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Macmillan supports people who are affected by cancer, from the people diagnosed with cancer, to carers. They understand the many ways in which a cancer diagnosis can affect a person’s life. As part of their services, they run a Well-being Coaching service which offers free, remote coaching to people who want to work towards making a positive change in their life. Recently, they have created a self referral tool to reduce the time it takes to access the service, which is documented in this recipe.

A screenshot image showing the landing page for the Macmillan Well-Being Coaching service.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since April 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe Macmillan Cancer Support’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a person living with cancer, I need support to improve my mental health and well-being.
  • As a person living with cancer, I need support to make a positive change to my life.
  • As a person living with cancer, I want support to build resilience.
  • As a carer, I need support to improve my mental health and well-being.
  • As a well-being coach, I need to connect with clients who need my support.

Software and tools used


Smartsurvey is a software for creating online surveys and forms. Macmillan uses a form for self-referrals for people living with cancer or carers.


There are different account options at different prices, starting from a basic account which is free up to a business account which is £40 a month. These accounts have different features which can be seen in the price plan.


The main benefits of Smartsurvey are the simple functionality, making it easy to use, and the GDPR compliance, aligning with Macmillans’ GDPR rules and regulations.

The main limitations are that it doesn’t easily integrate with Macmillans content management system which has an impact on coaching and efficiency of service. The limited functionality also makes it difficult to tailor it to Macmillans’ brand. And, it is not possible to set up automatic emails to a user who has filled in the form, even with a business account.

Alternatives to this tool are Google forms or Typeform.

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is an application for creating and editing spreadsheets and is part of the Microsoft Office applications. Macmillan uses a spreadsheet to track the people signing up to their services.


Various Microsoft Office and Microsoft 365 plans available with both annual/ monthly subscriptions or a one-off payment. Microsoft 365 offers free online web-browser based tools (including Word). It is free to sign up and use.


The main benefit of Microsoft Excel is that it makes it easier for staff to track clients progress through the service; by setting up the spreadsheet to be based on actions clients need to take Macmillan are able to nudge users through the signup process and know when to check in on clients when they’re receiving coaching sessions.

The main limitations of Microsoft Excel is the lack of control and security of the platform and its high susceptibility to human error.

Alternatives are Numbers for Apple devices or Google Sheets.

Recipe steps

1. Deciding to create a process for self referral

Consider developing processes reducing the quantity of human jobs to be done, increasing their capacity. Originally, Macmillan were relying on phone line staff to refer clients to the service, through their national support line. The challenges were that they had to get buy in from a number of managers to agree to this process and had to communicate a lot with the phone line staff members to induct and update them on the service. This was appropriate when the service first started, as they only had a few coaches. However, as they expanded the service offering, they needed to reach a wider audience. They considered how a self referral tool could not only minimise the administrative burden on staff but also connect clients to coaches sooner.

  • Consider how your clients use your services, including whether you think they would use or may benefit from a self referral route.
  • The Macmillan website is already a widely used tool among people living with cancer, therefore it made sense to include the option for a digital self referral route online on the site.
  • By building a self referral route, clients do not have to rely on phone line staff to make a decision about who should be offered the service.
  • Creating a process for self referral also allowed Macmillan to share details of the service quickly with colleagues and health and social care professionals

2. Setting up the digital route for self referrals

When creating a new process for service users, consider what information you need to collect every step of the way. Macmillan deliberately kept the referral form simple and easy for clients to fill in. The point of the referral process is to connect clients to coaches as quickly as possible. Macmillan was aware that the needs of service users usually surface through a conversation with their coach and that it is here that their goals are formed. Therefore, Macmillan decided to collect the smallest amount of information as possible within the referral form, so that clients would share their story once they were connected to a coach.

  • Be clear about what your process is, draw it out with the people who are part of delivering it.
  • Design how and when you will be nudging service users through their sign up process. This includes email templates.

3. Testing the process

Consider what it is you need to test about the service and use a prototype to conduct research. Macmillan are still testing how they connect a client with a coach after the client completes the sign up form. They did some research using a prototype that tested the hypothesis that so long as a client and coach have the time to communicate, staff don’t need to do much to decide who they match together. To test this further, Macmillan are doing an A/B test of matching a client with a coach.

  • A test - A customer completes the sign up for including their name, email, phone number and times for a call back. Macmillan then matches them directly with a coach through their service manager who uses a spreadsheet and outlook calendars to see coach availability.
  • B test - A customer completes the sign up for including their name, email, phone number and times for a call back. Macmillan then speaks with a customer to gather more information about them before matching them with a coach through their service manager who uses a spreadsheet and outlook calendars to see coach availability. The service manager will then email the coach with further details about a customer.

4. Communicate with clients

Communicating with clients helps to manage their expectations of the service. Having templates ready to share helps make sure all clients have a consistent experience using the service. Macmillan sent the following generic email responses to all of their clients:

  • A welcome email that includes a coaching contract so clients have confirmation of sign up and an overview of the service.
  • An introduction to a coach email so clients know who they’re going to be speaking with, which prepares them for the service.
  • Check in emails to make sure clients are ok with using the service


Test and iterate content with current and potential service users to ensure a clear communication about the service and its benefits, as the language around mental health can be confusing (e.g. the difference between coaching and counselling).

Choose a software including the functionality for automatic emails for communication with clients such as welcome email, introduction to coach, and check in emails.


Consider a quick way of turning the self-referral form off if and when needed as charities could quickly reach capacity with their volunteers using this tool.

No tool is a silver solution for signing up to services. Allow a variety of tools and channels for sign-ups. Don’t remove the offer for service users to sign up over the phone or in person whilst implementing a self referral process, but consider how it could add to your service offer to create a blended service delivery as opposed to replacing it.

By making something digital, inviting colleagues and team members to share concerns. Define early on in the process who will make decisions and keep any consultations from a consistent set of people.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Culainn Boland-Shanahan
Innovation Consultant at Macmillan Cancer Support


Many thanks to Macmillan Cancer Support for contributing this recipe.


This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and Macmillan Cancer Support and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on June 4th, 2020. Last updated August 3rd, 2021