On Fridays for the past while, we’ve been talking about setting up a private practice: deciding whether or not to leap into the field, naming the practice, identifying the populations you wish to see, finding office space, and preparing the space.
|Hmm, who might refer to you?|
So here you are: in your pristine new clinic. Painted, furnished, soundproofed. You lean back in your new chair, and it occurs to you. Something’s missing. Oh, right.
You can be as competent as you like, and it doesn’t matter. Telepathy doesn’t work as a practice advertising tool. Sit in there for days, and the only person who knocks will be from the successful dental practice down the hall who can’t find the washrooms.
If you play your cards right, many of your clients will self-refer. They’ll find you through your website, through word of mouth, they’ll see you quoted in newspaper articles, and they’ll call you up.
But you will always rely to some extent on referrals from other professionals. At Changeways Clinic, about 35% of our referrals are made by other professionals. The number of these referrals has been rising year over year, but not as fast as the number of self-referrals, so the overall percentage has been gradually declining. Still, it’s a significant source for us and will continue to be. And when you are first starting out, no one in the public will know about you. Almost all of your clients will be referred.
So it makes sense to take some time and think about who is going to do this. Obviously, only people who know about your service can refer someone to it, so you’re going to have to contact them and let them know what you offer.
In the form set designed to accompany Private Practice Made Simple (New Harbinger Publications, 2011) there is a four-page worksheet intended to help practitioners identify their current or potential referral sources. Here it is:
Potential Referral Sources (pdf)
I suggest spending a few hours (yes, hours) working on this form. You may hate it, but I can almost guarantee that you will look back on it as time well spent. It’s divided into three sections (which can be done at different times). Let’s review them.
Part 1: Your Existing Referral Sources
Obviously this is only going to be useful if you have already seen some clients in your practice. If you are completely new to the field, move on to Part 2. If you have an existing practice, though, this is likely to be the most important section.
Take out 50 to 100 of your most recent files (see? I told you that you’d hate this). For each case, try to identify how they found out about you. (Hint: if you’ve never asked this, START NOW.)
If they self-referred, how did they pick you? Put a check mark beside the appropriate option on the form (website, previous client, family/friends, directory, etc).
If they were referred by someone else, figure out who that was. Write down the name on the form. If you find a second client referred by the same person, place a tick by the name.
When you’re done, you’ll see about how many clients came from each source. If they are evenly and thinly scattered across sources, consider taking out another batch of files to continue the process. Eventually your biggest referral sources will emerge from the pile.
Part 2: Potential Referral Sources
Now it’s time to identify people who may or may not ever have referred to you, but could in future. This section is divided into two parts.
First, professionals who already know you or your work. Include people you’ve worked with in the past, colleagues in related departments, people you chat with at local association meetings, and so on. You may blank on these at first, but if you keep at it some names (or faces) will come to you.
Second, other professionals who know your target client populations. In your region, who tends to come into contact with the clients you want to see? If you treat dental phobia, then dentists may be a good source. If you work with diabetics on lifestyle management, the local diabetes association and physicians who work with metabolic disorders may be worthwhile possibilities. If you can’t come up with specific names, list the categories of people. You can research who and where they are later.
Part 3: Additional Referral Sources
In this section you are invited to consider a variety of different categories of potential sources. Each one is something of a brainstorming exercise. You may want to use the internet as an assist. The categories include:
Professional directories and online referral services. Most health professions have some kind of listing of people who are accepting clients. A declining number of these are print editions. Increasingly, they are online searchable databases designed to help people (clients or referrers) find clinicians within a specific region who practice in various areas. Search on your own profession or service and you will find them.
Clinical research groups. Universities and clinics that carry out clinical research (such as drug trials) typically screen a large number of people to get the few who fit their intake criteria. They will often provide those who are screened out with a list of clinicians who might be able to help them. Find out who does research on the populations you most want to see.
Nearby medical practices or social service agencies. One of the main criteria that people use when referring is “Are they close by?” Once you have settled on a neighbourhood for your office, start looking for nearby agencies and clinics that might turn out to be a source of clients. You can use the net for this, or you can simply wander the neighbourhood and look at building lobby directories.
Insurers. Health, disability, and auto insurers typically have lists of private practitioners to whom they send clients who need help. Depending on your training, profession, and specialty, this could be a major source of clients.
Others. This is the obligatory catch-all category. Once you know the people you want to work with, additional ideas may come to you. The form gives a few examples. If you know Polish, perhaps the local Polish Cultural Centre would be an excellent place for your work to become known. If you are gay or see a lot of gay clients, then the local gay community centre or business association are obvious choices.
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Once you’ve made up a list of potential referral sources, of course, you’ll want to do something with it. In future posts we’ll talk about some strategies for making your service known to them. There are many more ideas on this topic in my book, Private Practice Made Simple.
Next Friday: A more specific post about a longstanding source of calls and referrals that has fallen by the wayside.
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Want more information on operating a private psychotherapy practice?
Check out my book Private Practice Made Simple. It contains information on starting a practice, creating a space, designing a website, getting referrals, managing finances, avoiding burnout, and much more.