How to Get Massage Clients: Referrals

Physical therapists in my town hated me. I spent months pestering them for a meeting—but I literally couldn’t even give my massage away.

Then last week I met a PT named Charlie—and it looks like we’re going to have a great business relationship. Besides sharing similar views on health and wellness, there’s another reason why we’re a match made in heaven.

Charlie doesn’t accept insurance.

Easy Referrals

A while back, I wanted to re-energize my business. So I started to do what I’d done in the past—build business relationships with other health professionals.

But there was a big difference between then and now. In the past, I had built-in referral sources at the location of my office.

For instance, one of my offices was in a chiropractor’s office. The chiro and I were independent businesses, but we valued each other’s work and we’d refer clients to each other when appropriate.

I had another office in an independent fitness center. Most of the personal trainers, yoga teachers and the aerobic instructors were high caliber. I had no problem referring to them and they would refer clients to me.

Oh yeah, there was another bonus to having an office with a chiropractor or in a fitness center. For the most part, the people that walked through the front door wanted to feel better. They were ideal massage clients.

From a marketing standpoint, I was located in two meccas of qualified leads (customers who had the key characteristics of someone who would purchase my services).

Not So Easy Referrals

But the new office was like being on an island. I had to find referrals sources, which meant cold calls.


So I called a list of physical therapy groups.

I got crickets.

Then I tried podiatrists.

More crickets.

How about the local hospital?

A serious uh-no.

I worked my way through the list again (minus the hospital). Not a peep.

Oooooookay. Time for the pop-in and card drop-off.

And this is where things really took off, right?


I had one email exchange with the head PT at a local NovaCare. But eventually he stopped responding to my emails.

Another month or so of calls and drop-ins netted me a demo massage event at a PT office across the street from the hospital that hated me.

They loved the massage at the PT office. Alright, now we’re getting somewhere!

Not so fast. My follow-up with gift certificates for the staff didn’t produce a response nor did my follow-up phone calls.

Bad Cold Call List

Cold calling is crap!

Well, that’s what I thought after 6 months of banging my head against the wall. But after I had some time to think about things, I started to realize that cold calling wasn’t necessarily the problem.

It was who I was cold calling that was the problem.

First, the health professionals who referred to me in the past appreciated massage and didn’t have a go-to massage person to refer to.

But my cold call list had only one criterion: any business that showed up in a Google search.

So, what if I looked for a chiro who appreciated massage, didn’t do massage in her office and didn’t have a go-to massage person?


It actually didn’t take me that long to find someone. Bernie is a chiro who has an office about 2 miles away from ours. When I Googled him, it didn’t look like he offered massage. And when I talked to him, bingo, he was massage-person-less.

I set up some demo massages at his office. And the rest is happy history. You can read more about that here.

Missing the Point

However, at the time, I missed something big and that big thing was playing into my search for building a business relationship with a PT.

Bernie had a very busy practice, yet he was hungry for patients. I had always assumed that it was just part of his work ethic. I never connected the dots between Bernie’s business model and his need to have a lot of referral sources.

Here how the dots connect: Bernie didn’t take insurance.

He was an out-of-pocket expense. And that meant he had to beat the bushes for qualified leads, in this case, someone who is used to paying out-of-pocket for health care.

Enter Mark’s massage clients.

The Entrepreneur PT

Fast forward to Charlie the PT. He doesn’t accept insurance and he’s hungry for patients.

As far as who Charlie is and how he operates, this is what I’ve seen so far. He’s up on the latest data and techniques when it comes to back pain. He’s honest about what he doesn’t know. He listens to the person talking to him. And he’s driven to help his patient.

I have a back pain client who I think could benefit from Charlie’s work. I’ll tell him about Charlie. If he goes to Charlie, I’ll find out how it went. I anticipate good things. But if it’s a mix, then I’ll re-evaluate.

I expect that Charlie has another layer of vetting for me. I opened the door for that by offering to do a demo massage on him.

There’s a Heart Here

Okay, this is sounding all business-y, I know. That’s because it IS business-y.

For one simple reason. If you don’t have clients walking through your door, you’re working for someone else. And that’s more than okay if you like working for someone else. But if you don’t, you gotta be business-y.

And here’s the thing about being business-y:

You don’t have to sacrifice your first born.

You don’t have to use your clients for financial gain.

And you don’t have to refer a client to another health practitioner to simply meet a quota.

You control the shots. Morals. Ethics. And business model.

Get Clients Sooner Than Later

So yes, when I searched for a chiro I was business-y. I found the chiro that could refer to me BUT if our health philosophies didn’t jibe or if I didn’t respect his work, I wasn’t going to refer to him.

In fact, there are many health practitioners I refer to that don’t refer to me. And vice versa.

But if you need clients ASAP don’t waste time trying to build relationships with practitioners who are not going to refer to you. Start looking for the good ones in the pool of non-insurance-based health professionals.

Contact. Connect. Vet. Refer.

And what Mary Tyler Moore taught us will come true: You’re gonna make it after all:-)

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