A Port in the Storm: Leaning on Your Relationships in Tumultuous Times
By Peter Decoteau
It is true in most cases, and especially in difficult times, that the importance of solid, reliable relationships cannot be overstated.
When it comes to running a business, having a core list of people who know and trust you—and whom you know and trust—can be a buoy that keeps you afloat. While your “network” refers to all of your relationships, from well-connected people who offer potential business opportunities to your uncle Roger, whom you love but also wouldn’t trust to watch your dog, your “Sphere of Influence (SOI)” refers more specifically to people you know who have some capacity to positively impact your business.
The concept of the SOI did not start with marketing, nor is it marketing-specific in its current form. Oddly enough, it began as a theory and practice of nation-building, wherein a country’s relationships with other nations create reliable power structures within geographic regions in order to maintain control.1 In marketing, the stakes are just a bit lower than that. For our purposes, your SOI refers to a list of people with whom your opinion matters, and who often present opportunities for things like word-of-mouth promotion or direct referrals to your clinic. Leveraging your SOI can be a great way to cultivate consistent new referrals despite external factors. It should be noted that this is not a suggestion to develop exploitative relationships, but rather those built on mutual respect and a willingness (and capability) to help.2
IDENTIFYING YOUR SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
To start creating your SOI, you first need to dig through your networks—social media, email and contacts lists, business cards, etc.—and list the people you know who both like you and trust your opinion, and who may present opportunities for referral or business development. The important thing to keep in mind is that your closeness to a person does not necessarily relate to their role in your SOI; while you may be close with your mother, and she may have a willingness to help you, she may not have the capability to do so. On the other hand, you may have an acquaintance from your local chamber of commerce whom you’ve had a few good conversations with and whose connections to other local businesses may be valuable as you look to expand your footprint in the community. Considering those guidelines, your SOI might include friends, family members, peers, doctors and others in the healthcare industry, community leaders, and other business owners.
Ultimately, your SOI list will likely be fairly extensive, but try not to exceed 100 people, as anything beyond that becomes challenging to maintain—and consistent, considered relationship maintenance is the best way to get the most out of your SOI.
WAYS TO LEVERAGE YOUR SOI
Once you’ve identified your SOI list, it may be helpful to classify your contacts into sub-categories, such as “community contacts,” “word of mouth,” “doctor referrals” and “business opportunities.” If anything, this level of categorization will be useful as you develop outreach strategies based on your business goals. For example, if your goals revolve around increasing self-referred patients, you may look for ways to lean on your word-of-mouth and community contacts lists to reach new people with messaging about direct access.
The execution of this outreach will largely depend on which platforms you use most often, your personal communications style, and other factors, but here are a few examples of how you can leverage your SOI:
1) Tap into your patient base
Yes, even your previous patients can be part of your SOI. Of course, that doesn’t mean including your entire patient list—those individuals should already be connected through things like follow-up letters, emails, and social media content—but some of your most loyal, long-standing patients can be great channels to new audiences, as they know and trust your services and are often willing to evangelize for you.
With these individuals, checking in every once in a while with an email, handwritten letter, or gift around the holidays is a great way to maintain your relationship. When a strategic need arises, you may find some overlap that can be helpful. For instance, if you’re looking to expand your services for employer groups, a patient who owns a business or is otherwise in a decision-making role might be able to direct you to the right person or department that handles workers’ compensation cases.
2) Connect with your community
Leaders and business owners in your community are great resources because their SOIs also tend to be large and active, and because mutual support and reciprocation are the backbones of vibrant communities. Whether through chambers of commerce, BNI groups, or just patronage, you likely have a number of local leaders and business owners who are willing to help you gain and maintain traction.
A great example of this are collaborative events and cross-promotions, wherein each group introduces its customer base to the other groups’ services. Fitness- and activity-based businesses offer the most obvious overlapping customer base for physical therapists, but don’t overlook non-fitness-based businesses that may have customers who are demographically aligned with a particular service or need, such as older populations for balance and vertigo services or businesses with a majority of female customers, who may benefit from your women’s health services. The trick, generally, is to make sure both businesses are still focused on bringing value to their audience by providing good, useful information and content.
3) Expand your referral base
It’s no secret that reliable referrers are one of the most important resources for a successful PT clinic, and while you may chafe at the idea of asking for more from them beyond referrals, keep in mind that they likely refer you because they believe in the quality of your service. If that’s true, then they are also more likely to be willing to promote you to colleagues and other healthcare providers. Don’t be afraid, in your regular outreach, to ask if they’d be willing to connect you or your clinicians with colleagues who may be less familiar with your clinic. A simple face-to-face get-together, virtual meeting, lunch-and-learn, or presentation to your group can be the foundation for a new reliable referral relationship.
4) Look to peers for opportunities to optimize your operations
Cultivating new patients tends to be the focus of this type of outreach, but there are other benefits to tapping into your SOI. Peers and other healthcare providers are often great resources for learning about new tools and platforms that can help optimize or streamline your business operations. If you have a particular need for things like data management, payroll solutions, accounting, website operations, and so on, other PT providers can offer the most valuable insights into new opportunities and can help connect you with the right people. (Which is where PPS’ Peer2Peer Networks comes in!)
5) Get media coverage
You’ve opened a new clinic, launched a new service or expanded your space, written a compelling press release or news pitch, sent it to every local media outlet and reporter within 25 miles, and…nothing. Getting media coverage is often one of the hardest things to do—there is simply too much news and too many other people vying for attention.
Whether you have a big, newsworthy announcement, you’re looking to pitch a relevant news story or you’re interested in providing a recurring health and wellness segment, it’s probable that at least a few people in your SOI have connections to media insiders, or perhaps they work in media themselves. Tap into your list to cut through the noise and get in touch with the insiders at local newspapers, TV stations, magazines, or online news outlets who can help get your story out there. And, of course, make sure you have a compelling story before the pitch!
1Encyclopedia Britannica. Sphere of influence. Accessed January 28, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/sphere-of-influence
2Schaffer BN, Schaffer N. What is a sphere of influence and how to leverage one for business. October 6, 2021. Retrieved January 28, 2022. https://nealschaffer.com/what-is-a-sphere-of-influence/
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.