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Seven steps to solid partnerships

You have probably read one author after another stressing the importance of business partnerships. In the health care world this is no different and an even more significant topic.

Most, if not all health care businesses are built on referrals. It would be nice if referrals were something that came along with our credentials and were based entirely on our expertise, but in a competitive market such as health care, referrals may be harder to earn than the diplomas hanging on our walls. Of course the foundation to gaining referrals is being successful at what you do and running a business that has the best interest of the client in mind. But the key element needed for a steady referral base is a structure of strong partnerships that were built from relationships.

The importance of professional relationships in a referral based business cannot be stressed enough. Your reputation may be built around these relationships and a strong reputation will nurture a good word and the ensuing growth of your business. A good word can spread faster than any advertising or marketing that you pay for.

Yes, a good word may come from a happy client, but the word of another professional can be more influential in numbers and clout. Clients are at the core of your business, a core that is surrounded by layers and layers of all the other elements that make your practice whole. Therefore, clients may be a limited source for word-of-mouth referrals, but around the core of your practice you have a vast world of connections and interactions.

Professional relationships can go beyond the limits of your practice or even your health care field. Think about other professionals, businesses, communities that may be interconnected with your world. Do not limit yourself to related fields; relationships can be built from any connection or interaction you may have.

When a business relationship is nurtured, it will mature into a partnership. Like any relationship, it will take time, energy, and care. Many professionals take the first step of initial contact, maybe coffee or a lunch date, and then fall under the assumption that referrals are guaranteed. One connection does not make a partnership. Initial contact is great, but it should be followed with an email or thank you card, frequent follow-ups, thoughtful interactions, further connections, and most importantly reciprocation.

For a relationship to morph in to a partnership, there has to be reciprocation. You cannot expect to have a partner refer to you constantly if you have given them nothing in return. Referring back is great, but it is not the only option. A suggestion is partnering up on marketing materials, for instances having a partner spotlight of the month on your newsletter. How easy is it to have business cards of your partner displayed in your waiting room? Or what about sending an invitation out to an event that might be beneficial to your partner? Bottom line, shaking a hand and filing away a business card does not constitute a partnership. Without partnerships you will be missing out on the best way to create a constant flow of referrals and clients.

Action steps to creating solid partnerships:

1. Connect. Connect. Connect. Select your favorite networking events and also find a couple of new events to add to your calendar. There are a lot of great resources on "how to network correctly." Recommended authors on this topic include Bob Berg and Tim Templeton. They speak on topics that can help you learn new skills and potentially master the art of networking. Make it a goal to practice a new skill each at each event.

2. Take a moment to "mind map" your top ten partnerships. A presenter at a recent networking event that I attended reported that each person, on average knows 250 people in their personal network. Therefore if you think about it 10 people you know and partner with has the potential of 250 contacts - doing the math that's an outstanding 2500 people!

3. Give. Give. Give. Bob Burg is the master in his book "The Go-Giver". He speaks about adding value to everything you do and going above and beyond. Have you ever had that experience of receiving something unexpected from a service? Wow - you leave feeling good, feeling special, and definitely wanting more. So find ways to add value in each of your interactions.

4. Establish a tracking system (client management system) to add, change, and continue to update your contacts as you meet and begin building a relationship.

5. Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. It is a known statistic that people will tend to take an average of seven contacts before they feel comfortable seeking services or referring someone to services from you.

6. Once the relationship is established and when the timing is right, the next step will be to ask for a referral. This takes some practice and still to this day I sometimes struggle with this step. So I can relate to how this can feel a bit intimidating.

7. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Once a referral has been sent your way, be sure to send a hand written thank you note to express your gratitude for the referral. This is also another way to continue to strength the relationship.

Reach out, connect, make the effort to stay connected and share. As with many a personal relationship, the professional relationships you nurture can virtually make your business's ultimate success.

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Teri Karjala

Teri Karjala is owner of the Creative Counseling Center, LLC, as well as Talking With Teri, LLC. Teri’s passion for the business aspects of owning and maintaining a business has made her a sought out coach by others in the helping fields. She is a regular columnist for ColoradoBiz Magazine and speaks to therapists across the nation in building their thriving practice. Recently she has released her “How to Live Deliciously” Creative Journal Series to help inspire and empower adults, teens, and children. These are available in print at www.talkingwithteri.com.

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