The Art of Getting Referrals to Build your Massage Business

Getting clients through building a referral network (aka. word-of-mouth) is really an art form.  Getting this down will mean that your business will basically build itself.

You have to start thinking about who is most likely to refer clients to you for massage.  You have to start thinking about who you actually even want referrals from in the first place. There is nothing worse than getting clients who do not fit your practice philosophy and are more difficult to deal with as far as boundaries and the basic everyday workings of your massage business.  What you want are people who value massage, who respect massage and already understand the value of massage.  You want people who are open to learning about massage and are willing to pay for massage in order to feel better.

The Basics of Getting Referrals

Everyone usually thinks that the process of getting referrals is about going out there and promoting yourself and giving a ‘sales’ pitch to the people you are engaging with.  This is really not true.  When I finally figured this out, it was such a relief.

The biggest thing that needs to be understood when creating a network is that you have to start by making it all about the people you are asking to connect with.

Start with being interested in them First.

Networking is about getting to know other people FIRST to see if you even want to get a referral from them.  Are they most likely to refer people who are your ideal clients?  Will they fit your philosophy of healing and working with clients.

Don’t even take your business cards with you at all to any networking event. That is how serious I am about making it about them first. Everyone who hears that usually says…but I have to hand my cards out at a networking event. That is the purpose of them. It isn’t the purpose of them really. Just handing your card out to random people or people who you know very little about isn’t the best approach if you want to remain focused on getting your ideal client in the door. You first want to know about them so you can decide if you really even want referrals from them.

(Massage referral networking tip – don’t take any cards with you to events but focus on getting other people’s cards and then you can decide when and how you would like to contact them and set up future meetings to get to know them and for them to get to know you.)

Networking is about being curious about people and what they do and what their business is first. That serves two purposes. First you want them to be more open to sending people to you. People will do that when they first feel important or feel heard or appreciated. Secondly, the goal in networking is to find people who have the same values as you do. If they are a health care professional – would you go there yourself or send your mother to them ( if you like your mother that is!)

Referral Streams

There are 4 basic referral streams that you can think about and implement:

  1. Getting referrals from your current clients.
  2. Getting referrals from people you know – your friends, family and people you may do business with
  3. Getting referrals from other medical professionals
  4. Getting referrals from other business professionals

Getting referrals from your current clients is quite simple. Just give the best massage that you can.  Show up on time.  Provide a valuable service and get results.   People will just openly want to refer to you because of that presence.   That way will be a slower way of building your massage business.  They may only tell others when others are in pain or are under stress or are openly asking for a recommendation for massage for whatever reason.   You can take this a step farther and ask them for referrals.  Just openly and professionally tell them that you are building your business and ask something like ” If you know anyone who needs massage for stress or injuries, here is my card – have them call me or email me.  (Be specific with your directions for the referral funnel.)

Giving incentives to give a referral is another method of connecting with current clients although you have to be really careful with incentives which could be seen as a referral fee or kickback.  This applies mainly when you are a health care provider in your state.  You will have to check on the referral fee laws in  your area.  It is often also a very gray area to work with.   Some examples of referral incentives are:

  • Giving a client a $10 off coupon when they refer someone to you
  • Giving a discount to the current client and the client that they refer to you.
  • Giving a client extra time on their massage session when they send someone in to you.

The other thing to watch for with these types of referral incentives is that it is a Privacy issue.  It means that you will have to confirm that the referral actually came in for a massage and tell the person who was referring that they will get the reward.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is giving away personal health information which is illegal under HIPAA.   Just telling another person that someone had a massage with you is a privacy issue.

The same issues are  a concern if you are getting referrals from your friends, family members or people that you do business with.   So I personally don’t recommend giving incentives for a referral.  It also gets sticky with boundaries too.  There is a risk that people who referred someone will also want special favors like extra time on their sessions or they might want to be excused from being late or missing an appointment.  You have to be really clear about what you are giving and stick to your boundaries.

As far as getting clients to refer other clients to you – that should be a part of your ideal client characteristics. People who like you or I should say love you and your massage will automatically send people to you without having to be given rewards for doing so. They will tell all their friends and co-workers. The one draw back is that as your schedule gets busy make sure you reserve an appointment time for them!

The next step will be to start looking for other health care professionals that you would like to work with. The most obvious are usually chiropractors although they may already have massage therapists working in their office. Even then you could still be a referral source if you have a different type of massage skill or service that is not offered there. Start by going in or calling to ask about their services. Get to know what they are doing and what types of clients that they are working with.

Ask yourself if you want to be working with them too? Would it be a good match for your business model? Do you want to be associated with them? This is one of the most important parts of developing your network. You don’t want to be associated with a chiropractor who is involved in over billing or over treating clients or doing things that you do not agree with as far as treating clients.
Then start looking for local businesses that you would like to work on their employees or people that they work with. What type of business would compliment your business? Who would you like to be working with? Just take a walk in your neighborhood and start looking around for possibilities. Could that Realtor use some gift certificates for people buying homes? Would those offices be interested in getting chair massage done or being part of a research study on massage?


Getting Clients from Medical Professionals

The other way to get referrals is from building a network of other health care professionals that respect your work and will send their patients/clients to you for massage. Some of the people who are most like to refer are:

  • Chiropractors
  • Orthopedic Physicians
  • General Physicians
  • Psychologists/Psychiatrists
  • Acupuncturists
  • Naturopathic Doctors
  • Dentists
  • Physical Therapists
  • Dentists

The key to start getting referrals from others is to refer people to them first or to start a connection with them by emailing, writing a letter or calling their office. Actually the best place to meet doctors and other health care professionals in your area are at workshops, lectures or classes that they might be attending. I also think it is important to first investigate the physician/health care provider to see if you even want to get referrals from them. Do your research.

  • Look at their website.  Does it give you the information you need to make an informed decision about possible care?
  • Would you go to them? Would you send your mother there (if you have a good relationship with your mother?
  • Can you visit them as a client/potential client and interview them to see if they would be a good match?
  • Go in and visit them as a fellow health care provider.  Doctors are used to people stopping in all the time.  You can call to see if they have a scheduled time to take such calls.  Drug salesman and medical supply representatives call on doctors like this all the time so they are used to it.

(I went to a chiropractor early on in my practice for my own health. He ended up sending me clients immediately and he still does today -23 years later.)

I used to work with a chiropractor that had less than ideal billing practices and people were unhappy with their services there. You don’t want to be sending your clients to providers that have issues like that or that also have different ideas about treatment plans for clients than you do. Sometimes it is just a simple matter of educating people about what you do and the things you require. For example: massage is covered by insurance here in WA but only for things that are medically necessary. Stress and anxiety are often not covered and either is maintenance or preventative massage. Many doctors do not know that and refer people for regular maintenance massage. It just takes a few extra steps to start education providers. The best way also is to have a section on your website for doctors/health care providers that you can send people to when you contact them to provide more info.

  1.  Start creating a list of all of the possible connections
  2. Go through this list and figure out who do you think would be the most likely to refer to you and be a good referral source.
  3. Figure out your plan of contacting them.   You can start with letter writing or something easy to just get the process going even though it can be less effective.  The important thing is to be taking steps.
  4. Once you get medical professionals referring people to you, be sure to send people back to their doctors for follow up sessions so they can tell them how much better they are feeling and tell them what the massage has done for them.
  5. You can also follow up with a doctor and send a progress report to give them the recent updates in a clients condition.  Under HIPAA, this is allowed.
  6. When working with doctors, you may be expected to bill insurance for massage services.  There are more and more health insurance companies paying now and in most states you can bill for a Motor Vehicle Collision (MVC) and a work related injury through Workers Compensation or Labor and Industries.   You can see if you want to start learning billing by assessing your cost per client and see if it will help your businesses profits.