20 Ways to Build a Client Referral Network

One of the initial challenges when stepping into the role of an entrepreneur, is finding new client leads. It can be time consuming and tasking to chase down each and every single client lead. What contributes to the success of a practice, is having a steady source of client referral: other wellness professionals that value your services, and recommend their clients work with you.

By building a client referral network, you can connect with other wellness professionals, and start to receive a steady referral of clients. Even having as few as one or two wellness professionals referring clients to you on a regular basis contributes to keeping your client-load full. Spending the time to build, grow and nurture your client referral network is well worth the payoff. Here’s our list of 20 ways you can start strategically building your client referral network.

1. Connect with the right wellness professionals

When building a client referral network, you may immediately think of primary care doctors. Although PCPs are/can be a great source of referrals, it’s also important to think of other wellness providers on your clients care team. Some wellness professionals that generally serve as a great source of referrals for nutrition professionals:

  • Gastroenterologists
  • Endocrinologists
  • Psychologists + therapists (LCSW, LMFTs, CBT-therapists, etc)
  • Physical therapists
  • Eating disorder clinics or specialists
  • OBGYNs, doulas or other women’s health specialists

 20 Ways to Build a Client Referral Network

2. Reach out to connect with your prospective referral list.

Thinking of your client, make a list of wellness professionals who may serve your clientele as well. Create a spreadsheet with their contact info that you can find online, or reach out to their office to obtain the direct contact information. The first step in building your network is to reach out to everyone on your list (email or phone), asking to connect. You’ll want to schedule a quick 10 minute phone call, or plan a coffee meetup if they have time. Make a note of who you’ve reached out to, and follow-up with the prospectives you were unable to reach.

3. Host a wellness professionals meetup in your area.

Get to know other therapists, doctors, specialists, trainers and more to start building a relationship. Professionals are much more likely to refer to you when they know you, and know that you’ll help their clients see results. By planning casual, local meetups, you can start to host events for the professionals on your list, and encourage them to invite fellow colleagues. Keep in mind, these other wellness professionals are also looking for ways to gain new client referrals. Putting together a meetup is likely to benefit everyone attending.

 20 Ways to Build a Client Referral Network

4. Learn how you can mutually benefit from a shared client base

Most healthcare professionals are busy, and may have only a few minutes to speak with you. To gain the interest of the professional, you’ll want to take the time to learn about their business: who is their client, what are their health challenges, and what are the desired health outcomes?

5. Create a business pitch that will showcase your services (while still feeling authentic)

After you’ve learned a little about their services, you should convey some relevant information about your business.

  • Make this about how you can really support their client-base (collaborating together to help clients achieve those health goals they previously mentioned)
  • Be short, concise and friendly, especially when meeting with doctors
  • Explain how you work with clients (in-person, virtually, both)
  • Include the best way to refer clients to you (your website, phone number or email, etc)

6. Leverage your existing client base for prospective referral sources

As you work with your clients and learn about their health challenges, over time they are likely to share information about their healthcare team. If they mention that they are following up a healthcare provider (ie therapist, gastroenterologist, gynecologist, etc), you can offer to connect with other members of their care team to better help your client have a whole-person approach to care.

For HIPAA-compliance, you’ll want to have your client sign a medical release form for every healthcare provider you plan on connecting with.

Download a Sample Medical Release Form

7. Capture referral information during initial sessions

Update your new client intake forms to include a section about their current primary care physician or referring healthcare provider (name, address, phone) and a check-off that gives you permission to contact them with updates on their nutritional progress. For liability purposes, you should still have your client sign a medical release form specifically for that healthcare provider.

8. E-Fax a nutrition assessment form to any referring physicians

For best practices, always send an E-Fax to the referring provider, even if they do not explicitly ask for it, to build a relationship. In your letter, you’ll want to thank the provider for the referral, and attach an assessment or chart note to be included in their client’s chart. Include your practice contact information and highlight that you would be happy to work with any other clients that could benefit from nutrition counseling sessions.

Related: E-Fax: Securely Send Client Information on Healthie

9. Create a referral form for your practice that you can give or send to other wellness providers

Building a patient referral network will help generate a steady stream of new clients for your nutrition practice. Share this sample nutrition counseling referral form with physicians and other healthcare professionals who refer clients to your practice. You can include a downloadable link on your website, or strategically reach out to any healthcare professionals in your area. Leverage this referral form to introduce your nutrition practice and build relationships with providers that share the same client-base as you.

Download a Sample Nutrition Counseling Referral Form

10. Make an in-person connection (with the right office person)

Often times in clinics or doctors offices, it can be difficult to reach the actual healthcare provider. The person you may want to establish a relationship with is the office manager. They are usually responsible for coordinating patient care or providing referrals and resources. Likely, it will also be up to the office manager to display any marketing materials for your practice (like pamphlets or cards), so working this connection can pay off.

Reach out to the office managers at nearby wellness clinics or offices (in-person if you can!) with a swag bag of healthie goodies (bars, smoothie bottles) and your business cards or pamphlets to put out at your office.

11. Include your contact information in a concise way that can be given to prospective clients

Business cards – may be moving out of fashion for millenials, but are still the preferred way for doctors to provide clients with your information. Also, easy to keep on hand for any networking events. Always keep some cards on you. Using an online design program like Vista Print or Canva can help you create a business card that is professional, but also eye-catching.

12. Create a recipe card to put out at nearby health and wellness businesses

A more modern alternative to the business card, is creating a postcard-sized handout with your business information on one side and a recipe on the other. Many wellness businesses (doctors offices, health clinics, gyms, supermarkets) may be opposed to directly advertising your services. A recipe card is something of value, that looks attractive, and more likely for a business to display at their location.

13. Create a short brochure or pamphlet that can provide more detail about your services

A pamphlet can be an effective marketing tool that concisely showcases your practice philosophy, services and contact information. For the most effective brochure, it should clearly (and cleanly) communicate 3 things:

  • Speaks to the challenges your ideal client faces, and the transformation (or goals) your services can provide. By speaking to your ideal client, you’ll be able to spark their interest and build a connection right away.
  • The services (or signature offer) you provide. Don’t leave your prospective lead confused as to how you’ll actually work with them. Are you offering one-on-one sessions or group sessions? Are these virtual or in-person? How do you help clients achieve the results you’re promising? You don’t have to give it all-away, but do make sure to speak clearly about your services.
  • Most brochures will list off all of the ways to contact their business — but thinking of your “call to action,” will help elevate your brochure. What is the “action” you want a prospective lead to take after reading your brochure? Do you want to capture their email so that you can put them into a marketing campaign? Do you want to get them on the phone for a free discovery call? By clarifying the action you want your lead to take, you can put them on a path to becoming a paying client.

 20 Ways to Build a Client Referral Network

14. Send thank you letters and nutrition assessments to referring healthcare providers

After meeting with the referred patient, it’s good practice to follow-up with the referring provider. Consider sending a thank you for the referral (via E-Fax) and include a nutrition assessment to be added to your mutual patient’s chart. Even if it wasn’t explicitly requested, sending an assessment will highlight how your services are supporting the patient, and their healthcare team.

15. Give business cards to your happy, successful clients.  

Clients that you’ve worked with to successfully reach their wellness goals are often your best source of referrals. They are elated to report-back to their doctors, specialists, therapists or other care-team members regarding the progress they’ve made. When a happy client mentions that they are following up with their healthcare provider, it can serve as a great opportunity to recommend your services. Ask them if they’d be willing to take a pamphlet or some business cards to give to their healthcare provider. More often than not, they are willing to bring a whole stack of business cards.

16. Refer clients back to your referral source

Referral networks are a two-way street. As you refer clients to other wellness providers, they will be reminded of your services, and refer clients back to you. Continuing to collaborate together helps to build a referral team as opposed to soliciting another wellness provider to share their client base. Use your “referral network,” list when you work with your own clients.

If in session it sounds like they could benefit from a consult with a specialist, you can give them some references from your own referral network. Clients will appreciate the real-time suggestions, and it will help them be more compliant with reaching out for more care or support.

17. Provide periodic progress updates about mutual clients

Connect with the referring provider as needed to update them on your mutual client’s progress, or send periodic chart notes to be included in their chart. This will allow you to showcase the results you’re helping your mutual client achieve, and highlights the value of your nutrition services.

18. Stay top-of-mind for your referral network

As you build your referral network, you want to continue to have regular “touch-points.” These small interactions will help other providers keep you top-of-mind, for when they have clients in need of nutrition counseling. One way to create a regular touch-point is by adding your referral providers to your monthly practice newsletter.

 20 Ways to Build a Client Referral Network

19. Leverage social media to grow your referral network

Whether you’re an in-person or virtual practice, social media serves a large role in how wellness professionals gain client leads. Connect with wellness professionals on Instagram or Facebook that serve the same client-base as you (ie. if you provide nutrition counseling for women that have thyroid issues, you may want to connect with a thyroid specialist/endocrinologist virtually). Send a message and setup a call to talk about their clients, and learn what goals you both work towards (ie. you work on dietary management for thyroid issues, and you connect with an endo that provides medical management for thyroid issues).

Brainstorm ways to collaborate and educate each-others social followers, like a joint Facebook Live or host a webinar (nutritional and medical management of thyroid conditions). This online relationship can turn into real client leads, as you both cross-refer clients to each other.

20. Nurture your referral network:

Don’t feel deterred if you don’t immediately receive referrals from a prospective referral source. These relationships take time, and consistency to build. As you continue to reach out, engage and showcase how you can collectively help their clients see results, you will receive more clients. When building your own nutrition private practice, client leads and referral sources can take many months to nurture to the point of steady referrals. Be persistent, and you’ll see the benefit over time.

Stefanie Mendez, MS RD CDN

Stefanie is a New York City-based dietitian, with a master's degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. As a dietitian, Stefanie has spent her career working in private practice, helping her clients achieve healthier, more fulfilling lives. Looking for ways to support and mentor other dietitians, Stefanie found her calling when she joined the Healthie marketing team. Although she still counsels clients, she is able to write, connect and inspire other dietitians to make the leap as entrepreneurs.

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