Referrals are probably the most common way that therapists and counsellors get new clients. Many of them come through personal recommendations, from colleagues, friends, existing or former clients, or through other professionals, such as doctors.
Sometimes more formal arrangements are in place, where referrals are made in return for a fee or other consideration. Typically, you find this as part of a room rental agreement in a therapy or mixed discipline centre, or as part of a membership or directory based service.
The fee for the referral can be a once-off contribution, a one-time contribution per client referred, or a regular payment based on the sessions attended by the client (with perhaps a time limit.) The purpose of the fee is usually to recognise that the referrer is giving something of value to the therapist (ie paid work.) The referrer may have invested in the establishment and reputation of the centre or directory, and may continue to promote it through advertising or marketing.
The advantage to the therapist is that she doesn’t have to do all that promotional work herself, although, depending on the flow of referrals, a single source or client referrals may not be sufficient. It’s also wise to continue to generate referrals on a personal basis, in case for whatever reason the flow through that source dries up, or you move on.
Check out what it’s going to cost you for the referrals and what you can reasonably expect to get in return. Here are some ideas to think about:
- Are you guaranteed a certain number of referrals?
- If you make a once-off payment per client, how does it work if the client doesn’t stay? Do you get a refund?
- If there’s no guaranteed number of referrals, check with other existing users to see what their experience has been like
- Ask what promotion is being done by the centre or directory
- If you can, get a sense of the quality of referrals. Are the clients assessed before being referred?
- Can you specify the criteria for referral to you?
- Check out the situation about “ownership” of the client. In the event that you decide to move on, are there any restrictions on the client moving with you?
- In looking at the cost, consider it in terms of the value you will receive. If you get a client that stays for a while, the referral fee will probably be a very small proportion of what you can expect to earn.