Close to 90% of new clientele came to my business through my referral network

Not only were my existing clients recommending me to their family and friends; I also had a network of medical professionals recommending my services to their patients.

So, if anyone tells you that word-of-mouth isn’t effective, don’t believe them. The benefits of a professional referral network include:

1. Low-to-zero cost of acquisition. Advertising can be expensive, and you can burn through a lot of money for little or no return. You need a budget and time to test variations of headlines, text and images before you can identify a winning ad and start to scale.

This usually requires a sizeable marketing budget. Many businesses look to the services of media buyers to run and track their ads. This extra monthly outlay on top of the ad cost can become very expensive.Word-of-mouth and referral marketing are low-risk and virtually free.

2. Higher client lifetime value. Your referral partners understand your business. They know who your ideal client is and how many treatments, on average, will make up the treatment plan.

You can ask your referral partners to set realistic expectations at the time of referral. This could be as simple as suggesting the minimum number of treatments to expect.

Referrals from doctors and specialists carry a lot of weight. You can establish a high level of trust via a professional endorsement. This means the client is more likely to comply and commit to a long-term treatment plan.

3. More compliant clients. You’ve established your authority, expertise and trustworthiness by way of the professional referral. Because of this, the client feels confident in your care and is more likely to follow your advice.

Positive outcomes are more likely when the client commits to the treatment plan. This includes any additional home-based stretching, strengthening exercises and lifestyle adjustments.

As you continue to get results for your clients, your reputation will grow and spread. Plus, getting results for their patients makes your referral partners look good. As their confidence in you grows, so will the number of patients they refer to you.

Build Your Professional Referral Network

The professionals you’ll reach out to will vary depending on the focus of your business. For example, as a clinical massage therapist who specialized in pain and injury management, I targeted medical professionals: general practitioners, physical therapists, chiropractors and pain specialist physicians.

The best professionals to approach are the ones your clients are already seeing. Take note of the services your clients are already using and devise a plan to get their attention. For me, my ideal clients were sitting in the waiting rooms of doctors and physical therapists, so targeting these medical professionals was an obvious choice.

If you’re into the medical side of massage, then getting doctors on board is great for business. The problem is, how do you get yourself in front of them to present your services? How can you gain their trust and prove you are a reliable referral partner?

Doctors are protected by gatekeepers — and with good reason. Every day, drug company reps, specialists and other health professionals bombard the doctor, all wanting to get their products and services endorsed.

Getting doctors to give you the time of day, let alone convincing them to see massage as a viable referral option, can be tough.

I found a more stealth approach to work wonders. I like to get my happy clients to do the heavy lifting for me.

You have to be selective in who you ask. Only use this approach with clients you’ve nurtured and have a good relationship with. You want to make sure the client is happy with the treatment outcomes. Then you simply ask them to mention you to their doctor or specialist. It’s even better if you’ve achieved results other practitioners and modalities couldn’t.

You also have to be strategic. You don’t want to bring referral partners on board if their patients don’t fit your ideal client profile. This is how I was able to get a pain specialist physician and a doctor to start referring patients without meeting me.

Referral partnerships need to be nurtured. So, I made a point of meeting with the pain specialist to thank him for the referrals and discuss co-treatment protocols.

Another method I found very effective was “strategically” offering complimentary 30-minute treatments. I only offered a free treatment to health professionals who met my criteria of being able to refer quality clients. By giving them a free treatment, they got to experience firsthand exactly what it was I was offering: what the treatment felt like, how effective it was, and whether they got an outcome.

During this time, I was able to explain who my ideal clients were, where I got the best results, and who would benefit most from my treatments.

This ensured the health professional would be able to identify high-quality clients for my services. They would also know what my treatment protocol entailed and could give the client an idea of the number of treatments required. This way, a more realistic expectation of treatment outcomes was set at the time of referral. By the time the client got to see me, they understood the need for a treatment plan.

When working with a professional network, you can also request the way referrals are made. Do you want their receptionist to call and make the appointment on the spot (this was my preferred method)? Do you want them to give the referred client your contact details and recommend they call? Or, do you prefer a letter of referral detailing the issue, past treatments and other information?

Building a professional referral network is my business-building method of choice. Word-of-mouth referral is not only cost-effective; it also provides you with a higher-quality client. This can make your work life much more enjoyable.

About the author

tim cooper

Tim Cooper is a business and marketing strategist and a wellness industry specialist. He is the founder and co-host of the Global Wellness Professionals Marketing Summit and also provides marketing courses tailored to the needs of wellness professionals.

[Online] Read “How to Network Your Way to a Physician’s Massage Prescription,” by Justin Cottle, on