Educating professional referral sources about your senior living community’s services is essential to increasing business. Professionals working with older adults make daily referrals to clients, patients and family members seeking advice on services that would be a good match for their budgets and healthcare needs. Healthcare providers can’t refer to you unless they properly understand how their clients and patients can benefit from your offerings.

How do you ensure your organization is called when a healthcare provider has an appropriate patient or client who needs what you offer? Hosting a professional event can be a fantastic way for your community to showcase its services and offerings so nurses, social workers, and other professionals can understand how you can help those they serve.

Consider the following success strategies when hosting such an event in order to get the best results possible:

Two To Four Months Before The Event

• Decide who your targeted event guests should be. Frequently, senior living community events are focused on case managers, nurses and social workers. But have you determined if there are other types of professionals who are in a position to make qualified referrals? Consider targeting additional professionals such as:

-Physical, occupational & speech therapists
-Psychotherapists, including psychologists and licensed counselors
-Elder law & estate planning attorneys
-Nursing home, assisted living and adult day care administrators
-Area Agency on Aging staff
-Home care and hospice managers
-Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants
-Activity professionals
-Pharmacists
-Dieticians
-Morticians
-Physicians, including neurologists, psychiatrists and geriatricians
-A blended audience of numerous different disciplines

• Consult your existing referral sources for input on what type of event to host. Speak with some of your key referral sources and ask what type of events they prefer. For example, if you want elder law attorneys to attend your event, ask some elder law attorneys for their opinions. Would they appreciate a networking breakfast? A continuing education program over lunch? A happy hour after work? A weekend open house? The most convenient time of day and day of the week may vary based on the groups you are inviting.

• Choose partners for your event. Good speakers, refreshments, entertainment and other event expenses can be costly. If your budget is limited for the type of event you’d like to host, seek a partner to share costs. Obviously two assisted living communities competing for the same referrals may not want to collaborate. But an assisted living may choose to partner with a hospice, home care, medical equipment or pharmaceutical company. This also can increase publicity for the event since all partners can promote to their databases.
• Publicize your event well in advance. If your community has a reputation for providing regular professional events, 6-8 weeks may be enough time. If this is the first time your community is hosting, 2-4 months may be needed. Often people need to hear about your event several times before they commit to attending. Invite your targeted guests several times and in several ways. Mail invitations, deliver them in person during sales calls, send e-blasts, fax blitzes and make announcements during other community events when the opportunity arises.

It’s critical essential to post on your organization’s website and any other website your target audience frequents. For example, in the Mid Atlantic area, www.proaging.com has an event section where professional events can be posted free of charge. Use social media like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter to announce the event to your followers and colleagues.

• Secure your speaker and other vendors. Contract with speakers, caterers, and entertainment as soon as possible. If you are planning to offer professional continuing education credits, it is important to ensure these are secured as early as possible.

• Choose a “snow date”. Every region has its own weather challenges. If your event is scheduled during a time of year when hurricanes, snowstorms, or other weather calamities may occur, it is best to have a “snow date” scheduled ahead of time and specified on the invitations. Be sure all vendors, speakers and staff understand they are obligated to work on the “snow date” if the original event date must be rescheduled.

Four To Six Weeks Before The Event

• Decide how parking will be handled. When a senior living community has limited parking, it may be wise to arrange valet services. Planning for “borrowed” parking in nearby lots may be an option as well. Even when parking is plentiful, staff should be asked to park as far from the entrances as possible so guests get premium spots.

• Confirm RSVP’s. When you receive an e-mail or voicemail in response to your invitation, get in touch with the guest within 48 hours to confirm.

• Plan how to display your community’s strengths. Identify your organization’s strengths and plan how to show them off at the event. Professional referral sources want to be able to tell their clients and patients as much about you as possible. What do you want your guests to remember most about your community?

If your community has delicious gourmet food, showcase that food. If culinary talent is not a strength, have the meal or refreshments catered. While some communities offer excellent meals to their residents, they may not have the staffing to handle special events as well and that’s okay. Just don’t count on your food services staff to seamlessly provide the event meal if they are not equipped with enough time or manpower to also serve the residents.

If your community has outstanding rehab services, highlight that feature during your event. If your clinical outcomes are excellent, make sure your nursing director is available to discuss that in more depth.

The Week Before The Event

• Inform staff. Be sure everyone in your community knows there is going to be an important event held and in which rooms it will be held. When employees appear clueless on the event day, it sends a very negative message to guests.

• Provide good directions. Make sure the receptionist and anyone who may answer the telephones knows how to give clear directions to callers. Busy professionals become frustrated when they call to clarify on which street they should turn and they are put on hold for five minutes. When a professional referral source arrives after being lost for twenty minutes they are not entering with the most positive mindset to evaluate your offerings.

• Verify availability & accuracy of brochures. Be sure your marketing materials are up-to-date with accurate information about pricing, services and clinical outcomes.

The Day Before & Day Of Your Event

• Remind all staff. Once again, remind employees of the event, how parking will be handled and review directions again for anyone who may answer the telephone.

• Remind your attendees. Send a reminder e-mail the day before and call to confirm. This dramatically decreases the likelihood of no-shows.

• Post signs. If your community is a large, campus style or has multiple entrances, be sure to post signs on where to park and which entrance to use.

• Make sure your community is immaculate. While most senior living communities strive for high standards of cleanliness, it is important to put extra effort into high-traffic areas like bathrooms and hallways on event days.

• Prepare the reception desk. Be sure the front desk is prepared to greet people on time and even earlier than the expected initial arrival time. Someone always arrives early.

• Make sure the event room is set up well ahead of time. When tables and chairs in the event room are being set up when guests arrive, it is awkward.

• Display literature about your community. Make sure there are plenty of copies available for attendees to take back to their offices.

• Tour as many attendees as possible. Frequently communities host events but their guests never see the features and benefits they can offer to potential patients and clients. If you want to show off your new dementia unit, pool or rehab center, make sure your guests have an opportunity to see it and ask questions.

One To Seven Days After Your Event

• Follow up with your guests. Once you have hosted an event, make sure you follow up with as many attendees as possible. Thank you notes, especially handwritten ones, stand out in this day and age. Even a personal e-mail thanking the professional for her attendance distinguishes you. Make follow up appointments for a personal tour if the person did not get to explore your community. Ask what you can do to make the referral source’s job easier in referring appropriate patients and clients to your community.

• Begin planning your next professional event. Once your community is known for hosting quality networking or educational events, word gets out. Even if your first event is on the small side, take advantage of the momentum by planning your next one. It may take some time to build up attendance, but it is well worth the time invested. Professionals’ increased understanding of your services through regular visits to your community will translate into more qualified referrals.

Ultimately hosting a professional event is not just about showing off your community on the date of the actual event. A well-executed event offers multiple marketing opportunities for your community over several months, both before and after the event date. When the above tips are appropriately applied, there can be to 3-6 contacts with each individual referral source which builds trusting ongoing referral relationships. These relationships strengthen your community, make jobs easier for healthcare providers and most importantly positively impact elderly patients, clients and their family members.

Mature market expert and gerontologist Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C.
Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, CSP is a speaker and consultant on age diversity, older customers, caregiving & dementia. She is the President of Jenerations Health Education & an Instructor at Johns Hopkins University. For more information please visit www.jenerationshealth.com.

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