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.
Wander recommends approaching alliances from the other party’s perspective. “You’re not going to have any success simply telling someone how great you are and why they should refer their clients to you,” he says. “They’re thinking, ‘How does the relationship benefit me?’ You have to start with how you might benefit this person sitting across the table from you. Once you’ve had that conversation, then presumably they’re going to, in turn, ask you a similar question, and if they don’t, then you initiate it.”
With so much of our time spent online, it only makes sense to use the Web for professional networking. That’s the approach Brian Orol, CFP with Strategic Wealth Group, Inc./Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., in Raleigh, N.C., has started taking. Orol estimates that 15 percent of his new clients come from professional alliances. He has been using the social media site LinkedIn to identify and initiate contact with potential allies in his area. Although he doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the site, he’s found it’s a viable tool. “On LinkedIn I can look for CPAs who may be working with clients similar to mine,” he says. “I can reach out to them and just say here’s what I do. Can we get together over coffee so I can learn more about your practice and maybe I would be of help to your clients?”
It’s a low-key approach. Orol sends a message asking that professional to join Orol’s LinkedIn network; alternatively, he extends an invitation for an in-person meeting. To date Orol has developed promising connections with two professionals through LinkedIn. “To me, it’s a large Chamber of Commerce,” he says. “That’s how I view it – fellow professionals looking to grow their networks – the same people you find in a Chamber. But you can find them more easily, quickly, more efficiently, I think, through social networking these days.”
Meeting other professionals and discovering areas where you might work together is the first step, but it takes effort to sustain the relationships over the long term. Wander believes there are no “silver bullets” for maintaining alliances and much of the time it’s a matter of focusing on the basics. “I think a lot of this stuff comes down to the so-called blocking and tackling – the basic stuff,” he says. “It’s nothing that’s terribly, in most cases, unique or creative or different. I think being consistent in finding ways to add value is the way to develop relationships, and you have to be patient. These things oftentimes can take years to develop.”