The award-winning agency helping pharmacies move to a digital future
Pharmacy Mentor’s passion for delivering simple technical solutions to the many challenges facing pharmacy teams wowed the judges at the C+D Awards 2022
It is said that if you don't make mistakes, you don't make anything. Saam Ali, CEO and founder of Pharmacy Mentor, a Sheffield-based digital marketing and development solutions company, knows that first-hand as he has built the company up from a one-man operation to a 25-strong award-winning agency.
Pharmacy Mentor has already offered clients support with challenges such as advertising and social media for several years. But with the COVID-19 pandemic driving marked changes in patient behaviour, the team realised they needed to offer a more comprehensive package that would fit the needs of each individual client.
In February 2022, the team got to work building an all-in-one solution that pharmacies can purchase and “plug in” to their own website, which they named the Ultimate Pharmacy Website (UPW). Among its many features, the UPW allows users to speak virtually with patients, take services bookings and process both NHS and private prescriptions online, while also taking payment for them.
This innovative idea was lauded for being “practical, useful and supportive”, leading to it winning the Online Initiative of the Year category at the C+D Awards 2022.
Following Pharmacy Mentor’s awards success, Saam talks to C+D about the company’s growth to date and its big plans for the future.
Tell us more about you
I am a pharmacist by trade and have been a pharmacist since 2006. I studied at Strathclyde University in Glasgow and I grew up in Boots the Chemist. They moulded me into a pharmacist. I stayed with [the company] for around seven years and [held] all sorts of roles, from building clinics to managing stores and pharmacy management.
But then I decided to have a bit of a career change. I took a year out and followed a passion of mine, which has always been digital and building websites. That’s kind of the seed of where Pharmacy Mentor began, really. After I took some time out from the coalface and dived headfirst into the digital sphere, I understood that there was such a lack of digital presence within pharmacies, especially independent pharmacies.
They didn’t have good websites or [a website at all], which is your primary digital footprint. They weren’t harnessing really important tools like Facebook for marketing, or they had no idea about Google Ads or what they could do with their Google profile online. So that’s how it started really.
Tell us more about Pharmacy Mentor
Pharmacy Mentor started off as an online course originally and it was teaching pharmacists and pharmacy owners how to harness Facebook and Twitter to drive their businesses. So how to use social media to attract and engage the community around them. That started to do well but the pharmacy owners [who] signed up would get like ten lectures in and call me and say “Saam, we understand this is important now [but] can you just do it for us?” That’s how it spanned into an agency. That was back in 2017. That’s six years ago, but [for] the past decade, I’ve been within the digital sphere.
In total, we had a fair few hundred free users, but those who had paid were around 40 or 50 in total. We do still make the odd sale on the website there because the course is still up, although it does need updating.
Now we work with around 500 pharmacies across the UK, and we offer a very broad range of digital services.
Yes, we absolutely do social media [because] it works and it is very important. But some other powerful services we offer that are driving lots of business are search engine optimisation, paid ads across Facebook, Instagram and Google, building websites of all complexities now, virtual prescribing systems, e-commerce systems and we do quite a bit of branding. The transition from just selling courses to [becoming] an actual agency where we are doing service delivery changed the game, really.
I was working with one employee and a couple of contractors for a few months until 2019 [just before] COVID-19 hit. I think it was a combination of COVID-19 and actually shouting quite heavily on social media about how important going digital is right now [that helped] us to surf the COVID-19 wave. From then on, we started growing exponentially and now we are a team of 25 developers, creatives, marketers and pharmacists all helping pharmacies of various sizes and businesses across the UK.
We also have built a couple of pharmacy websites for pharmacies in Australia. We’re also getting quite a bit of traction from Canada and the US. It’s early days on the international side but we’re starting to get noticed. They really liked what we were doing for the UK sector, and I do think they have [clinical] services over there, but I think they just wanted to try us, really. It’s nothing too dissimilar to what we’re doing in the UK. They’re very happy with the website we’ve built. Now we’re marketing for them. So, everything we’re doing is highly translatable to other countries.
What does the UPW offer?
The UPW is a product that has been brought about by an understanding of the way pharmacy was going and is going, the demand from pharmacy owners and our general vision for pharmacy and our mission. It’s a website but it pretty much digitises most components of a physical pharmacy.
We’re still refining some of the processes, but I think we’re going to start pushing it pretty heavily across the sector over the next couple of months.
With any growing business – any other business owner will agree – building businesses is never plain sailing. We’ve definitely had to overcome plenty of hurdles.
Pharmacy Mentor has been built on a lot of mistakes. So we’ve tried one thing, it hasn’t worked. We’ve done it a different way and it’s worked better and we’re constantly trying stuff. For example, the UPW itself, we tried to build it one way, but we came stuck because of the barriers that the current third-party solutions were offering. So we had to scrap that and build it in an entirely new way. It’s fully bespoke now with custom code. But that means we’ve got super flexibility and it’s not breaking as much as the previous build.
We spent so much money and time and resources in building it one way, [then] realised, “This is non-scalable, we can’t do this, the clients are getting agitated. We’ve got to build it in another way.” But then, that being said, we’ve built it this way now, we’re helping pharmacies generate revenue online, which is great, and pharmacies and patients are booking in for the services, but now we’re looking at another more centralised tool to build. It’s understanding what’s working, what’s not working and then looking to improve even more. So, yes, plenty of challenges.
Tell us about winning a C+D Award
That award is so awesome. We are so, so happy to [have] received that award. It’s one of those awards that is like the Oscars for pharmacy. In terms of business, it’s solidified us as award winners within the digital space and that’s powerful.
It certainly helps us with our marketing. We’ve added the Awards to our website, it’s in the footer of our e-mail. It certainly adds to credibility for a business in pharmacy; you listen to it.
I am going to continue growing Pharmacy Mentor and refining what we are offering and listening to pharmacy owners to understand what they want, making sure we are delivering nothing but an exceptional service for our pharmacies and helping them grow.
Our five-year plan is pretty nuts. We are building customised pharmacy client dashboards so they can track their growth better and we are continuing to refine the UPW. We’ve also got some custom applications being built. For the next five years, we aim to work with more than 1,000 pharmacies, potentially internationally also. So we’ve got some big plans.
The C+D Awards 2023 will take place at The Brewery in London on September 6. Could you or one of your colleagues be crowned as a C+D Award winner? Check out all the categories for the 2023 awards and enter today.