It’s important to think about referrals for building your private practice. Think outside the box. If you are a clinician, here’s a strategy to go from inside your safe therapeutic world filled with empathetic clinicians who think just like you, to the larger world of coaching where folks don’t know what you do or why it’s valuable.  In this other world beyond therapy, the referrals are all around you!

Armed with an exquisite elevator speech and a defined coaching niche, you are ready to:  

  1. Contact a larger market,

  2. Solve a problem,

  3. Present an alternative and

  4. Calm a fear.


After all, these four steps are what bring clients to us. So, decide to bring it to them! How do you do this?

Ask. Yep–it’s the #1 technique that every coach forgets. An example: I spend a lot of time explaining what coaching is and isn’t. This comes up naturally after the inevitable question at a party, on a plane or after a friendly neighbor conversation–”What do you do?” I whip out my elevator speech, explain my niche and then ASK for REFERRALS! It goes like this:

“So, Jon, now that you know I like to see senior level managers and law partners I’m always interested in referrals. Keep me in mind if you hear of a need.  

And it happens. Not right away usually, but because I have asked, folks naturally want to help. Which leads me to…

If you are a psychotherapist, ask the people that refer to your license. If you are a professional, or have a specific niche, ask folks that work in your area of expertise. Every physician in every discipline sees a percentage of patients that also need counseling or specific coaching. Cultivate this arena. Start with your own physician! Tell your Dentist! Call those internists and psychiatrists that are currently seeing your therapy clients and let them know your niche: Wellness? Lawyers? Doctors?! Entrepreneurs? As a professional, we belong to organizations, right? Go to the meetings, talk about your new work and give a good example of why it’s helpful.

Converse with everyday folks. At least once a week, someone asks me “ What do you do?” It’s often after I start a conversation about the weather, the coffee I just purchased, the sweater I’m holding in my hands while waiting in line. Traditionally, therapists boundary themselves to be private about their work. Well, yes. We certainly don’t talk about our clients! But as coaches, we can talk about what floats our boat, every day. So, the next time the person at your favorite coffee shop remarks on the state of their stuckness…(and you know this happens to us, all the time)…tell them what you do. Hand them a card. Maybe they’ll hand it to the next stuck person in line. Either way, it makes you comfortable to talk about it and you become an interesting person to wait on!

Lose the fog index. You know what I mean. There’s a real difference from saying, “My favorite client is someone who is struggling with how to handle their dead-end job” to “My ideal client is someone who has difficulty with moving forward and learning adequate strategies for growth”. Be yourself, not the clinician or coach whose boundaries are impenetrable. That’s intimidating–who wants to spend 50 minutes talking to this person?

Speak at an event. Contact your local Employee Assistance chapter and an organization that supports your niche. There are hundreds of community groups and book clubs, library chats, hospital seminars, church meetings, single mingles….not to mention Chamber of Commerce groups.  You get the idea. Here’s your script after you get the chair of the organization on the phone…

“Hi Ms. Jones, I noticed you meet every third Tuesday of the month. I do public service chats lasting about 20 minutes centering on (Your Elevator Speech and Niche). I’d love to get on the calendar and meet your group. Would you mind if I attended a meeting  beforehand to get a sense of your members? I always like to tailor my talks to my audience.”

Cultivate small businesses, including non-profits. Small business, especially, non-profits, are always doing more with less. Offer a lunchtime chat on Coaching through Conflict. (Yes, I just gave you a title to steal!) Bring a 10 point checklist on letterhead and a bag of dark chocolate. Talk for 10 minutes, ask for questions, and then leave your checklist and chocolate behind.

Cultivate large businesses. This is not as hard as it seems. One of the coaches in my practice recently went to an informational meeting for a society of Train the Trainers. She stayed for the meet and greet afterward. Two of the people in the meeting were in Fortune 500 companies; one was in human resources. She asked them if their client companies ever offered lunch and learns, got the contact number of the sponsoring group and spoke the next month about “How to Address your Annual Review”. She spoke to the human resource group, who all knew other HR professionals in other companies. Three talks later, and she had four clients. Later, she could call the HR folks directly at larger companies, referencing a name and a successful well-attended group.

If you are a therapist, tell your clients about the “other” thing you’re doing. Therapists are often reluctant to “market” their own clients about their coaching. Well, don’t! But, do, inform them of the other things in your world that may be helpful to the other people in theirs. Remember your clinical boundaries, however. Don’t see the best friend, partner or child. But the friend of a friend or occasional professional associate would work just fine.

Make a  referral list of 50. And get 50 more. Sometimes this allows your referral target to feel better about not being able to help you in the moment. Let me explain. My favorite referring psychiatrist and I were discussing a client. At the end of the call, I told him I was really enjoying some of the leadership coaching and consulting I was doing. “I’d like to add one or two of those clients to my coaching practice. It’s varied work and different from my clinical work. Notice, I didn’t ask him for a referral. However, I ended by saying, “Is there anyone in your network you think I should contact for referrals?” He didn’t, but he kept me in mind because a month later, someone he met at a conference called me. She ended up on my list of 50, too.

Mindfully set aside marketing time every single week. I can’t stress this one enough. Remember, you rented that office and paid for the business cards.  If there is an empty hour, make it your Business Planning Hour. You don’t have to call it marketing, if that term scares you. Sit in your chair, surf the net for community groups, play around with your elevator speech, refine your niche. Learn something exciting and new you want to teach to someone else. Then, put your work aside, pick up the phone and call someone. Complement a dynamic coach in your community that sent out an email about a cool CEU workshop. Invite her to coffee or a phone call. Repeat.


Here’s the thing. These strategies are all effective only if you actively engage in them each and every day. Set aside time in your calendar to tackle one at a time. They work!