If growing your practice is at the top of your list of goals for 2016, you’re in good company. Most advisors know that significant gains don’t just occur by chance.

Sure, after the first few years of building a practice, annual growth may seem to be advancing. But in the face of increasingly tough competition and ever-changing environments, whether you are an advisor with a comfortable-sized rolodex or a business owner with incremental growth, you will be challenged to get to the ‘next level’ if you don’t have a clear commitment to driving it there and doing it now.

The fact is that true growth occurs through a strategic and disciplined approach. Fortunately, one of the keys to driving your success inherently stems from who you know and with whom you surround yourself.

Beyond all the marketing strategies and tools that may be available to you, a relationship-centric growth model — something that you are probably very familiar with as an advisor — can be the center of your plan. This means working to deepen the relationships you currently have and continuing to create new connections with an eye toward future opportunity.

According to FINRA, in 2010 there were just over 230,000 registered representatives in the United States and in the last five years that number has increased by nearly 12,000. This progressive increase coupled with the steady climb in the number of retired baby boomers means that now, more than ever, it is important for advisors to standout from competitors in meaningful ways. Drawing on what you know about the importance of financial planning, and sharing your perspectives through stories and insights, can enable you to make personal connections, which can be a very distinctive source for success.

So, we asked five financial advisors and executives on how to develop those client relationships. The following are five tips to grow your business by building and leveraging those relationships.

1. Be selective when bringing on new clientele

“If you’ve set your sights on growing your portfolio in 2016, it may seem like a good strategy to take on any client that comes your way. Enjoyable, sustainable and palatable growth cannot be achieved by forcing client relationships that aren’t truly a good fit. Doing this may even damage the client experience you provide as a whole.

“Instead, seek out clients with high integrity who are pleasant to be with and who are appreciative of the work you do for them. It’s your job as an advisor to value each and every relationship, and make every client feel as if they are your only client.

“This kind of attention will not go unnoticed, and over time you will begin to gain valuable referrals. The importance of quality over quantity couldn’t ring truer.

“At my practice, when we sit down as a team to plan for the year ahead, we don’t write any numbers down. Our goal is to make the year ahead as enjoyable as we can for everyone involved.”

- Peter Maller, founder and president of Maller Wealth Advisors, registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors

2. With existing clients, be the person they always turn to

“My advice to new advisors who ask me about the secret to my success is to simply be honest with clients — put them first every time and never vary from that. It’s not the ‘sexy’ or complex answer they’re usually expecting, but a client’s trust is the most important factor in a strong, lasting relationship.

“The stepping stone to building this trust is ongoing contact. Before taking a new client on, I ask each of them to agree to meet with me twice a year.

“This means more work for me and my staff, but the time and effort we devote is worth it when the result is a strong bond. From there I ask to be involved in every facet of a client’s financial life.

“In addition to helping them with investments, if they’re shopping for a mortgage or auto loan, they know that I can connect them with the people who have competitive rates and provide quality service.

“Being the person a client can turn to for anything, makes you the advisor they will stay with for life.”

- Mark Rychel, founding partner of BCR Financial Services, registered representative of Lincoln Financial Securities

3. Make connections that lead to growth

“You may not be ready to grow your practice through acquisitions this year, or even next year. However, the connections you make now could lead to this type of organic growth when you’re ready.

“I’ve acquired a total of four practices since 1995, but I like to refer to them as saying I helped four friends retire. I developed relationships with each of these senior advisors over the years, and when it came time for them to wind down, they sold to me because they trusted me and knew I would take care of their clients.

“This year, take the time to get to know senior advisors with whom you have something in common. You could find one or many mentors, but your practice could also some day benefit from the connections you make today.”

- Mike Lockwood, investment advisor representative and registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors

4. Take stock of your centers of influence

“Clients feel like they’re being ‘sold to’ every day. Commercials, Internet ads and telemarketing calls have made most consumers wary of such sales techniques. However, this hesitance has elevated the effectiveness and reliability of word-of-mouth recommendations. For advisors to generate a consistent flow of quality activity and referrals, it’s important to generate relationships with key centers of influence.

“I’ve been cultivating relationships with property and casualty agents, attorneys, accountants and member firms since I came into this business 40 years ago.

“I wasn’t strong enough back then to do cold calling. I would instead go door to door and talk to people, trying to connect on both a professional and personal level. Through those relationships, I found that I could create a consistent flow of quality activity and referrals.

“Do the same, and you’ll see your centers of influence come back to you — someone they trust — for advice.”

- Jack Friel, founding senior advisor and managing partner of Friel Associates, registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors

5. Take a multigenerational approach

“Typically, estate planning means preparing for the transfer of your wealth to a family, but often neglected is preparing the family to receive that wealth. Part of advising clients is understanding what is most important to them. Oftentimes, family is the number one answer. So, doesn’t it seem logical to meet the people who are most important to your client if they may ultimately inherit your client’s assets?

“When reviewing beneficiary designations with clients, I ask if they mind me contacting their children just to introduce myself. During those calls, I explain some of the services I am providing to their parents, and mention that if I can ever be of assistance, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact me. This will typically end up with them asking questions about their own financial situation. Alternately, if clients are uncomfortable discussing their wealth with their children, I offer to act as a moderator during family meetings.

“Statistically, most assets leave the current advisor when the client dies. So, getting to know the family is not only a great way to get plugged into your client’s financial goals, it’s a good way to retain assets.”

- Joseph Biloon, partner of Financial House, registered representative of Lincoln Financial Securities

At the end of the day, no matter where you are in your career, your most important business assets are the relationships you maintain. Remarkably, we’re not talking about dramatically redefining how you do business, but rather making the most of who and what you already know.

Each of these planners have taken a different path toward success, but all are in agreement that relationship development and client engagement can be the greatest source of differentiation and opportunity for any advisor or firm. Connecting with the people you serve and work with draws on professional skills and personal values.

High-value relationships are seldom achieved in a snap. Earning trust takes time and focused persistence. So does creating entirely new connections with individuals or organizations of like mind or complementary skills set or reputation. With competitors nipping at our collective heels and still more baby boomers in need of financial advice, we can’t afford to wait for good things to come our way, we have to plan for it.

It takes time to realize the benefits of growing a network for long-term success. Early investments in a relationship-development strategy can help lead to the progression of your client portfolio with a return of consistent, warm referrals.

Dale Carnegie once said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Here’s to your continued success in 2016.

See also:

Are you in the business of cultivating relationships?

Client relationships: 4 categories

Strategic alliances are a win-win for advisors and their clients