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If you’re looking for new ideas to help build a referral-based practice, consider this one: printing business cards noting both your contact info and that of a center of influence: a loyal client or fellow advisor with whom you exchange referral leads. Then give those cards to the referral source to hand out to people they meet.

Vicki Writer, a state sales manager for AIA Australia and the founder and director of Dare to Achieve, a company specializing in the development of human potential, imparted these and other ideas for securing referrals during an afternoon workshop of the Million Dollar Roundtable (MDRT), being held in  Anaheim, June 9-13.

“If you want people to be talking positively about you and your business, this is a very good strategy,” said Writer, who also runs  runs a website to assist advisers and other industry professionals increase sales. “Word-of-mouth referrals far outweigh any advertising.”

A key first step in building a referral-based practice, said Writer, is “cloning” or articulating one’s ideal client: defining the attributes of prospects–their type of business, age, occupation, salary and net worth, marital status, location, among other criteria, that are likely to increase sales. Also to be weighed are the investment, retirement and risk products that prospects will likely buy.

“It’s not until we can get really clear on what our ideal clients look like that we can then go back and put a plan of replication in place,” said Writer.

She added that many advisors, after cross-referencing a database of existing clients against their ideal client profile, are “quite surprised” to learn that many of their clients don’t fit the profile. Those who do conform to the profile, she added, are prime sources for referrals because they likely know individuals who, like themselves, also fit the profile.

“If we are looking to develop more medical professionals [as clients] and we have medical professionals in our database, then these are the ideal people to be getting more referrals from to attract more medical professionals,” she said. “Self-employed people know more self-employed people. Accountants know more accountants.”

“Use these people as our personal marketing board of advice,” Writer added. “Utilize their knowledge, their skill, their insights, their expertise to help design marketing material that is going to be applicable, relevant, and interesting to that particular demographic.”

Writer said that advisors should then determine whether these clients would be willing to handwrite a “with compliments” slip outlining and recommending the advisor’s services. The recommendation can be attached to marketing materials developed with their assistance and sent to prospects in a personally addressed envelope.

A useful tool for both providing and securing referrals, said Writer, is a diagnostic questionnaire for probing clients about their financial objectives and resources. Among them: questions relating to taxation and accounting, wills and estate planning, mortgages, investments and risk products.

Depending on the answers, an advisor may wish to refer the client to “center of influences,” such as accountants and attorneys who can fulfill tax and legal needs identified in the questionnaire. The expectation is that these professionals would reciprocate by referring to the advisor qualified individuals among their own clients to assist with insurance or other financial needs.

“The number one thing in terms of importance to these centers of influence (COI) [is] the advisor’s ability to cross-sell the services of the COI.,” said writer. “If the accountant refers a client to me as the advisor, the most important thing for me to do is to uncover other additional opportunities for the accountant to work on with the client. It’s my responsibility to uncover in the fact find a whole bunch of other services that the accountant can assist the client with. That is the number one thing that came out of the research.”

“The second most important thing is general cross-referrals,” she added. “They want you to refer people back to them. The diagnostic questionnaire lends itself very well to this strategy.”

Apart from exchanging referrals, said Writer, the advisor can add value to other professionals’ practices by contributing to their newsletters and web sites and by co-hosting seminars and similar educational sessions with them.

The referral report has three tabs: new leads, business submitted, and dead leads. The advisor would send a report each Friday to the COI–even even if no referrals have been received. The advisor would also co-brand the report with both firms’ logos.

Writer also recommended hosting a professional breakfast series for referral sources, including accountants, lawyers, general insurance brokers, and leasing consultants. During these one- to two-hour meetings, two referral sources would their describe their practices and detail how their businesses can benefit the other members.

“This is a very good strategy because we know that one of the most important things to a referral source is cross-referrals,” said Writer. “This is a great way for the referral source to build its brand by helping referral sources get business out of the breakfasts.”