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3 Rules to Getting Referrals from Other Professionals

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Oct 23rd 2014
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It's a funny thing about referral sources: As an accountant you top the list as a key referral source for so many other professions. Insurance agents and financial advisors are just two of the kinds of professionals that want to know you better. But where do you look for referrals?

Know the Ground Rules

Consider it a game. Why? Because games have rules. You can win the game if you understand and play within the rules. Here are a few basic ones:

1.Referrals Come in Sets. It's rare that one professional refers another to the exclusion of others. When financial advisors refer accountants, they often offer a set of three or more business cards, tell their client a little about each one and let the client keep the cards and choose. You can't be the only one, but you want to be in the pack.

Why: The situation can blow up if all clients are sent to one professional (there's no choice) and something goes wrong. The client also might assume one gets a finders fee from the other.

2.Give to Get.  "To have a friend, be a friend." You must give to get. There are plenty of competent bankers, brokers, and insurance agents who want referrals from you. Presumably they have clients who need accountants.

Why: You would be astute enough to recognize their talent. Shouldn't they respect yours?

3.Who, What, Why. – The New York Times estimates the average American knows 600 people. Everyone you know should understand who you are, what you do and why you are good. If they don't know, tell them. If you told them years ago, remind them.

Why: They can't refer if they don't understand your business.

Referral Sources: Think It Through

Influencers are people others approach for advice. (As the line in Fiddler on the Roof goes: "When you're rich they think you really know.")  Certain people are well placed to suggest a good accountant. Often they are people others respect. These can include:

  • Realtors. Executives often get relocated. They usually get a package to ease the home buying transition. Many bond with their Realtors. Executives often prefer face-to-face relationships. Do you know a good accountant?
  • Financial Advisors. They seek to gather client assets. They cross sell, but there's a limit to the services they provide. Accounting and legal advice is usually off the table. They often know when their clients need new accountants.
  • Bankers. When starting a business, applying for a loan often follows shortly after incorporation. Business owners need services like commercial insurance and recordkeeping. Bankers are in a position to offer suggestions.
  • Commercial Insurance Agents.  Businesses in the early stages of a start-up need to buy certain types of basic coverage. They were likely referred to the agency. They might need accounting help.
  • Divorce Attorneys.  When couples split up they often assume their financial professionals choose sides or share information. They want to create distance. Often they turn to their attorney and ask for referrals.
  • Estate Attorneys. Not all heirs are young. Sometimes older people leave assets to aged brothers and sisters, and they need advice when receiving a windfall. Some attorneys might consider financial advisors and insurance agents as predatory, because they are often paid when a sale takes place. Accountants are fellow professionals paid by the hour. They see you providing unbiased advice.
  • Business Sales. It's not that common, but sometimes people feel they outgrow their accountant or financial advisor. This happens when business owners who have lived modestly sell companies for a huge sum. They may feel they need to "step up." The person advising on the sale might be asked to refer accountants.
  • Other Accountants. Generalists are smart enough to send people with a complicated problem outside their field of expertise to an expert. Do you have an area of expertise?
  • Retiring Middle Managers.  They are far enough up the ladder to get stock options but below the level where the firm pays for the advice they need. "How do I maximize the value of my stock options as I approach retirement?" It's likely you've helped clients in a similar situation. Do they know others?
  • Pastors and Religious Leaders.  Elderly parishioners often consider the leader of the religious community their first stop for advice. They may have lost a spouse and are uncomfortable handling money. The pastor isn't an expert in this field. They need a safe set of hands to suggest. That's you.
  • Satisfied Customers.  Your own clients are probably asked: "Who's your accountant? Do you like them?" The most credible referrals are from people who work directly with a professional and are satisfied. Do they know you are accepting new clients, specifically friends of current clients?

You know some of these influencers already. Others are off the radar. In the middle are a few sources you know but never considered in that role. Everyone should know who you are, what you do and why you are good. You must tell them.

About the author:
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book "Captivating the Wealthy Investor" can be found on Amazon.com.

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