Building your referral business

5 Proven Strategies for Building Your Referral Business

A steady stream of patients is extremely vital for the survival of every clinic! How effective is your referral program with your medical colleagues?

The best way to predict your future is to create it!” — Abraham Lincoln

Business professionals, worldwide, built their success on forming and nurturing referral partnerships since time infinitum. Subsequently, the most powerful of these referral relationships creates mutual benefits built-in to those alliances.

This is precisely the point of this article! We intend to show you how to create stronger ties with your medical colleagues. Additionally, this piece will teach you how to provide higher value and separate yourself from other doctors also seeking referrals.

First, let’s begin is with the significant inventory of your current actions, for example:

  • What are you doing to position yourself with your colleagues to stand out from every other doctor that requests referrals?
  • Are you a good and beneficial referral partner?
  • Have you established strong bonds of trust?
  • Are you providing a mutual benefit to your referral partners?
  • Have you established a sense of exceeding expectations (within your colleagues)?

Many clinic owners give no thought to the fact that success in business is an on-going competition for survival! To thrive, you need to implement intentionality! Every day, you must build into your calendar a plan and action to generate more and better patient leads.

According to noted business development guru, Jay Abraham, there are only three ways to grow your practice. You either increase the number of new patients, get them to buy more medical services, or charge more for each procedure.

As a result, we will focus on increasing the number of new patients. We will focus on the other two methods in future articles (as well as in past issues such as in “8 Steps for Increasing Business“).


For a referral program to work, you have to do some investigative work. First of all, you must figure out your colleague’s needs and motivations. There are both psychological and emotional components in play when referring patients. You need to know about your colleague’s current referral partners. Why is your colleague using them rather than someone else? How committed are they to these people? How open are they to adding to their list of referral partners? Do they have long-standing ties such as school, social, or fraternal affiliations?

More than features, more than benefits, we are driven to become a member in good standing of the tribe. We want to be respected by those we aspire to connect with; we want to know what we ought to do to be part of that circle.” – Seth Godin

As you can see, you may be asking someone to break or significantly bend long-established ties. In doing so, you will have to consider “What’s in this proposed relationship for your colleague (i.e., what’s in it for them?)?”

Although it may seem crass to say, we’re all motivated by self-interest. As such, as part of your detective work you need to uncover your colleague’s “why.” In other words, what is the perceived benefit they stand to gain from you?

Building Your Referral Business Trust is the only sure-fire, time-tested method of bridging those emotional and psychological concerns. Let’s face it, any time you ask anyone for a referral, there’s an element of risk involved by the referrer.

Most doctors are highly invested in all facets of their patients’ treatment. If your colleague doesn’t know you well there may be natural trepidation. It’s reasonable to expect the referrer to be concerned about possible adverse outcomes. They may very well be thinking how will this affect my professional reputation if this person doesn’t deliver? For that matter, how will it change their relationship with the patient if you don’t perform?

Therefore, you must do everything in your power to establish trust almost instantly! Be prepared to set someone’s mind at ease with your competence, your bedside manner, and your expertise. Additionally, prepare a dossier of your achievements, include an introductory letter, and incorporate current and past patient recommendations.

Further, the best referral marketing programs don’t just ask – they give! Before asking your medical colleagues to introduce you to their patients, you need to create the framework for a mutually beneficial patient exchange relationship.

To illustrate, Lindsey Getz wrote to this very point in her highly enlightening article for Today’s Dietitian titled “Go Fish — Four Strategies to Increase Practice Referrals.” She uses the example of D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN, owner of One Source Nutrition, LLC. He’s a nutritional counselor and owns a consulting firm in southern Connecticut. He says, “I seek out the other professionals who would be working with the same type of clientele.” Plus, “I send an e-mail [or] letter or call them and request a meeting. I always phrase it that I want to get to know that individual so that I would feel comfortable referring my patients to them.

When you refer your patients to a professional, they are more inclined to refer back to you as well. It means setting up a cross-referral network.”


Keep your referral partners informed about the things you’re doing by creating an exclusive online community. Thus, giving them an opportunity to get to know your brand and service quite well. Ultimately, this allows you to build meaningful, long-lasting relationships that will keep your brand top-of-mind. Consequently, the relationship should inspire referral leads.

The idea for your exclusive online page is to develop your platform. This “stage” allows you to share treatment information with like-minded medical professionals. Further, your site will enable you to provide a unique insight into who you are and what you care about. If your passions involve community and charity events, share these potentially common interests. If you’re a foodie, let your colleagues know through your posts. The point is, these are excellent resources for creating camaraderie.

I was reading an article in (B2B refers to business-to-business), and the author Johanna Rivard writes directly to this point in her excellent piece titled, “15 Effective B2B Lead Generation Ideas for Your Marketing Campaign.”

I was struck because this is precisely what we have been advising our clients for years. It’s not that we’re so smart, but this information is so important. It’s being written about by so many authorities, and can mean the difference between your success and failure!

Ms. Rivard states that finding different ways to attract referral source will eventually lead to positive results while staying ahead of the curve. She suggests the following as excellent lead generation ideas for your marketing campaign. Further, all of these suggestions, because of their economic entry points, are fantastic for your return on investment (ROI).

Online Generation via Social Media: Social media has changed the landscape of lead generation, and has become one of the primary ways of reaching and doing business with referral partners and patients. There are a lot of social networks in existence, but the main ones are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+.

Therefore, if you haven’t already, make sure to sign up on these systems. Start posting regularly and engaging so that your target audience will get to know you better.

Email Marketing: It may seem like email marketing has been forgotten because of all the other possible online media. But, in truth, it is still very much alive and is one of the most efficient techniques when it comes to lead generation from business colleagues.

Yet, people still use their email regularly, and email marketing is a great place to invest. Optimize this channel by sending your referral partners information on products or services they may benefit them. Your goal is to be a top-of-mind, trusted provider of information as well as medical care.

Next, enhance your Landing Page: It’s the first thing that people get to when they go to your website. As a result, it is vital to pay attention to this page and make an excellent first impression.

Make sure every visitor can find what they want. Also, make sure patients can navigate from your landing page to the rest of the site quickly.


Until your relationships develop, your online presence will be the way that most people get to know you. Make sure you give them your best!

Further still, as you develop your social media, make it user-friendly, easy to navigate, and informative. Take the time to deliver impeccable content so that your referral partners will return several times. If the writing is not your forte, I suggest you give serious consideration to hiring a freelance writer. The future of your referral marketing plan depends on your delivery of robust content.

Keep in mind that you are trying to win over this colleague. You would like them, as mentioned at the onset, to break or perhaps severely bend their current ties. Give them a good reason to do so!

It just can’t be stated enough, content (more specifically strong content) is king!

Unfortunately, content marketing has become a catchphrase, an opportunity for people to sound smart but not say anything! Briefly, according to Josh Steimle, contributing author to Forbes Magazine,

content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable client and business-to-business action.”

The key word here is “valuable, engaging and fascinating.” Your mission: provide as much value and interest from your content to as many as possible [target audience].

Clearly then, your website has a dual-purpose and serves two target audiences (your referral colleagues and your patients). Never forget your patient base; which you always have to maintain very informed and engaged!

Perhaps more important than understanding what content marketing is — is appreciating why content marketing is vital to your clinic. The content you provide is directly tied to the four steps of the patient’s buying cycle:

  • Awareness: Before alert, a patient may have a need, but they are not aware there is a solution.
  • Research: Once a future patient is aware there is a solution, they will research to educate themselves. This applies when dealing with elective procedures.
  • Consideration: At this point, the patient starts comparing different procedures from various doctors to make sure they’re getting a high-quality service at a fair price.

Now let me show you how to “super-size” your appeal to your referral partners. In so doing, you will create distance between you and every other doctor wanting referrals.


We all place a higher value on an object that is scarce, and a lower value on those that are abundant. The thought that we, as humans, want something we cannot have motivates us to desire the object even more.

Building Your Referral Business To attract referral partners to you, you must develop your brand and become a sought after expert. If you recall a few paragraphs ago, I mentioned creating a dossier. Along with the information, you plan to leave with your referral partner, include any articles you’ve written. In other words, distribute any of your published expert testimony which appeared in the media, or books you’ve written.

The information you leave behind has the potential to separate you from all other contenders for said referrals. Keep in mind, that every day you’re in business, someone else who wants what you have.

Becoming a published author creates scarcity. Hence, the most significant benefit is the ability to use your book to expand your influence and change lives. By sharing your experience and your passion with others in an authentic, “non-sales” or intrusive way, you open doors for more meaningful relationships. Through your writing, you cultivate a way for readers to get to know, like, and trust you—and your message.

Further, your authority is established through your book: the common thread among clinic owners and professionals who have published a book is the instant credibility they enjoy.

As soon as people know you’re an authority on a subject that interests them, they’ll be interested in what you have to say.

Prospective patients, organizations, referral partners, and the media all want to talk to the “expert.” Having authored a book on the subject at hand gives you immediate and significant credibility. When you leave your portfolio with your proposed referral partners, your book will make you both memorable and builds scarcity.

As you can see all these facets are building on a foundation of potential trust. This next portion should take you to atmospheric levels!


Once you’ve developed and nurtured your advocate relationships enough to submit referrals, it’s important to reward them appropriately.

As a result, dispense with the bouquet of flowers, lunch, or even a bottle of wine. Though all these items are fine, they aren’t enough, and they do nothing to help you stand out. There is no better way to take care of a colleague than with a stream of new patients.

“According to the law of reciprocity, when you give, you receive,” says Larina Kase, PsyD, MBA. Dr. Kase is a marketing psychologist and author of The New York Times bestseller The Confident Speaker, among other titles. “When you provide true value for your referral partners, they do the same for you. The value you provide needs to be authentic, and the giving needs to come from a place of inspiration—without necessarily the expectation of something in return right away.”

In conclusion, your goal is to set-up a collaborative effort with like-minded professionals. Therefore, you want to add significant value to their practices and patients alike. Consequently, ensuring your advocates refer to you again and again—making your referral marketing program an authoritative source of new business. More importantly, you become an integral part of their [referral partner’s] marketing strategy.

Paint the picture of who you work with and how you can help them,”

All in all, success will vary based on your practice location, specialty, and other factors. However, giving these proven methods a shot may help you reel in many new and profitable patient relationships.

We hope you get a lot out of this piece! Much of this requires experience; let us show you how you too can generate more referrals from your colleagues. Also, if you need someone to convey your message, we specialize in freelance writing for our clients.
We look forward to answering your pressing questions!

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From the desk of Claudio Gormaz of Summit Marketing Strategies

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14 thoughts on “5 Proven Strategies for Building Your Referral Business”

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