Every massage client has 167 hours each week to undo the work we accomplish in a one-hour weekly session. We know it’s important that clients make lifestyle changes, exercise and stretch between massage sessions—but our scope of practice limits the advice and recommendations we can give to our clients in regard to dietary suggestions, supplementation, exercise and other self-help activities.
This is why building a referral network of like-minded professionals enhances your services, contributes to clients’ overall health and increases your clientele.
Unless you live in a very remote area, hundreds of health-and-wellness professionals reside within a distance of your practice that makes client referrals practical. These might include chiropractors, physical therapists, orthopedic doctors, sports medicine professionals, nutritionists, personal trainers, acupuncturists, and other professionals whose work complements your approach to care. Even as you develop a list of people to include on your team, talk with your clients to see which professionals they use.
Ask your friends, family and clients who they recommend for your list, and why. This will help keep your list focused and more effective than it would by just opening the phone book to find health professionals.
Schedule some time to meet with professionals on your list. An effective way to do this is by hosting an open house where these people can get to know you and your business.
To host a successful open house, you should:
- Invite six to 12 health care professionals to your place of business for a one-hour open house. You might hold one event for chiropractors, one for massage colleagues, and so on.
- Have plenty of business cards, brochures and other marketing materials available for guests. Goodie bags with your materials should also be provided to all attendees, to take back to their offices.
- Plan for a lot of socializing and only a small portion of the event for a formal presentation. Offer beverages and finger foods.
- Include in your presentation a tour of your facility with demonstration or explanations of your services. Reinforce how massage therapy can enhance and complement the services your guests offer. After the presentation, allow for questions. Schedule a time to meet with each professional to explain how your massage services will complement her practice.
- Take notes pertaining to each person you talked with, and follow up with a thank-you card. In the card, remind each recipient of your services and how they can assist his practice.
Following your open house, go back to your original list and start editing names and prioritizing based on whom you would refer to first. This prioritization should be based on the reputation of the health professional and your new relationship with him.
Unlike physicians, sports medicine professionals or hospitals that tend to be limited in number or locations within a specific area, chiropractors, health clubs and personal trainers are numerous. I still recommend identifying three to five chiropractors who have a philosophy similar to yours or who have techniques and results that will partner with yours. It is beneficial to include on your list multiple trainers who work independently or at a variety of health facilities. You can recommend trainers who travel or belong to a specific health facility to those clients who do not have a trainer or a gym membership.
Keep Your Referral Network Fresh
One of the most important components of having a referral network is keeping the relationships fresh. Just as you send thank-you and holiday cards to clients, do so for the people in your network as well. It is also important to refer clients to your referral network, as this relationship needs to be a two-way street.
When you have a client who is in a lot of pain, or you notice something that is beyond your abilities, refer the client to these health professionals. During or after the session, ask the client if she is seeing a chiropractor or working with a personal trainer at her gym. If she isn’t, refer her to someone in your network and explain to the client why you are making the referral. Give her one of your business cards with a note or two about her session outcome written on the back, to give to the professional you are referring her to. This will help build your referral network. If the client already sees a chiropractor or personal trainer, I always add that professional’s name to my list.
Don’t Give Up
Even if a health care professional has a staff of massage therapists or does not refer out to massage therapy services, do not get discouraged by this. The professional may just find himself a little lower on your referral list. (For example, I refer to a chiropractor who has his own staff of massage therapists, but if he knows a client is seeing me, he will tell the client to continue to see me. Oftentimes, he will let clients know what he would like me to emphasize with their sessions.)
Some massage therapists neglect to add massage therapists to their referral network of health professionals. I have even heard therapists wonder why they would refer a client to a competitor. My response is it is beneficial to develop a close relationship with massage colleagues who are experts in modalities you do not offer or are not trained in. When you come across a client who would benefit from another approach to care, refer him to that therapist—and in turn, ask that massage therapist to refer to you clients who need work in your area of specialty.
It is important to customize your marketing information to each health profession you network with. For example, many of my massage clients partake of sessions with personal trainers. With personal trainers, it is important to understand how massage can complement their clients’ goals by removing muscular restrictions, allowing more freedom of movement and enhanced muscular contractions. Therapeutic approaches can enhance recovery time, and sports approaches can help the weekend warriors or amateur athletes they see. Testimonials from your current athletic clients can help reinforce the partnership between exercise and massage.
If you cannot show how your services will enhance or complement a health professional’s services, there will be no reason for her to refer clients to you. A generic menu of services will not benefit health professionals’ knowledge of your practice. Instead, highlight the unique modalities you offer; provide testimonials from your clients and other health professionals; and include a description of your training. You must understand how your skills will support and enhance various types of health professionals’ scopes of practice, in order to convey that understanding to them.
For example, physical therapists oftentimes utilize electrical stimulation, ultrasound, exercise, manual manipulation and stretching to support client rehabilitation. Some physical therapists may not see massage services as valuable to rehabilitation, or see them as valuable only for relaxation and maintenance.
Include Client Testimonials
However, if you offer specialty techniques such as myofascial release, CranioSacral Therapy, or sports or orthopedic massage, highlight those techniques in your marketing materials and explain how they will help clients once their prescriptions run out. Ask some of your clients to write testimonials regarding the benefits of their sessions with you, specific to pain management and rehabilitation. Stress the importance of addressing the lifestyle changes necessary to create overall health and well-being.
As noted, many chiropractors have massage therapists on staff at their offices. You can still demonstrate how your areas of specialty and your adjunct services can complement their current massage services. Some chiropractors offer a limited menu of options to their clients, mostly consisting of deep tissue or medical massage, or myofascial release. They do not always have the ability to offer a holistic approach that includes energy modalities, sports massage or simple relaxation approaches. You will want to find out what services the chiropractors in your area offer, and develop marketing materials to show how your massage practice can complement their services.
Building a referral network requires time and effort, but the rewards to your practice are well worth it. Begin by creating a list of health professionals who will complement your business and services. This should include both allopathic and complementary caregivers. Talk with your clients about who they currently see and recommend, then add these names to the list of people you have relationships with.
Continue to build your list, send out personal announcements and offer an open house. It is important to provide marketing materials to health care professionals and refer your clients to them to generate reciprocal referrals. Continue to work on each relationship with referrals and communication to keep it fresh.
Most health professionals operate their practices on evidence-based approaches, so you will need to communicate with them on their level for them to support you and your practice. Utilizing research articles, impeccable editing and client testimonials customized for each health field will better support your practice and build your professional referral network.
About the Author
Jeffrey A. Simancek has been in the health-and-wellness industry for 20 years, as a personal trainer and massage therapist (facebook.com/ wolftracksmassagetherapy). He has a bachelor’s degree in health science, is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved continuing education provider, and is a California-certified massage therapist.