I’m about halfway through the advertising and copywriting classic “Breakthrough Advertising,” by Eugene M. Schwartz. The original copyright on the book is 1966, and it’s not easy to find. On Amazon.com alone, there are only five available copies of the tome’s 2004 re-release by Bottomline Books. The price starts at $145.

Don’t bother cleaning your glasses or rubbing your eyes. That price is not a typo — but the book is worth every cent.

Why? Because it’s filled with eye-opening advice and instruction that’s as useful today as it was 40-plus years ago. So let’s take a look at Schwartz’s timeless, classic prospecting advice updated for today’s insurance agents.

Referrals will make you rich, and no referrals will end your career
A critical component of success and sustainability in the financial service business is your ability to obtain high-quality referrals. Without referrals, you’re merely a hamster on the prospecting wheel. So how can you garner these valuable referrals?

Plan easy ways for people to refer you. “Bring a friend” events that you sponsor at local events and venues such as sports games and theaters help your clients “shake the trees” for you. Sincere, no-strings-attached offers of free second opinions for your clients’ families and friends are another effective strategy.

“Forced” networking. Networking groups such as Business Network International (BNI) are great places to learn how to be referable, but only if you attend the groups’ meetings with open ears, eyes, and minds. Visit www.bni.com to find a local chapter.

Party poopers don’t get invited back. Be the pleasant, courteous, and fun person that people enjoy being around and you will make it easier for them to like and refer you. Take an honest look in the mirror and take appropriate action if you sense that your personality isn’t what it once was.

You — and your brand — must look the part
A good rule of thumb for personal grooming and fashion is that you should update your wardrobe and haircut (and, if you’re a woman, makeup) so that you look at least as fashionable as your town’s authorities, such as the school superintendent or the mayor. I’m sure there are places where this rule of thumb doesn’t work, but, in general, it does.

Virtual appearance is important, as well. Does your email address match your Web site domain name? Nothing screams “amateur” quite like a business card that lists an email address at an online service provider next to a proprietary Web site domain. If your website is www.blahblah.com, then your email address had better be something like yourname@blahblah.com, not yourname23498@yahoo.com. Your webmaster should be able to set up email accounts with your Web hosting company and have your email program pull all new messages from all your addresses into one inbox.

You — and your brand — must act the part
You have a brand, whether you know it or not. As Tom Peters’ branding guy once told me, “Your brand is what people say about you.” (For those of you who don’t know, Tom Peters is an American writer and expert on business management practices, best known for co-writing the book “In Search of Excellence.”) Your branding involves everything a client sees, hears, and feels when they deal with you or your organization. You might want to ask yourself questions such as:

Does your assistant know when to involve you in a customer service situation, or are you unaware that your clients are frustrated with the way their problems are resolved? Most clients won’t complain to you; they’ll just take their business elsewhere. A physical record of all encountered problems and a recording of every 10th or so problem that’s phoned in could be very enlightening in determining patterns and ending repeated negative behavior.

Is your Web site easy to use, or is it frustrating? Conduct a Web site usability audit by asking a friend to spend 10 minutes at your site and note what they learned, what the point of your site is, and what’s difficult to use or figure out.

Do clients see evidence that you still care about them after the sale is made? The following strategies are oldies but goodies, and they are easy to implement:

Do you personally call all clients at least once a year for no other reason except to check in and ask how they are doing?

Do you send birthday cards? Adults never get enough birthday cards, and electronic cards have made this easier than ever to do.

Do you electronically or physically touch base with clients at least six times a year? Your may have heard that it takes six touches to make an impression — and a first sale. I believe that it also takes about six touches to keep a client happy — and at least one or two should involve actual paper that’s sent through the mail. Both Presidents George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan said that personal letter-writing was critical to their success. Handwritten or addressed notes make a bigger impression today than do impersonal and hard-to-interpret emails.

Using practice management tools
If your computer died, how long would it take you to be back up and running? It had better not be too long. But simply backing up your information isn’t good enough if you aren’t selecting the correct files. Make sure that your email files are backed up in your software application of choice (in Microsoft Outlook, the file extension for messages is .pst). Double check to make sure that the backup size makes sense relative to your amount of data. Use a service that offers non-automated customer service to help you properly set up your backups and that will provide support if and when you must restore files.

Here’s a timeless truth I learned from my colleague, the speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones: “You’ll be the same person in 10 years, with the exception of the books that you read and the people that you meet.” Add to that the ideas that you learn from talking to these people and reading industry publications and books, and you should be set. The future looks bright when you combine timeless truths with modern tools — you could almost call it breakthrough prospecting.

Marilee Driscoll’s “Invisible to Incredible” programs show how to use marketing and do-it-yourself PR to raise visibility, credibility, and profitability. She can be reached at md@marileedriscoll.com