Referrals are the most powerful and cost effective way to get new clients and grow your massage practice. This word-of-mouth process can occur slowly and organically, or you can speed up the process by using nine easy strategies that I’ll explain in a minute.
People would rather do business with someone they know personally, or know through a mutual friend. A referral from a trusted source can influence a potential client’s decision more than any expensive advertising campaign from Madison Avenue.
Developing a strong referral program will dramatically decrease the amount of time that you need to market your practice to new prospects.
Having a massage practice powered by referrals is sort of like going from crossing an ocean in a rowboat, to cruising in a sailboat. It harnesses an external source of energy so you don’t have to row endlessly. You still won’t get there overnight, and need to occasionally adjust the rudder and sail. But you will get there faster, easier, and have more fun along the way.
Referrals are important to potential new clients
Referrals are the cornerstones of long-term success for a massage practice. Word-of-mouth (WOM) strongly affects buying decisions. This is particularly true in the massage therapy profession, where trust and likability plays a big role in a prospect’s decision to try a new therapist.
A massage therapist can write all of the benefits of massage in their marketing literature, but some aspects of their practice that are important to prospects can’t be conveyed in writing. This can include questions like:
- Can I trust this person?
- Will he or she listen to my needs?
- Will I be safe with this therapist?
- Is she actually good at what she does?
A Nielsen survey published in 2012 showed that 92% of people trust recommendations from people that they know. This is more than any other form of advertising. Consumer opinions posted online also do well, with 70% reporting that they trust them.
“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” –Zig Ziglar
Referrals help both new and established massage practices
Referrals are an effective and affordable way to get new clients. Word-of-mouth advertising is basically free advertising. One client who is your raving fan could contribute more to your practice growth than thousands of dollars spent on advertising, or hundreds of hours spent promoting yourself.
Now imagine what happens when your referred clients, refer other clients, who then refer new clients. Once you hit a critical mass number of happy clients, growing by referrals will be much faster. It’s like beauty of compound interest in investing. Future growth requires less and less work on your part.
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it…he who doesn’t…pays it.” –Albert Einstein
A referral is even better than a 3rd party testimonial, as shown in the Nielsen study. It is an endorsement from someone who has already established rapport with the prospect. When you try to sell your services to your prospects, you must overcome resistance. But your clients won’t have resistance with their friends.
Having a steady stream of new referrals dramatically reduces the time you have to go out and market your practice to get new business. Plus referred clients have already been screened, sort of, by one of your current clients. Since your client likes you, she probably won’t send you someone she doesn’t like.
This should be a goal of every massage practice: to get to the point where they don’t need to go out and market their practice any more, because their clients do it for them. You still do marketing activities, but it is directed towards current and previous clients instead of strangers.
Mature practices lose clients too. If a client comes in with a specific problem to be solved, then he or she will probably stop coming or decrease frequency once their goal is met. Other clients eventually move, find something else that meets their needs better, or just lose interest. But a continual flow of new referrals will replace them.
Why would clients refer their friends?
They refer people when they receive exceptional service and value. By “value” I mean they feel like they received more than what they paid for. So exceed expectations consistently, not just once in a while. Keep your promises and go the extra mile. Make your clients feel important. *Referrals must be earned.
People also feel good to announce their new discovery, “Hey, look what I found…!”. Of course they announce their good and bad discoveries.
Clients will refer their friends only if they believe that this will reflect positively on them. So you must first establish that you are skilled, reliable and offer a great value.
Find ways to add value that your clients would appreciate. This requires that you understand what is most important to your clients. You can do a quick survey to find out. Ask questions like:
“What are the 3 things that you like most about this massage practice?”
“List 3 things could I improve that would make it the best massage practice you’ve ever been to?”
“What 3 qualities are most important to you in a massage therapist?”
Word it in a way that will resonate with your clients and get them to write honest answers. It should take about 1 minute. Quick answers are better. It’s ok if they can only come up with 1 answer per question.
Criticism can be hard to take. But try not to take it personally. It’s important to learn how to make your business better. This is the kind of thing that only successful therapists follow through with.
Nurture your primary referral sources
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that about 80% of the results come from about 20% of the causes. So according to this, you will receive about 80% of your referred clients from 20% of your current clients. It’s a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast law.
It could be 10% of your clients that are responsible for referring most of your new clients. These wonderful people responsible for contributing to the growth of your practice are known as “key clients”. Identify who these key clients are and do everything in your power to make them happy.
Help these key clients refer their friends you. Start by being referable. *People remark on people who are remarkable.
Then spend a little extra time, effort and money to make your current clients thrilled with the level of service and value that they receive. Take most of the money that you would have spent on advertising and use it to create a better client experience instead. This is the road to more referrals.
Think of this as a better alternative than having to continuously market your practice for years, like you did when you first started. It costs more to acquire new clients than it does to keep the ones you already have. By creating a unique and strong brand that represents quality, you will encourage loyal brand advocates.
Marketing Strategies to Earn More Referrals
Instead of waiting and hoping that someone refers some new clients to you, take action to initiate the process. If you aren’t currently trying to get referrals, ask yourself why not? You can do this without fear of appearing pushy or needy. Use a strategic approach that considers the long-term direction of growth that you want for your practice.
Just to be clear, a name and phone number isn’t a referral. That’s just contact information, or a “lead”. A referral is when your client or other acquaintance actively endorses you to someone he or she knows personally, and recommends that they try your service.
Start with the most important thing, the quality of your massage
The #1 thing you must offer is an excellent massage. You can be kind, personable, and know every muscle in the body, but if your massage feels bad, the other great qualities won’t make up for it. Also if you don’t adjust your treatments based on client goals and preferences, then no amount of trendy furniture or artwork will impress them.
Learn, study, and continue to take classes and workshops. Trade with other therapists as often as you can. Receiving massage increases your ability to empathize with what your client feels as you work on him or her.
Always make a conscious effort to provide the best massage and service possible. This is the foundation of earning the right to ask for a referral.
No one will ever tell his or her friend, “You have to go to Mary’s Massage. The massage itself was bad but she uses the best aromatherapy oils and has a cool website.”
Ask your happiest clients for referrals. They are the most likely to promote your business to others.
Plant the seed early in each new client relationship. People are most excited to talk about something new that they found. If you deliver an exceptional experience then your new client is likely to be singing your praises even after the first visit. So make every effort to blow their mind from day 1 and treat him or her like a VIP.
Then after the 2nd or 3rd visit, tell your client, “Most of the clients I work with found me through referrals. If you know of anyone who could use a good massage, I would appreciate you mentioning me.” This makes use of the psychology theory known as social proof. By informing your clients that a much of your business comes from referrals, you will increase their confidence in referring to you too. You also decrease their perceived risk in recommending you to a friend. (but only use this if it’s true)
You should have had a chance to demonstrate your skills and quality of service by the 3rd visit. Furthermore you should know by then if this client is someone who associates with people in your target market. Remember, people usually associate with people like themselves.
Then on a later visit, somewhere between the 5th and 10th visit, repeat the request with an incentivized offer.
If your goal is to build your dream practice that is full of clients that you love working with, then it is good to always be mindful if your target market when growing your client list. This will increase your work enjoyment, and decrease the potential for future problems.
Avoid asking for a referral when your client is on the table or when they are paying their bill. An excellent time to ask for a referral is right after you receive a complement. For example, say something like, “Thank you. I’m glad you had a great experience with me. Do you know anyone else who would appreciate a good massage?”
Use incentives to increase your referrals
Do your homework first by studying what motivates your clients.
What aspects of your practice do they appreciate most? Why do they keep choosing you over all the other massage therapists in town? This can help you create an incentive that will motivate them.
Keep your incentives relevant to the services you offer. Don’t give away a toaster or a carton of cigarettes. Instead, reward them with a coupon for a free massage or additional time on their next massage. This will cost you nothing but time. Or you could offer money or something you purchased. It should have enough value to actually incentivize someone.
Try out a few different incentives to see which ones work the best.
A more strategic approach could be to find other local business owners and purchase their products in bulk, maybe even at a discount. This idea is more of a “thank you for the referral” instead of an incentive. But it will probably result in more referrals in the future. For example, find a local farmer who makes the best goat milk soap and buy 10 bars with her label on them. Then find a local beekeeper to get 10 small jars of local honey or maybe some handmade beeswax candles. Put in a coupon for a yoga class at a privately owned yoga studio.
Repeat the process with other products worth $3 – $10 each. Just take a stroll through your next local farmers market for ideas. Non-perishable products work best. Then make 10 gift bags with an assortment of products. Give this as a “thank you” gift to your next 10 clients who refer someone. They will remember this much more than simply giving them a coupon to your own business. Not only that, but you have increased your personal network with other entrepreneurs in your community.
Give referrals to your clients
Giving a referral first can prompt people to want to return the favor. People always like getting inside info. Giving someone a referral shows that you are thinking about their needs.
This is easier if you already have a good knowledge about other businesses in your community. But even if you don’t, it is a good opportunity to learn about other local businesses that your target might be interested. There’s a good chance that these businesses have clients, customers and patients that they could eventually refer to you.
When it comes to service providers, people often look for the best with the intent of having a long-term relationship. Once people find a doctor, hair stylist, or mechanic that they like and trust, they don’t want to go through the hassle of having to find someone new. I kept going to the same dentist from when I was a kid, even after growing up moving out of state. I just scheduled appointments when I was in town visiting.
Participate in or host social events
Participate in local social events that involve your target market. Traditional networking events like Chamber of Commerce functions are usually full of people that are more interested in promoting their own business than they are in listening about yours. Unlike these traditional networking events, you’re not here to give out business cards and promote yourself to people who are really more interested in their own agenda. Your purpose here is to use your conversational skills to build rapport with other people of influence.
Listen and ask. People will invariably ask you what you do. So use an informal version of your elevator pitch, to create interest. Instead of focusing on what they can do for your practice, listen for opportunities to help them. It’s a completely different mindset. You’re trying to help them with skills you have to offer, which is massage therapy.
Teaming up with a couple of other local businesses to host an event could be beneficial for all involved.
Use social media to get referrals
There are many social media platforms available, but the best two for referrals are probably Facebook and LinkedIn. It isn’t necessary to use all social media platforms out there. The key is that whatever you choose for your massage practice, be consistent with it and keep it professional. Accessing it sporadically a couple of times per month will just be a waste of your time.
Facebook as most people know, is a popular platform to connect with friends, but it is also growing as a tool for businesses to reach their audience. It is better to focus on building connections here than selling. You can run paid ad campaigns, but there are plenty of free ways your business can benefit from it. Facebook can complement your website and strengthen your brand. As far as referrals go, Facebook makes it easy for your clients to share information about you to people that they know.
You can also use Facebook to promote blog posts or other content on your website. I believe that your business’ website should take first place on you list of priorities though. You own your website and can use it as you see fit to grow your business, but you don’t really own your Facebook account.
LinkedIn is a popular online profile website. It is commonly used in the business-to-business (B2B) world as a networking tool. Content and communications on this network are more professional than most other social media platforms. You won’t find photos of people doing a keg stand at last night’s party here.
Whereas Facebook is usually about connecting with your friends and old high school buddies, LinkedIn is more about business connections. It’s also used like an online resume.
You can only have one LinkedIn profile, even if you are involved with multiple businesses. So most people use it as an overall snapshot of what they are all about. It is becoming a more popular blogging platform too. LinkedIn is more about connecting with new people than it is about directly trying to promote your business. Here it is more common for people to offer something useful to others than it is to ask for something.
Massage therapists can use it to inform their prospects and clients about their training, education and other relevant background. It is great for increasing credibility in your industry and building your network.
Recommended Actions on LinkedIn:
- Join groups in the local area and participate in the conversation.
- Send brief and relevant messages to people in your groups. Review their profile for shared interests or background to write about.
- Connect with other local businesses and business owners in your community.
- Consider things you like or don’t like about other people’s profiles so you can improve yours.
Seek alternate forms of endorsements
Some clients may not have a large network of people they can refer to you. Maybe they just moved in from out of town. Or maybe everyone they know lives in the next town and your client only comes here occasionally for work. These clients can still help your business by other methods such as writing a testimonial. Make sure you get permission to use these testimonials in your marketing collateral, and on your website.
If the client is willing, you could also write a brief case study about him or her to post on your website or in your newsletter. Sometimes these are called “success stories”. Case studies provide proof of how a real person benefitted from your services. It should focus on how they came in with a specific problem and how you helped to solve it with your massage therapy services.
Eliminate problems that may be preventing you from getting referrals
This strategy focuses on attempting to find and eliminate anything that may be preventing you from getting referrals. Any underlying problems here could also be causing you to lose current clients as well.
Trade with other skilled therapists regularly and ask for honest feedback. Incorporate a system for clients to give anonymous feedback and request an honest critique. Many times clients won’t want to hurt your feelings so they won’t tell you when something is bothering them.
Many therapists don’t want to appear desperate or like a sales person. But I believe that if you do provide a great service you should promote it. Excellent massage therapists go out of business all the time because they either don’t know how or are unwilling to market their practice or ask for referrals.
Be sure to always thank your clients when they give you a referral! Their action was a big complement to your services and you should voice your gratitude.
What strategy works best for you to get referrals? Let me know in the comments below!