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Turning Contacts Into Advocates

The financial industry values the power of referrals because they are among the best ways to grow a business. However, when I consider many of the effective ways I have generated referrals, I believe we would benefit from looking at referral generation in the broader context of marketing.
The right marketing plan must have a strategy for forming relationships with key players within a market. Every advisor needs advocates. How can you develop advocates quickly and effectively? Here are four tips to get you started.
1. Get Invited In
The best way to build relationships with centers of influence is to get invited in. But how do you get invited? Ask your clients and they will gladly do it for you.  
Here’s a story to illustrate the point: I was at a networking event at my local Chamber of Commerce and I knew one of my clients would also be there. I asked him what groups he is involved in that have been really good for his business. He replied, “Oh, I’m a member of the LGBT Chamber in Washington. It would be perfect for you. Let me invite you to our next event.” 
I took him up on his offer and met him at the next event. I had him introduce me, I made several solid connections, and I began to develop some key relationships quickly — all because my client invited me in! Taking this approach with all clients can work well; just be genuinely interested in their success and ask them what they’re doing to connect and grow, and they will naturally invite you to the events they believe are working well for them.
2. Know The Celebrities
After you’ve been connected, get to know the “celebrities” in the group — people who show up in most of the photos posted online, and people you want to know: key leaders and influencers. Once I became connected to the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, I got to know the board members and leaders. I made sure my client introduced me to them at our first meeting, and from there I spent time getting to know them. 
The approach that works the best is to become an advocate for the group itself and ask the key leaders how you can support the group. What areas of need do they have? I wanted to learn from them, build friendships with them and hear their perspectives on what they believed their community needed. 
When leaders see that you care about their group, they will warm up to you quickly. These professional relationships have become personal friendships and have been keys to developing relational equity within the community in a short amount of time.
3. Sponsor Events
Most groups hold events of some kind. Whether it’s a charity golf outing or a membership event, take advantage of the community and sponsor events. Yes, it comes at a cost, but there’s no better way to grow relationships than to be a sponsor. 
Find the sponsorship opportunities that are right for you, and don’t just spend money to have your name on a banner. Most groups will work to ensure you speak or get some face time with other members of the group. 
Being a sponsor allows you to engage at a deeper level while demonstrating to the community that you’re committed enough to spend money to support it. Events that are philanthropic in nature can be the most powerful because the focus is less on business for yourself and more on the shared values of that community.
4. Serve The Community
Finally, if you want your influence to grow, find ways to serve the community, such as by volunteering for a committee or for a board. I was on the LGBT Chamber’s board for four years, serving as vice president and as treasurer. I’ve served on other boards as well. Being a member of a volunteer board is a fantastic way to get an inside perspective of the community of members you are there to serve. It’s also a great way to grow business, because now you’re the person people will want to know.
The common theme of the four strategies described earlier centers on the law of reciprocity. You may know it as giver’s gain. By giving to others — whether to your client by taking a genuine interest in their business, or to the community through volunteering, sponsorship or board service, the law of reciprocity is a powerful force that ingratiates others to you. When you’ve given without the expectation of return, those who recognize this tend to want to give back to you.  
Developing strong relationships with centers of influence makes you a strong member of the community that these partners will advocate for. Ultimately, the best way to get referrals is to be referable.  Using the strategies described earlier will make you referable and will form strong community relationships to benefit your practice. 

Brian Haney, CFS, CFBS, CLTC, LACP, has been in the financial services business since 2003. He founded The Haney Co. with his father six years ago. Brian may be contacted at [email protected] .

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