Helen Modly, CFP, ChFC, executive vice-president with Focus Wealth Management Ltd. in Middleburg, Va., knows exactly how many of her firm’s referrals for the past year came from other professionals: 82 percent, mostly from estate planning attorneys, divorce attorneys and accountants. That success results from several strategies that increase her credibility and access to other professionals.
The process starts by positioning herself as an expert resource. She frequently publishes articles about her areas of expertise for the local law journal, the Web and other local media outlets. The articles generate name recognition and demonstrate that Modly has the expertise other professionals require. “When you think about an attorney or an accountant referring one of their clients to somebody in the financial industry, they are quite understandably reticent about it because they are concerned,” she says. “Do you really know what you’re doing? What are you going to sell them? Whereas when you’re published and you’re showing up in Google and in their local papers and magazines, then you become a known quantity, so to speak. So it’s not as dangerous for them to refer you.”
Modly doesn’t rely solely on publications to develop contacts, however. Three years ago her firm created “lunch and learn” seminars that she presents at local CPA firms. The topics are technical and approved by the Virginia Board of Accountancy for one hour of continuing professional education (CPE) for the firm’s staff, who attend at noon and bring their own lunches. The seminars introduce Modly to local CPAs and also establish her credentials as an expert and resource in the subject matter. Modly says she offers the program to numerous firms in her area and presents the seminars at one or two firms each year. Even if a firm doesn’t accept her offer, the fact that she’s qualified to present CPE-approved material burnishes her reputation. Modly is attempting to replicate her success with CPAs with local bar associations. Once her programs are approved for CPE by those organizations, she hopes to present the programs during the associations’ luncheons.
Existing clients can be a valuable source of referrals to the other professionals with whom they work, says Bob Wander, CFP, owner of Wander Financial Services in New York City. He estimates that close to a third of his new clients come from other professionals and cites an example of how the process often works. “I have two clients who own a business together,” he says. “In doing planning for them over the years, at any number of times various accounting issues have come up. It made sense, at their initiation, to put me in touch with their accountant. Over the years we developed a relationship just because we had a similar client and that was a great way to get to know each other.”
Wander stresses the need to investigate whether your clientele and target markets are sufficiently similar to the other professional’s. For instance, if you focus on high-net-worth clients and the other professionals’ clients are mass affluent, you can’t provide much benefit to each other. You also want to learn if the other professional is already locked in to relationships that will preclude working with you. If they are, says Wander, you’re probably wasting your time by trying to build an alliance with them.