5 keys to strengthening your referral network

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Max Gottlieb
Max Gottlieb

Upping your marketing game is a great way to start the second quarter. I'm not talking about paid ad campaigns, but rather about your referral network.

Building a reliable network isn't going to happen overnight, but with the right combination of strategy and hard work, a steady stream of referrals will be yours. As an employee of a placement agency, I'll outline five practices we wish every senior living community would practice. The principle underlying all of them is trust.

1. Solidify your community's reputation

One of the most fundamental components in securing a referral is trust. Nobody wants to refer clients or residents to a company that can't be trusted. If someone refers a resident to you and the arrangement doesn't work out, then that referral source's own reputation suffers as a result.

The keys are to offer consistent, quality service and to be very explicit about your company's abilities. Educate referral sources about your business. This way, potential referral partners know in advance whether you're a good match for their clients.

Don't advertise services you aren't equipped to offer. Better to have quality over quantity when it comes to what your community can do.

2. Make personal connections

The best referrals come from personal relationships. Know the individuals who are referring to you, and not just the name of the placement agency, doctor's office or hospital. Find out the name of the specific person who gave you the referral, and let him or her know if you can offer services beyond your assisted living community, memory care unit or group home. Such services could include free advocacy, education or advice.

Because many doctors and social workers are extremely busy, they may not be able to go above and beyond with every one of their patients, as they would like to do, so offering them free aid incentivizes those professionals to give your number out as a resource. Maybe not every phone call will turn into a useful lead, but reaching out and providing free services will establish credibility and trust.

3. Stay in contact

Once you make a personal connection, it's important to avoid the bad habit of only asking for referrals when speaking with that person. You don't want people to dread your calls.

If you operate an assisted living or any other type of community, one way you can help placement agents or social workers is by contacting them when you have availability in your home. Chances are, they've been searching for openings, so reaching out not only saves them time, but also puts your community in the forefront of their mind.

Be proactive about setting up tours for potential residents, and if someone comes to your community, keep in touch with the referral source by updating him or her on the resident's progress in acclimating.

4. Keep up with technology

At the basic level, keeping up with technology means having a functional website with original information. You'd be surprised how often we try to point clients toward a community's website only to find that the community does not have one. Not having a website reflects poorly on the community from the standpoint of potential residents. These days, a strong web presence is synonymous with trustworthiness.

Without a website, it's difficult for a placement agency or potential residents to tell whether a place exists without doing more work than most people are will to do. If you ignore all of the other tips, at the very least, please create a website with basic information about your community — address, contact information, services offered, photographs, etc.

5. Pay on time

This tip only applies to you if you use placement agents to acquire new residents for your community. It's pretty self-explanatory advice, but speaking from the point of view of a placement agency, you'd be surprised how often communities forget to pay, refuse to pay or have to be hounded before they pay. When this happens, we mentally cross that community off the list of places we call.

If you signed a contract and agreed to reimburse someone for a placement, then sticking to that contract on your own accord will show the referral source that can be trusted.

Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning, which provides free assistance to seniors and disabled individuals and specializes in long-term care — mainly finding and arranging care services and applying for state and federal benefits.

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