How to 10x the Number of Referrals for Your Weight Loss PracticeMar 20, 2023
Referrals are a wonderful way to grow your practice. All too often though, the process of obtaining referrals, processing referrals, thanking referrals, and nurturing your best referral sources gets put on the back burner (or taken for granted). It is easy to get too busy with the day-to-day operations of your practice or get overwhelmed with creating an efficient referral system. It is easier to simply accept whatever referrals you get instead of actively seeking additional quality referrals. If this is you, you are not alone, and this guide will help you and your team kick it into high gear when it comes to attaining more referrals and growing your weight loss practice.
For those that know me, I am a numbers girl for sure! In our practice, referrals account for about 60% of our patients who either have weight loss surgery or purchase one of our medical weight loss programs. It is even higher for our retail sales. The other 40% is from our organic marketing. You may be saying – “But Karol, what about your paid advertising?” which would be an appropriate question. However, truthfully, in 2020 we spent zero dollars on paid advertising and even with the pandemic and being closed for surgery for 2 months and the office reduced to being open only 2 days/week for 4 months, we experienced just a slight decrease in the volume of surgeries as well as program and product sales when compared to the prior year. Now, there are many other things that went into that besides referrals (a real team effort), but we will continue with a referral focus for this report.
Benefits of a Strong Referral Program
A strong referral program – one that your team happily manages – creates a continuous stream of potential new patients and additional stability/predictability in your business. Even better is the fact that a referral program can be created with little cost and results in a win for everyone involved.
When properly set up, you benefit from a stream of new patients who specifically want to work with you. Referring physicians benefit from a patient who appreciated being referred, experienced success, and improved their health. Referring patients benefit from sharing their success (added accountability), sometimes a bit of notoriety and a reward of some type (not necessarily monetary) if that is an optional part of your referral program.
Best Referral Sources
Below are the most common patient referral sources for weight loss practices. There are more but we will focus our attention on these four. I encourage you to review your referral sources for new patients and identify what percentage of referrals come from each of these sources. If you are not closely tracking this then guestimate what you believe the percentage to be (and then begin tracking this with every new patient). This will help guide your efforts for reinforcing current patterns, identifying opportunities for additional success, and creating your plan for increasing referrals to you and your practice.
- Your Patients (Current _______%): A referral from a patient is one of the best compliments you can receive. They are happy, they trust you and they likely have other friends/family members that can benefit from your services and products as well.
- Local Physicians/Health Systems (Current ________%): Most primary care practitioners do not have the time to focus on weight loss even though 2/3 or their patients need what you offer. You want to be top of mind (and easy to refer to) when they are seeing these patients. Some of the best physician/physician group referrals for weight loss tend to come from primary care physicians, plastic surgeons, OB/GYN and orthopedics. Nurture these relationships and provide succinct feedback regarding their patients’ progress.
- Local Groups/Businesses (Current ________%): Local groups and businesses are often looking for written content and presentations that would benefit their members/team. This is the case for your local media outlets as well. Create your ‘signature presentation’ and get yourself in front of their audience virtually or in person.
- Online Reviews (Current ________%): The public is often wary of advertisements but dive deep into online reviews. Having up-to-date reviews from your happy patients can make a big difference as your ideal patients are contemplating their options for weight loss services and products.
What other referral sources can you identify? _____________________________________
Creating Your Well-Oiled (yet personable) Machine for More Referrals
Systems are what makes your life and your business predictable. Sound boring? On the contrary. Predictable follow-through from your team, predictable results for your patients, and predictable profit for your practice makes your life more exciting. For you, it gives you time to focus on the important things in life. For your business, systems allow you to concentrate on growth strategies rather than putting out fires all day long. Of course, your systems need to be tweaked along the way, but that is much easier (and enjoyable) to do than starting from scratch all the time.
So, what does it take to create a system that will 10x the number of referrals for your practice? No matter which referral source you want to grow, the principles are essentially the same.
- You and your team may need to adjust your mindset: It can be uncomfortable to ask someone for a referral. Especially in the medical field. You will need to adjust to the mindset that if your patient is happy, they likely want to help others feel happy as well. Your raving fans (patients, physicians, and other referral sources) become your ambassadors. With each request, this becomes easier, especially when guided by your team.
- Identify your ideal referral sources: For your patients, in addition to having ‘referral’ prompts such as literature around your office about how to refer friends/family and testimonials on your walls, you will want to identify what patients you (your team) wish to approach for a referral. I have found that the best time to ask for a referral is when they are the happiest. For surgery patients, this is usually at 6 months, 9 months or 1 year. For medical patients, it is when they are ecstatic about their results and telling your all about the improvements in their life. For referring physicians/groups, select those that want/need their patients to lose weight such as prior to a surgery to improve safety and enhance the patient’s outcome. This tends to be plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons as well as bariatric surgeons if they do not have an established medical weight loss program. For local groups/businesses, select ones that are looking for educational offerings/programs and have the demographic you desire to serve. Some examples are professional women’s groups and realty groups. For online reviews, make sure your google listing is up-to-date and regularly post testimonials on your website, all social media channels and google listing and then go to the next step – asking for the referral.
- Establish an EASY system for referrals to take place: You will want to streamline the process to make a referral for all your referral sources. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Since some people are more traditional and others more contemporary, we like to provide both written and electronic ways for the referral to be made. What is simple for THEM is what will get done. For patients, our entire team is accustomed to asking for the referral when a patient is revealing how great they feel and how the weight loss has impacted their life in a positive way. And as a safeguard, we have it as a part of the patient’s visit when they get to goal or at 6 months and 9 months for surgery patients. We find that it works well if you securely text the patient a link to your online review source to immediately write their review while they are at your office. We send 2 links – the first one is to our Google listing and the second one is to Facebook. This is preferable. However, if someone really wants to hand write their review (extremely rare), we let them do that as well. For physicians, good old fashioned ‘boots on the ground’ visiting their office is very helpful. We like to map out an efficient route in various geographic areas and one of our team goes there with a cute package of pens, referral pads (that the physician can tear off and give to the patient) as well as fax forms and yummy protein bars from our store. It is best to talk with the referral coordinator to find out how they prefer to make referrals. You will do yourself a huge favor if you let them know (before they ask) as to what happened with those they refer and their progress if they become a patient of yours. We also offer weight loss quick presentations for the office team (virtually or in person). Often the office staff end up being some of our best customers as well! For local groups/businesses, it works best to have one of your team members research possibilities. Then, personally reach out to them with a ‘one sheet’ outlining possible presentations. One contact is never enough…it requires follow-up. However, once you do a great presentation for them, you tend to be asked back again. For online reviews, keep the links for reviews top of mind in your e-mails, on your social media channels, on your website, and throughout your office. And be sure to text it to your successful patients as mentioned above.
- Set yourself up for The Double Win: If someone is willing to make a referral or write a review, they are also usually willing to write a testimonial. We try to get one every week and post a “Transformational Tuesday” testimonial nearly every week on all our social medica channels and Google page via a simple template that represents our brand. As a bonus, have your team share your online posts on their personal pages as well. If the patient will allow, tag them too. If you need a sample testimonial authorization form, reach out to me at [email protected]
- Involve and educate your team: Include your team when creating your referral program/processes. They will have great ideas and think of things you may have missed. In addition, it increases their buy-in and understanding of just how important this is for the entire practice. Have someone oversee the entire process outlined here for continuity. Educate all your team members regarding the referral processes and include it in your operations manual for review as needed and training of new team members.
- Promote your referral program/system: The way to send you referrals cannot be your best kept secret. You may even want to create a referral program for your patients with a few bonuses for them. This does not have to be monetary. It could be a box of their favorite protein supplement in your store or a photo shoot. We have a local photographer, and she does these for us quarterly at a very reasonable rate. This way, we have professional ‘after’ photos and the patient gets updated pictures as well. Our patients are honored to be asked and gladly participate. We also use these for inspirational posters on our walls that includes their picture and a quote from them. Once you know what you want to include, create a simple flier for the office and include it in the e-mails and newsletters you regularly send your patients.
- Track your success: Ask every new patient how they found you. This is so very important! Track it in your software system or on an Excel spreadsheet – or manually if you must. This will help guide your efforts and validate the value of referrals. What you measure matters and the focus generally results in improvements. Be sure to share the information with your team and tweak the process along the way as necessary.
Referrals are a great way to grow your practice. It is also rewarding for everyone involved and can be a lot of fun! Follow these steps and be sure to let me know your outcomes. If you have questions, please reach out to me at [email protected]
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