Referrals are the lifeblood of your business, especially at the top end of your client list. I have seen advisors form great referral alliances with golf pros, car dealers, personal shoppers and even landscape professionals. Anyone who works with your target market can refer you. However, as a coach, the most referral bang for your buck can be found from three sources—accountants, attorneys and property and casualty agents.

Accountants are approached constantly by advisors who want to develop relationships. Sadly, too many advisors call an accountant and ask to share the accountant's client names. The accountants I know laugh when this happens—and they should.

This sort of approach shows a fundamental flaw in how advisors frequently think about the referral relationship. Referral relationships are, at their core, human relationships. That's why advisors receive the best referrals from accountants who are also friends. Friendships are built on trust, and people are willing to recommend other professionals they trust. If you want to work with an accountant to share referrals, start out by forming a relationship. Start with accountants you already know. Do what it takes to get on friendly terms.

That said, remember that no one likes being in a friendship that is all give and no take. Be willing to offer as much help as you expect to receive. Rather than asking for a referral first, offer one. Make it a good one. Your accountant friend would prefer a business owner referral—someone who needs ongoing accounting services—rather than a person who needs only annual tax preparation. Once you've shown that you're bringing value to the relationship, the referrals will flow.

Referrals from attorneys are a little more difficult. Many advisors feel burned because they refer a lot of business to attorneys and get no referrals back. The best way to proceed with these types of professionals is to talk to your peers and find out more about the attorneys you want to work with. Are they generous or tight-fisted with their referrals? Another great technique is to host events together. The attorney invites 10 people, you invite 10 people and you both speak for 20 minutes. At the end, everyone goes home with a gift bag from both of you, and you each have new prospects with whom you can follow up individually.

An overlooked source of referrals is property and casualty agents. Unlike financial advisors, their business model relies on renewal business. Some have thousands of clients. But their approach to client relationships is very similar to that of a financial advisor, which makes them a great partner for referrals.

Begin by finding the right agent. An independent agent has more flexibility than a captive one. A massive agency might be too busy, and a smaller one not ready to refer. Advisors should target agents with 500 to 2,000 clients. Invite the agent into your office monthly to meet with clients who need comprehensive risk management review. You can review the insurance that you are licensed to provide, and the agent can review the rest. In return, you would go to the agent's office once a month to offer his or her clients comprehensive financial review. Just make sure the agent is arranging meetings with your ideal type of client. Advisors have reported remarkable success with this technique.

Most importantly, when you start your referral initiative, keep it simple. Try one of these techniques with one group of professionals before moving on to others.

Todd Colbeck is principal and founder of the Colbeck Coaching Group, a subsidiary
of General Business Center, Inc. You can reach him at this email address.

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