How (and Why) to Create a Referral Network

For Massage Professionals

It takes a lot to keep a steady stream of new clients coming through your door. The good news: is that not all of your marketing has to be paid marketing – in fact, a lot of it SHOULDN’T be paid marketing. Your potential clients recognizes paid marketing when they see it – paid marketing is great for getting recognized and building familiarity, but it takes a lot of paid marketing for your potential client to want to hit that “book now” button. Potential clients need to feel like they know, like and trust you before they are willing to commit to booking with you – that can take 8 to 12 impressions from you before they are ready to commit. There is a faster way – Referrals!! By referring someone, we are lending our trust factor to that person. Potential clients feel that if they trust the person giving the referral, they can also trust the person they are being referred to.

Referrals work best when they are a 2 way street. Its beneficial if both parties involved benefit. If you refer to a physiotherapist who has a massage therapist in office that they tell your clients that they should see instead of you, it hurts both of you. Your clients will wonder why the physio does not recommend you and the physio looses respect for only recommending their own business and not the best in the field.

What you need before you approach referral partners

In order to approach others who you would like to refer to and would like to refer you to, you need promotional materials for them to hand out and display to their customers. Business cards are a must! Business cards are your cheapest piece of marketing that you should always have on you. They do not have to be expensive or even fancy to be effective. I love Vistaprint for their wide selection of pre-made cards and how easy and affordable they are to use. Tip: I buy Business Card magnets – they are from staples and make your business card heavier (so they stand out and are harder to lose) and people stick them on their fridge so they see my business card every time they go to their fridge! Brochures are great if you have a lot to explain – like services that need a description or your business has a unique theme. The best marketing material you can hand out is a rack card. They have enough room for a short description of you or your business, a list of your services and prices, a photo of you, your business or a map of where you’re located and your logo with a design on the front. What makes rack cards so great is that the information on them is concise enough that people read it (unlike a brochure) and they are larger than a business card so they get noticed and not shoved into a pocket or the bottom of a purse (unlike a business card). Whatever marketing materials you go with, it should have your branding/logo, your business name, your name, contact details and some place online where they can learn more about you. If you have a strong social media presence on your business page (Instagram, Facebook, Linked In) then this is a great place to direct potential clients. Another great place is a web page. Where ever you have a more professional online image is where you should direct your potential clients to.

So lets look at who makes a good referral partner, how to set up a referral with others and how to keep yourself front of mind in your partners mind.

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Local Referrals

Local referrals are a great way to capture potential clients who are already in your area. Look for businesses within a 10 km radius of your practice. Small  businesses that are owned by locals are great businesses to create referrals with – Bakeries, clothing shops, florists, retail shops and handmade goods creators are all great examples. Going to these kinds of businesses is a great way to create that 2 way street. Offering to use their service as gifts or displaying some of their goods for sale in your location is great exposure for them. You could also look at having some of their goods in your clinic as something for you clients – such as flowers at your reception desk or baked goods for your clients in your waiting room. If they are willing to offer you a discount on these kinds of samples for displaying their company as well as being a regular customer, this could be a great advantage to you both. But don’t be offended if this is not possible or if they are not interested in this kind of exchange. They may not see it as what their business needs. Most businesses will not say no to exchanging business cards or brochures, so make sure to bring some with you.

Other local businesses to look for are service businesses that you are not in competition with. These businesses could include gyms or personal trainers, yoga or fitness studios, hair salons and spas as well as child care facilities. These businesses are just like you – constantly looking for a steady stream of new clients. Doing exchanges such as gift card exchanges/raffles, putting their business cards in your displays or in your retail bags or just offer word of mouth referrals is awesome.

One other local business that is great to partner with is real estate agents. Real estate agents are always dealing with clients that are new to the area and are needing to know who to go to. Real Estate agents are also always looking for gifts to give to clients who just made one of the biggest purchases of their life: a house. Real estate agents are great to partner with for introductions as well as gift certificates.

BNI – Business Networking International.

BNI is a business networking group that is designed with the sole intention of creating a referral network. There is a huge PRO and a huge CON to this strategy. PRO – only one person from each industry is allowed to sit on each chapter – so you are the only Massage Therapist that your peers will be referring to and there are a lot of different professionals that will be sitting on your chapter that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. CON – there is both a time and financial cost to belonging. BNI chapters meet for about 2 hours once a week and it costs about +$700 a year to join. While this sounds expensive, it only takes 2 referrals a month to pay for itself and most massage therapists get 12 + referrals per month – so it MORE than pays for itself. To find out if this is a good fit for you, visit a local chapter meeting. It’s free to be a visitor to find out if your chapter is a good fit for you.

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Professional Referrals Partners

As the saying goes “When in doubt – refer out”, but make a connection with those professionals that you are referring out to. While other referral partnerships  work really well with simply introducing yourself, I really encourage you to get to know your professional referrals more closely. I have often gone out for coffee with other professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and other specialized professionals to talk to them and get to know them. I will ask questions like “ How do I describe what you do to my clients so that they see the reason and the benefit as to why I am sending them to you?”, “Who is the ideal candidate for your treatment?”, “How do you differ from others in your field?” and “Who should I not refer to you?”. I have also partnered with some of my professional referral partners to offer education to both of our clientele bases. We have partnered on things like mental health, headaches and migraines, injury prevention for athletes and self care. By having more than one professional on these education series, it makes it that much more valuable as well as building better relationships with your own clientele because you are offering them a deeper value. Trading services with these professionals can also be very valuable. By referring to someone that you have personally seen, you are able to speak to your results and experience. You want those professionals that are referring to you to be able to speak to that same level about you – I never shy away from treating other professionals – even if it’s a gift. Referrals to other professionals, even if you are not getting as many referrals back in return, boost your rapport with your clients. When you are willing to refer out, it sends a clear message to your clients – “ I have your best interest in mind above my own bottom line”.

Organizations and events for Referrals

Getting involved with different organizations and events can be a great way to get referrals as well. Some of these may cost you something, such as a promotional gift or your time, but are often worth it. The Running Room holds clinics for people wanting to learn how to run. They bring in local professionals to give a 20 minute presentation that gives valuable information to their students on running but also gives the professional exposure. I have been a guest in Running Room clinics for a few years now and have found it a great way to meet potential clients. I give the students a promotional gift such as a golf ball or tennis ball for working out knots or rolling out the arches of their feet or a bag of Epsom salts with essential oils. Local sports teams will often have volunteer massage therapists at games or competitions doing sports massage as well as giving first aide. I have been on the medical team for different sports events and often athletes will ask for my cards (and sometimes even spectators.) Giving a promotional gift or a gift certificate to go in baskets from the welcome wagon is a great way to gain exposure with potential clients that will be looking for new professionals to see in their new area. Being at trade shows or conferences is another great way to gain exposure – whether its offering chair massage services or just donating a gift as a raffle draw, it is often a way to gain exposure to a lot of people in a very short period of time as well as network with others in this field. I have attended health and wellness fairs, women’s wellness weekends and even hockey tournaments that have had trade fairs for spectators. A word of caution with organizations and events: some offers will come along and promise big “exposure” but ask a lot of you – such as a large donation for prizes and doing a lot of work for very little or no return. Make sure to ask a lot of questions when being asked to give to these events – for instance “How do you plan to promote me?”, “How many people will be attending this event?”, “Will I be expected to be there at this event and be able to talk to people?”. For example – I was once asked to provide essential oil diffusers for a charity event. The organizer said I came highly recommended and that they wanted a concert hall to smell like freshly baked cookies. They gave me an essential oil blend they wanted me to provide – which included some very expensive oils. When I started asking questions, I saw that there was not as much “exposure” as they were hyping it up to be.  They wanted me to give them a lot and in return I was given the opportunity to put an item in their silent auction (the prize was the only place I was allowed to put any marketing materials) and I could have a small table in the hallway entering into the concert hall to man. I decided to pass but had wondered if I had made a mistake. I talked to a few others that had participated in the event and they had received 0 benefit from being at the event. Before saying yes to anything you are getting involved in, ask yourself – Would I be interested in finding a Massage Therapist at this event or would I even notice? Go with your gut on that answer because your first instinct is exactly what others on the receiving end will be feeling.

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Social Media for Referral Partnerships

Lets face it- Social Media is huge for getting in front of our potential clients and staying front of mind for our current clients. However, it is sometimes really hard coming up with new content that is really meaningful and relevant to our practice. It's also really hard growing an audience constantly. That’s where partnering with your referral partners can really help your social media stay fresh and consistent. Doing Facebook or Instagram lives with your referral partners about how your modalities compliment each other, or posting a picture of the flowers in your clinic with a tag to your florist or a picture of you doing yoga at your local yoga studio are all things that are relevant to your business and to theirs. You can also advertise events for your partners on your page or better yet, host event together, such as educational webinars or open houses. If your referral partners have blogs or podcasts, offer to be a guest on their content. Doing giveaways where you partner with multiple pages is another amazing way to boost everyone’s audience in a very short amount of time. Just be cautious not to ask too much of your following too often and are posting meaningful, engaging posts as well.

Nurturing these relationships

Its one thing to create these partnerships, but they mean very little if you do not nurture the  relationship to stay front of mind in your referral partners mind. I send these referral partners little gifts from time to time to say thank-you for their business. For example – I’ll send cookies as birthday presents or business anniversaries, a Christmas wreath at Christmas time and a hand written note here and there to say thanks. I also make sure that when I use their business products or services that I leave a google or Facebook review to pump up their business. I will also call from time to time to ask if they need me to drop off some more marketing materials or to ask if I can have more of theirs if I run out. By nurturing these relationships, more and more opportunities will arise to give and receive more referrals.

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