want to sit in the waiting room with other sick people. That’s for sure.
Barbara: And I think also now that people have gotten the taste of seeing their doctors online they’re not going to be so eager to give that up.
Lori: Oh, heavens, no. Think about the amount of time it saves. You know, you’re not having to drive there. You’re not having to sit in the waiting room. You’re told show up online at 2 o’clock and they do. Then the next question becomes, what happens? How does technology support that, right? We already have computers that start with the touch of our fingers. So then does that become a way where they can use biometrics to take blood pressures, to take temperatures? I mean, you got to start thinking down that road because I think that’s what we’re going to see coming. In fact, I know that there’s a lot of products whose manufacturing dates just got pumped up.
Barbara: Yeah, absolutely. So, for those people that may not be really well versed in technology, what tips do you have for them?
Lori: Well, it’s really going to boil down to the doctors. The doctors are going to have to make whatever system they use and there’s a lot of different telemedicine systems out there. A lot of people are doing it in ways they shouldn’t because of HIPAA. I mean, HIPAA is still going to be a big concern, right? I mean, it just is. It always is. But I do think that doctors are going to have to figure out a way to make it easy and how to help those that struggle with technology. Not everybody likes technology but if that’s what’s going to become more of a normal — I’m not going to say it is going to be the normal but I’m going to say it’s more of a normal. It’s going to be more common at least. I think the first thing is doctors really have to figure out how to make technology easy and how to walk their patients through using technology. And my first tip is use video. People can follow a video way better than they can follow written instruction.
Barbara: I think you’re right. And I think that the need for and desire for video is really skyrocketing over the last year or two. People that choose not to use it or do not choose to entertain the thought of that are really going to be left in the dust.
Lori: Yeah. I agree. And I think that video can be so useful with telemedicine because, you know, if you’re a doctor and you’re asking a patient, you know what, I’m going to need you to take your temperature. Here’s the best way to do so. Or if you’re a pediatrician, I need you to come prepared with your child’s temperature. Here’s how we do it.
Barbara: Oh, absolutely. For doctors, there are so many, many, many how-to videos that you could pinpoint and focus on.
Lori: Yeah, yeah. And make it easy for people to submit medication lists, right? So, give them the ability to do some of this stuff using technology, going online, you know, really thinking that out. I think we’re going to see a lot of apps come out. I think doctors are going to start building their own apps. In fact, I know they are because we’ve already been asked about it. And they are specifically looking for ways of collecting information from patients remotely.
Barbara: Do you build apps for people?
Lori: We typically farm those out. I’m not going to say I’m going to continue to farm those out because, you know, I’m in business. I have to think about best ways to also pivot right now. And I think app development is going to be the biggest way to go.
Barbara: Yes. You know, you could tell that it’s going to be hot for the future when the Apple stores start having classes for free for children to learn how to do an app.
Lori: Oh yeah, yeah. And it doesn’t require — You know, I mean, when I started business — Oh my goodness, about a year into my business, I decided I was going to build an app that doctors could use with an iPad in their office. And oh my goodness, I think after I invested maybe $60,000 or $65,000 into it, I ended up deciding to cut bait and not use it.
Lori: Yeah. It was a huge learning lesson. And what’s so frustrating is now there’s an app out there just like it. I’m like oh man. But you know, at the time, it was proving to be very arduous.
Lori: The red tape involved. And then it was so new at the time and that was part of the problem, is I guess I was a little ahead of my time there because —
Barbara: Well, you know what they say, the trailblazers are the ones that get the arrows in the back.
Lori: Yeah. Well, I would say that exists because like I said that exact same app now is out there. It drives me crazy. In fact, I even had to go back and make sure there wasn’t some kind of a patent infringement on it because we were patented as well. So it was kind of weird.
Barbara: How can listeners get in touch with you if they’d like to speak to you about an app or anything else that piqued their interest from your conversation?
Lori: Yeah. I mean, the best way to do so would be to reach out to me through email. They can reach me at Lori, L-O-R-I, at VMD Services dot com. They’re also welcome to reach out to us at our podcast email which is podcast@B, the letter B, the number 4, happy hour. So, it’s email@example.com.
Barbara: Well, thanks so much for being our guest today. It was really fun.
Lori: Thank you. It was great being here. Thank you, Barbara.
Barbara: This is another episode of Marketing Tips for Doctors with your host, Dr. Barbara Hales. Until next time.
Connect with Lori Hibma:
Facebook: VMD Services
YouTube: VMD Services
Connect with Barbara Hales:
Show website: www.MarketingTipsForDoctors.com