“I have a patient I want to refer to you.”
“I got your name and number from my doctor/physio/therapist/chiropractor, acupuncturist/massage therapist/nutritionist.”
How Do We Foster These Kinds of Referrals?
Obtaining multiple referral sources requires a network of strategic partners. These are professionals who believe in you enough to entrust their patients (and their reputation) to you. There are many things you can do to build this network and to maintain it for career longevity and growth. The advice in this article comes directly from allied health professionals and fitness professionals sharing how they successfully partner in their own communities.
In this article, we will look closely at the role of a valuable strategic partnership in building your business, including:
- Defining strategic partnerships and how they benefit your business as a fitness professional
- What the fitness professional needs to communicate to prospective partners
- What to look for in a strategic partner
- How to be attractive to potential partners
- How to establish relationships with the "best fit" professionals
- How to sustain prosperous partnerships
Strategic partnerships, like any healthy relationships, require a good match and consistent care.
How Strategic Partnerships Benefit the Fitness Professional
Ideally, each member of the partnership gives the other a chance to “rise” as the dynamic between partners serves to support and grow each partner professionally.
For many fitness professionals and coaches training post-rehab clients, allied health pros are among the best sources for strategic partners. These clients have already been introduced to the idea of engaging in a service and have specific goals for recovery. So, your role is clear: to “pick up” where the allied health pros left the clients in their mission to recovery, and to work in tandem and consult with the allied health pros to ensure your clients’ successes.
Referred clients are “warm” if not “hot.” Meaning, they already understand the value of what you do and do not need to be convinced. They simply need to connect with you and believe that you will be the one to benefit them. If they’ve trusted their treating health/medical pro, then you will be extended credibility by association and should only need to maintain or enhance the referred prospects’ perceptions of your value.
Overall, these referred clients are more motivated, more engaged with their health /wellbeing, more invested and have more accountability/supervision. They have been vetted (and sometimes screened, so more baseline info) by the health pro as a viable candidate.
What a Fit Pro Offers to the Allied Health Team
Understanding what fitness professionals bring to a strategic partnership can make it easier for fitness professionals to convey those values to allied health professionals. Sometimes allied health pros have to experience the advantages before they will seek out more partnerships.
|Fitness professionals are on the front line and will often be able to direct individuals to the appropriate health care professional whether it be a chiropractic or medical physician or physical therapist. (Dr. E. Osar, personal communication, April 16, 2015)
Chicago based chiropractor Dr. Evan Osar has been aligning with fitness professionals for years. Beyond recognizing the value a fitness professional can bring to his chiropractic and rehabilitation patients, he has developed an educational program to bring the necessary skill sets to likeminded trainers.
|The fitness professional is an invaluable member of an individual’s health care team. Fitness professionals are the most important part of that team because they generally have the most communication and consistent interaction with the individual. They also help the individual work on movement fundamentals, posture, breathing, strength, and cardiovascular health - more so than any of the other health professionals. (Dr. E. Osar, personal communication, April 16, 2015)
Dr. Osar also raises the important aspect of day-to-day carry-through:
|[Fitness professionals] will generally work 1-2x/week for years with individuals while oftentimes clients only see their health practitioner when something is wrong or once a year for the annual visit. (Dr. E. Osar, personal communication, April 16, 2015)
What to Look for in a Strategic Partner
A strategic partnership has to be a mutual fit and provide value to both parties. Consider what you need for your business.
- Like values (professionally, philosophically, and ethically)
- Mutual respect
- Provides adjunct services to a common target clientele
- Appreciation and understanding of the services and value you provide
- Accessible, fluid & clear communication
Your philosophy, approach and style don’t need to be identical to those of your strategic partners, however they should be compatible while also complementing their practices.
What Do Your Strategic Partners Want?
Seattle based physio, Boyd Bender, PT, OCS, COMT, is currently the physical therapist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet. He has worked with the Supersonics and toured with the PGA tour for seven years. When asked about what he looks for in trusting his patients with a fitness professional, he emphasized the importance of the character and people skills:
|Most importantly is the ability of a person to connect with the client. Most of the time there is only so much information that can be retained by a person, and if the connection is made, the key ingredients will not be lost. Some professionals spend too much time trying to convince someone how much and what they know, rather than listening to the client and getting a sense of what they want, and what their special needs may be. (B. Bender, personal communication, April 14, 2015)
Sometimes the idea of receiving referrals can override fitness professionals’ focus on their criteria for a good fit.
Joe Masiello, co-owner of the Focus Personal Training Institute in New York City, bases his criteria on his years of experience as a personal trainer and also years of experience supervising trainers and educating up-and-coming fitness professionals. When asked what he looks for in an allied health pro partner he instantly replied:
|Easy. Someone that understands exercise! We’ve dealt with a handful of physicians or PT’s that categorically tell the client to stop exercising if they have shoulder, knee, etc., pain. They aren’t open to a dialogue with the trainer to see how the trainer proposes to work around the injury. The best partners we’ve worked with really understand how exercise fits into the overall picture and how a good trainer can create a safe and effective program even if the client has an injury. (J. Masiello, personal communication, April 17, 2015)
How to Be Attractive to Potential Partners
“The quality of the person I send you reflects on me.”
Dr. Peter Duggan of New York City refers patients to fitness professionals and other practitioners regularly and vice versa. With over 16 years of experience working with fitness professionals, he said he can tell within a few minutes whether the fitness professional will be an easy fit. When he does find like-minded professionals, he recommends them to the appropriate patient without hesitation. “I know the perfect person for you,” he’ll assure them. (Dr. P. Duggan, personal communication, April 14, 2015)
Why Would an Allied Health Pro Trust You with Their Patients?
This is a question each professional seeking strategic partnership must be able to answer. There are many reasons why you might be the strategic partner of choice and many reasons why you might lose the business you deserve.
Keys to Increasing Your Attractiveness to
- Work in or near their facilities
- Learn their language (procedures, terminology, techniques, modalities, industry pioneers)
- Ask about their business and whom they enjoy/are focused on treating most (so you know who to refer to them)
- Share quality information and resources with them periodically
Even the most educated fitness professionals can lose business to their colleagues if they make it difficult for potential strategic partners (or their referred patients) to contact them. Additionally, extremely talented professionals with excellent instincts may lose business because they don’t understand the terminology and procedures of that strategic partner’s referral patients. Qualified and capable professionals may no longer be attractive to their strategic partners because they stop showing interest and understanding in that partner’s work and fail to make an effort to maintain a dialogue and reciprocity with the partner.
Work in or near Their Facility
Referrals need to be convenient for the client. By cultivating a network of like-minded professionals nearby, you increase your chances of having skilled professionals to whom you can refer your clients when necessary (which reflects well on you) and vice versa. Allied health pros will want to recommend trusted professionals who are convenient for their patients.
If your clients travel, it is a good idea to extend your network of trusted professionals far and wide. We’ll discuss how to connect with all potentials strategic partners, wherever they may be, in Part Two of this article.
Learn Their Language
Seek to learn about and understand the strategic partners’ procedures, terminology, techniques, modalities, etc. All allied health professionals interviewed confirmed that their confidence in a trainer increases if the trainer is well versed. “I can tell in the first two minutes,” Dr. Duggan said, adding that he will reach out to a trainer directly “if it’s clear a trainer doesn’t know what he/she is doing and is putting a client at risk.” (Dr. P. Duggan, personal communication, April 14, 2015)
Ask about Their Business and Whom They Are Focused on Treating
This will allow you to understand who to send them, and vice versa. How else can you know about your partner? The more a prospective partner talks about his/her practice, the easier to see which of your clients is a good fit and the more other opportunities for alignment can become clear. More on this and other kinds of opportunities in Part Two.
Share Quality Information and Resources with Them Periodically
Did you take an interesting course with information you think would be relevant and interesting to your strategic partner? Share the knowledge and discuss!
When asked what he looks for when developing strategic partnerships with a fitness professional, especially the ones that work with their clients and patients, Dr. Evan Osar described the following (Dr. E. Osar, personal communication, April 16, 2015):
- They must conduct their business like a professional. They must dress and speak professionally and their web site must also convey professionalism.
- They must be open-minded and not allow their ego or method of training get in the way of helping the client progress and accomplish their goals. If they are close-minded or want to show me how their way is superior to what we are trying to accomplish together than they will no longer be a strategic partner.
- They must remain in communication and both want to know and understand what we are attempting to accomplish with the client. The best strategic partners ask a lot of questions because they want to make sure what they are doing is in-line with what we are trying to accomplish from a rehab standpoint.
- They must be continually striving to become a better fitness professional - by reading, attending workshops, advancing their skill set via mentorships, etc.
- And of course it goes without saying, they must be passionate about empowering and helping people become the best they can be in a safe and effective manner.
Dan Hellman, a Florida based physiotherapist, educator and trainer echoes Boyd Bender’s point about the importance of a trainer’s character, people skills and greater awareness.
|The qualifications are important of course. Because I take so many continuing education classes I have an awareness of who is up-skilling themselves and who is not. However, personality and character traits are also important especially when dealing with not only the physical, but also the emotional, mental and spiritual aspect of a human being. (D. Hellman, personal communication, April 13, 2015)
Taking Referral Relationships to the Bank
Longstanding referral sources from the allied health community can provide some of the most stable and profitable client revenue streams for passionate fitness pros - and even more so if specializing in post-rehab (aka medical exercise). The clients referred by these partners also tend to be a better fit and highly rewarding. Attracting and finding prospective partners leads to the next and more vital component in successful partnerships. In Part Two of this article, we’ll outline step-by-step tips on ways to connect with and sustain relationships with the allied pros you seek.