How to build alliances with referral sources: The Stone Soup way


Stone Soup

How to build alliances with referral sources

This is the script for a video in production right now! I’ll share a very effective and credible strategy to build referral alliances with physicians and other fixtures in your community.  And your SEO will get a powerful boost in the process.

Stone Soup

Do you know the folk tale called stone soup?  It’s a great metaphor,  from which I draw lessons for therapists about how to build alliances with referral sources.  I’ll tell my version of the story and then lay out an intentional, collaborative marketing approach.   Okay, here goes. Two hungry, wandering travelers arrive at an old English town, itself struggling with a food shortage. The travelers find that the local villagers are all keeping to themselves – each house with its shutters latched. The travelers knock on a few doors begging for food, and not surprisingly, are rejected. They retreat to the town’s outskirts and warm themselves by a campfire, where they come up with a new plan: tomorrow night, they’re gonna invite the whole village to the town square to make Stone Soup. They get up at the crack of dawn, fill a pot with fresh water from the stream, and build a roaring fire. They add the special Stone. A couple passing by notice the activity and stop.   Our travelers explain their plans to make a huge pot of Stone Soup, a recipe made special by the addition of a Stone and the requirement of everyone’s participation.  The travelers suggest the first visitors bring back some vegetable scraps to throw in the soup, and that they invite a few people to do the same.  Other villagers see the activity and learn of the plans, too.  They agree to participate and spread the word further. People arrive all afternoon, each with something to add.   One brings a small head of cabbage.  Another brings a handful of parsley. The smell draws more villagers. Soon, they’re all cooking together.  Trust is developed.   Relationships are formed over the most delicious soup anybody can remember.


There are all sorts of lessons here.  The travelers created a very intentional plan. They showed directive leadership; They didn’t survey people to see if and when they wanted a community dinner.  They set the time and got to work. They carved out clear roles and responsibilities which empowered the villagers to move from passive observers to active participants.   And, they played the law of numbers; even if only five families showed up, the event would have been worthwhile;   they weren’t dependent on the whole village attending.  But the more who attended, the merrier. Enough people did come because of perhaps the most important lesson…  Stone Soup is a story of shared purpose and collaboration.  Some of the most effective relationships are a by-product of working together.  Therapists too often approach networking like the hungry travelers did: Knocking on doors of physicians in hopes of developing referral relationships is unproductive and unlikely to generate business. Even if you have lunch with a physician, there’s no reason to keep seeing one another after the first encounter.   There’s no reason for regular or frequent interactions. There’s no project that you are working on together to keep you connected.

Game Plan

Here's a game plan which does work: we are going to help you form an initiative. It doesn’t need to be a formal organization or a nonprofit; it can just be an initiative sponsored by your clinic.   We will create a purpose for that initiative.   The purpose is what you care about…..your Battle Cry. You’re going to choose a purpose which appeals to your target market, but one which also speaks to a target audience broad enough to intersect with other healthcare professionals.  What we are looking to do here is to create a sense of purpose that binds you together with many healthcare disciplines. You want their expertise, their connections. Most importantly you want to create something better together than you could apart.   You will all be more effective providers because you share knowledge and resources with one another.  And clients want this too. They want their practitioners integrated and talking to one another, rather than working in silos.   So, we’re going to put together a list of like-minded practitioners from a cross section of disciplines.  What is the intersection of what you and they all care about?

Example 1

Let’s say you pick “relieving trauma-related anxiety” as your purpose. Hmm. That would be interesting to you, but not necessarily to the local chiropractor or the pediatrician.   Let’s BROADEN that purpose to include something that interests you AND several other symbiotic professionals. You need to pitch a tent large enough to be inclusive. For example you might want to choose people who have survived trauma.  The purpose could then be “how to thrive after trauma.” Many health practitioners intersect with this purpose…….. Chiropractors deal with those who have been in accidents. Psychiatrists treat those who have attempted suicide. Fitness coaches help victims get on a path to physical recovery.   Physicians help patients who have been physically harmed.   Even local governmental agencies are interested in conducting outreach about matters of public health.   Faith based, government, and community organizations also have services to offer.  Can you imagine the power of conducting outreach side-by-side with a government official?   And, who better than a psychotherapist to convene such a group?  You’re trained in being facilitative and focusing on connections and relationships. Now let’s pick your mission, which is what your group does.  Here’s an example:   you can conduct joint public health outreach together with your colleagues.   The latest findings from each of your specialties could be shared in a public website curated by you.  This could be done in very accessible manner so the local community could apply useful health information in their daily lives.  You could create an online magazine where each of you blogs once every few weeks. Imagine your picture as the curator beside all those local physicians.  The implied endorsement will enhance your credibility.  And all that fresh website content generated from credible sources will boost your SEO.

Example 2

I’ll give you a second version of this whole concept.  For your initiative’s purpose, you might want to focus on a geographic region instead of one particular health issue.   Your purpose would then be to strengthen your local healthcare provider community.  Your mission could be to convene a growing network of local experts and hold monthly meetups.  Your group can trade best practices and research with those who believe in being holistic, but sometimes get bogged down working in silos.  You’ll meet regularly and privately…..So no patients and no clients. This way, you can all let your hair down and learn from one another in a safe environment.

Schedule a Session

Okay, so those are two ways to market collaboratively.   We share these concepts freely with you so that you might explore the possibilities of marketing in a deeper way with referral sources.   We design and implement these and other concepts for therapists every day.   We can help you figure out whether--and how--to apply them to your practice-- and how to convert these kind of marketing efforts to regular appointments with new clients, which is where the rubber meets the road. If you need help implementing a marketing plan, schedule a session with us using the links next to this video.