When it comes to marketing and getting more clinician referrals, it’s a lot like the proverbial chicken and the egg. Which comes first?
It’s a fair question for new practices and healthcare businesses, who have a long list of tasks to manage for launching and running the business. Referrals, obviously, bring in exponentially more new patients or clients than any early marketing initiative, but without a solid online presence, those who hear of your practice or business have no way to learn more.
A user-friendly website, along with a social media presence that speak to the pain points of your audience and demonstrate that you are the right person to support them can go a long way to finding more clients or patients and filling up your practice. One rookie mistake in a new website for a private practice is making the website all about you, sort of like a beautiful, digital resume. Lisa Catallo from Your Practice Your Way says, “Have a good website that speaks to your ideal client more than about you.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule that every clinician needs a website to start out. If you’re in a rural area with limited competition or work in a tight-knit community where everyone already knows you, you might be able to get away with just hanging out your shingle. My dentist recently retired and managed decades of business in a private practice with little to no marketing. He also had no computer and didn’t accept credit cards.
For most people, though, building up and maintaining a reputation takes time and work. But together, best practices in marketing and consistent effort to get more clinician referrals can fill up your appointments.
Getting more clinician referrals when you’re first starting out
When you’re starting out your practice or healthcare business, spending lots of money you don’t have on marketing is not the best idea. What you can do, though, is create a DIY website with clear calls to action so that people can contact you. A website is today’s virtual version of putting a sign up on your storefront. Without either, it’s hard for anyone to know you exist.
I shared the basics of creating your first website in this blog: How to create your first practice website.
You can also grab a workbook that will help you know what to include on your website and how to write it.
Right after you tell your mom you’re starting a new business, the next one to inform is Google. Creating a Google Business page is essential so that when people Google you, ta-da!, your business shows instead of your old job or your family’s blog. Here’s how to set up or manage your Google Business account.
The same goes for LinkedIn. Update your photo, headline and current job there. Here’s a crash course on using LinkedIn for clinicians, which I highly recommend if your audience is hanging out there.
Becky DeGrossa from Counseling Wise recommends doing your homework before deciding which directories to invest your time and money in. “One of the most effective ways to begin narrowing your list of directories that feature the best therapy websites is to Google each of your specialties, along with your geographic area, e.g. ‘Anxiety Treatment Denver,’ or ‘Marriage Counseling Dallas.'”
Once you create your profile, you can begin to network with other clinicians in your area in similar fields, as well as those in entirely different ones. Cast your net far and wide because you never know who’s getting calls from clients or patients they aren’t set up to serve (or don’t want to).
Using social media to get more clinician referrals
Social media is a powerful tool for your practice or business, and you’ll reap the benefits once you put in the time. Having a strategy and staying consistent are key. Allison Puryear, from Abundance Practice Building, admits that DIY social media isn’t for everyone, though. If you’re really resistant to putting yourself out there, you’re probably better off getting help. She says, “I think social can be so powerful and it is an amazing tool. It’s a shovel and, if you would rather just use a trowel, use a trowel. The shovel might get you there faster.”
The channel you use for social media networking will depend on where your colleagues and potential referral partners are hanging out, as well as where you feel comfortable sharing content. Lisa Catallo recommends finding out where your ideal audience is going and then network there.
Allison has seen the power of social media firsthand for her therapy practice, as well as for her business to help clinicians grow their practices. Key to making referrals happen on social media is to be…social! Jumping in to ask for referrals to a new connection without getting to know each other is a little like asking to move in together on the first date. Allison recommends doing what she does instead:
“We can end up re-sharing and commenting on each other’s content. I get clear on if they’re aligned with my value system and the way that I work with people. You can basically have this clinical conversation through memes and posts that allows you to see whether or not it’s somebody you would trust your clients with and vice versa.”
While Allison primarily uses Instagram for social media marketing, expert marketer and author Mark Schaefer shares a similar networking strategy on LinkedIn. He says that a good networking strategy depends on a “bank of goodwill.”
“If you make enough deposits in the bank of goodwill, at some point, you can feel entitled to make a withdrawal — asking for a favor in return. That’s how an online networking strategy works. So when anybody comes out of the blue asking to call me, show me a demo, or sell me something, it NEVER works, because they have not made a deposit in the bank of goodwill. They are just strangers trying to get my precious time for free.”
Boost your reviews to help you get more clinician referrals
Getting more Google reviews can lead to improved reputation and more referrals. But getting them usually means asking for them. Consider your own behavior, and you’ll likely see that people don’t typically leave reviews unless they’re angry or over-the-top delighted. Most of us move on after using a product or business without leaving a review.
Adam Kae, who is a virtual CFO for healthcare business says, “The reason most people don’t provide raving reviews is that the business doesn’t ask for them. Even if someone has had a great experience they likely won’t head to Google to leave a review. This is much more likely at the other end of the happiness spectrum. By asking for the review, a patient is much more likely to leave one. A personal request during an appointment is best followed by a hand written note mailed to the patient. The nice part about the handwritten note is you can have a QR code printed in the note that will take the reviewer directly to the review site without having to type in a web address.”
Here’s a blog that breaks down some simple processes for getting more Google reviews.
Of course, getting good reviews means doing excellent work. Dr. Alissa Silverman from the Private Practice Pick Me Up says, “The absolute best way to get referrals is from is from simply doing incredible clinical work that you give to your profession and the people that you come into contact with. Being the best at your craft always brings abundance to your life in so many ways.”
Offer to support your colleagues
Julie Gala, senior director of clinical success at RESTORE Skills, says, “Advocate and educate on your services. It sounds simple, but the community might not know all the ways you can assist. Offer an inservice or open house for them to stop in, including relevant referral sources.”
When you’re sharing your services with others, either by offering a webinar or in your marketing, connecting with other providers will go a long way over connecting with individuals. It’s important to connect to a variety of other clinicians and practices, though, and not just limit yourself to the most obvious sources.
Dr. Sandra Weitz from Practice Building MD says, “My practice had 1,000 different people who referred to us. If you limit your scope to only a handful of referrals, your source can dry up. Go give a talk to that group in an area of your expertise. Not only does that patient want the problem solved, the doctor wants the problem solved. If you can communicate how you’re going to solve somebody’s problem and understanding that you’re solving multiple people’s problems – both the patient and the provider– I promise you it will pay in dividends.”
Double down on what’s working to get more clinician referrals
Dr. Alissa Silverman recommends tracking referrals that come in to determine what’s already working and why. “Who are the top three people that refer to your practice? Ensure you are continuously connecting to those specific referral sources and find out why you bring value to those referral sources.”
Silverman adds that most electronic medical records software allows you to track referral sources. “Every 3-6 months, I always encourage people to run analytics and see where the majority of income from the practice is generated. Is it a directory service? Is it other therapists? A psychiatrist? Or word of mouth from clients who really benefitted from working with you? This will help a busy therapist figure out where to invest your time.”
Just like there are many ways to approach marketing for your practice or healthcare business, there are multiple ways to get more referrals. What will ultimately work best depends on your practice, your prospective clients or patients, as well as your preferences. And what works for a colleague may or may not work for you. The important thing is to try an approach and give it a chance to work. Spend six months on one approach to getting more referrals and then evaluate if that’s working. If it’s not, try something else.
If using social media to build awareness, network and get more referrals is one of your goals, check out The Clinician’s Social Media Club for monthly customizable Canva templates and fill-in-the-blank captions that make staying authentic and consistent on social media loads easier.