Creating a Professional Referral Team

Barry LaValley

As you look at your business plan for the coming year, how are you going to build referral relationships in your community? Have you thought about building relationships — and developing potential clients — with those businesses that are outside of the normal financial stream?

The life planning approach offers you the chance to develop relationships with a different group of professionals than most advisors think of — those people in your community who have the same clients as you do and are in various businesses serving the needs of the community.

It is common for financial advisors to seek out strategic alliances or collaboration with other financial specialists such as bankers, tax accountants, estate planners and lawyers. Life-focused planners have extended their referral network to include those people in their community who focus on the non-financial aspects of life planning and can support the advisor's service to the client.

By doing so, the advisor avoids taking on the role of expert in all life planning areas and doesn't have to partake in a personal or uncomfortable discussion that is beyond the scope of his expertise. It is a lot like "having your cake and eating it, too" — you can provide a life planning service for clients simply by leveraging the knowledge of other professionals.

Developing your professional referral team

Most advisors have an unofficial list of people they call when they need answers to help a client. There is an opportunity, however, to create a more formalized strategic alliance with a group of professionals and then use it to extend an advisor's branding as a life-focused planner.

You aren't necessarily offering the services of a psychologist or personal coach in your practice. Instead, you are offering your ability to provide a meaningful referral to a professional who has expertise in a particular area. You have helped your client by doing the legwork to find someone knowledgeable and you have demonstrated that you are interested in a holistic approach to your client's life by recognizing the need for outside assistance in areas not directly related to financial planning.

Finally, by creating the concept of a life planning team of outside professionals for your clients, you have shifted your role from being the expert to becoming the "point of entry" for a client to understand the key issues associated with their life plan. In other words, you don't have to be the expert — you just have to know where the experts are.

Selecting your partners Tips on developing your professional referral network.

  1. Interview all potential referrals.
  2. Explain what you are trying to accomplish and how they benefit through exposure to your client base.
  3. Explain your philosophy and how you differ from other advisors.
  4. Learn about their expertise and how they are different from their competitors.
  5. Ensure that they are willing to refer people to you in return.

The trust your clients provide you is tested each time you bring in an outside expert to help out. If the professionals who make up your referral team don't maintain the same high standards that you do, your reputation could be hurt. For that reason, you should use a checklist to ensure that your strategic alliances meet your standards. Some of the areas to watch are:

  • Their reputation in their field
  • How they service their own clients
  • Whether they share your same values in the area of life planning
  • The kinds of clients they currently serve
  • Their ability to communicate
  • Their views on confidentiality
  • Their follow-through
  • Whether you like them

Ask yourself whether you would be comfortable dealing with this person. Delve into what they do, what their philosophy is, how they charge for their services and whether they would be interested in creating a formal strategic alliance with you. Share with them your views of the relationship between financial planning and life planning and the fact that your clients need to understand and sometimes receive assistance on the latter before you can help them on the former.

Create a referral club with your professionals

As you build your list, you also have a unique opportunity to develop relationships with the professionals who are part of your strategic alliance. A key to building a life planning team is to contact members of your community and ask for interviews.

Use this approach:

"I am in the process of developing a referral list of professionals in my community to refer my clients to when they need help in areas I am not trained in. Would you mind if I came by your office and interviewed you to find out a little about what you do and how you might be able to help my clients should they need it."

Leveraging your professional referral — some ideas:

  • Joint workshops or seminars.
  • Create brochure on your professional referral sources.
  • Maintain supply of your professional referrals' business cards in a file.
  • Create a display of your professional referrals' brochures in your waiting room.
  • Advertise in your marketing material that you are part of a group.
  • Use articles from your professional referrals in your newsletters.
  • Create links to your professional referrals on your Web site.

"Barry LaValley is a well-known speaker and writer in the financial services industry and consults with advisors in both Canada and the United States. In addition, he has become a leading spokesperson for the "life planning approach" to financial planning. His web site is http//

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