How Occupational Therapists Can Sustainably Build a Referral Network
Occupational therapists have their work cut out for them in many regards. Productivity loads, paperwork, client care, regulatory changes and workplace dynamics provide many challenges and opportunities to deliver quality medical care.
Occupational therapists are busy and need a straightforward approach to building their referral networks. They need an efficient means of driving their dreams forward, and a plan of action that can be applied in any area of practice and at every career phase: whether they are employed full-time, part-time or PRN, seeking employment or entrepreneurs.
This article attempts to provide a succinct, effective and adaptable blueprint for sustainably garnering referrals. It is based on the belief that relationships are the core of all beneficial transactions. It is also written from the perspective that there is a deficient public awareness about what occupational therapists do, occupational therapists provide invaluable services and their skills are highly warranted assets, and occupational therapists are great motivators of others.
1. Consider a complimentary referral program, formally or informally.
In Business Network International, more commonly known as BNI, they build referral networks on one main principle, “Givers gain.” It’s the bedrock of their program, and it works.
The idea is mutual reciprocity. People build trust over time through exchange – exchange of ideas, time and services. When you receive or give a referral, you are building a bridge between two previously unlinked people on the basis of your existing relationships. Your integrity and reputation are at stake. Referrals impact other peoples’ futures and your future with either or both parties. It’s an act of risk with intended reward.
This being said, it’s extremely important to be highly selective with referrals given. One suggestion is to ask, “Would I want my best friend, my best client or my closest family member to work with this person/company?”
Within your identified goals – eg. more patients as clients, more doctors or facilities as partners, etc. – consider and target people who you know will consistently demonstrate respectable professionalism. Recognize how they could help you – directly or indirectly – reach the people with whom you want to ultimately connect. Also, consider how you may add value to their business and goals, and then then make it a point to overtly express your interest in developing their agenda. In other words, find a way to give to people in order to gain relationships and referrals. Proactively cultivate mutual benefit.
You may modify your approach depending on your target field, but the principles remain the same whether you’re developing relationships in schools, home health, outpatient, hand therapy, neo-natal, in-patient (rehabilitation hospitals), skilled nursing facilities, burn units, psychiatric or ergonomics for factories.
Some practical, organized, local examples of referral networks are your Chambers of Commerce, BNI, specialized MeetUp groups, Kiwanis, Toastmasters, etc. This is especially valuable for OTs who run their own businesses or who want to educate the community
2. Establish excellent communication channels (That you enjoy!).
You’ve heard it. You know it. Now, implement it… wisely.
Identifying, choosing and developing the best communication platforms for you personally is critical. Digitally, a professional website, email, social media page like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is a key component of marking your presence. It means you’re conveniently available for business.
Ask yourself: which one(s) will you a) use consistently with relative ease given your busy life, and b) allows you to reach your end referral?
The key is making yourself available and responding to the people who reach out.
One often missed, but extremely touching and impactful form of communication is writing a note. Never underestimate the power of written words. Regularly sending short thank you notes is an excellent and highly effective communication tool for building your referral network. People love getting notes in the mail. It stands out.
3. Cultivate an educational tone.
One of the biggest challenges and opportunities for OTs is the lack of public awareness about the valuable services that OTs offer. Some OTs experience a lack of understanding even within the medical community.
This means there is an education gap you can fill with your awesome knowledge and passion. You can promote your field and career by informing people of the many benefits OTs offer. Since OTs are motivators, this is an exciting and inspiring approach to building a referral network. You can bring your messages to social networking groups and online. Add value by educating people and you will become a trusted resource over time. It also keeps your from sounding like a cheesy sales person.
4. Follow through every time.
It’s simple, but priceless advice for building a referral network: Follow through every time. Even if you need to decline an opportunity, do it quickly and communicate your gratitude. You never know when you or the other person involved will cross paths again. Remember, earning referrals is really just building a relationship that benefits both people. It’s an act of trust that you must continue to earn.