Ready to Grow? Rethink Your Approach to Networking

For advisors, networking can be a tricky proposition.

More than a decade ago, I remember picking up the book Never Eat Alone by New York Times bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi. The book promised to help readers “build a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors.” And though there is certainly a lot of value in Ferrazzi’s thinking, it was clear to me that much of his out-of-the-box approach to networking just wouldn’t fly in the world of financial advisors. Why? Because unlike professionals in nearly every other industry, advisors simply don’t spend their days surrounded by likeminded colleagues. That means that even if you’ve honed your networking skills and built scores of great relationships, reaching beyond the four walls of your office on a regular basis can be near to impossible. So much for “never eating alone”!

To make the situation even more challenging, if you’re like most advisors, you’ve probably tried (and tried!) to network—but to no avail. You’ve joined networking organizations and made it to every one of those oh-so-early breakfast meet-ups. You’ve followed the advice of your business coach (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and expanded your ‘circle of influence’, both in-person and on LinkedIn. And yet, despite the time and energy you’ve devoted to the cause, you’ve reaped little or no fruit from your efforts. Even the relationships you have built simply aren’t translating into new revenue. Clearly, there must be a better way!

Here’s the thing: all valuable relationships have one thing in common. They offer mutual benefit. (That’s true in love and business!) And finding mutually beneficial relationships isn’t an easy task when you spend 90% of your working hours in your office serving your clients. So where can you turn to expand your network and build relationships that can drive revenue? It’s time to turn to the one group of people you see every day—your clients.

Here are 5 steps to help turn your clients into your new revenue-generators:

1. Identify your ‘A’ clients—the top 20% of who generate the most revenue for your firm. Whether that list includes 10 people or 30 (it will all depend on the size of your practice), focus on transforming every person on your list from ’client’ to ‘center of influence.’

2. Call each one personally and ask for a list of their other advisors. Let your client know that serving in his or her best interest is your primary goal, and that doing your job—and doing it well—requires collaboration with each of their trusted advisors. That means you would like to be in touch with everyone on their financial team, including their accountant, lawyer, tax advisor, insurance agent, and estate planner. Next, ask for each advisor’s contact information or, even better, a personal introduction.

3. Call or email each contact individually. Let the advisor know that your goal is to serve the needs of your mutual client, and request a face-to-face meeting. That may mean lunch (remember Never Eat Alone?), coffee, or a Skype session. The goal is to put a face to the name and start building a real relationship. In your first meeting, focus only the needs of the individual client. Don’t try to sell anything. Your commitment to your client is the best first impression you can make.

4. Follow up with something that offers value. No matter how extensive or brief your first meeting may be, you should be able to find something you can offer as a follow up. Send an email thanking the person for taking the time to collaborate, let them know you appreciate your shared values or philosophies, and offer a helpful suggestion—large or small. Close your note with an open offer to continue to your collaborative relationship.

5. Offer a referral. Assuming your new contact is someone you feel comfortable recommending, call with a direct referral to one of your own clients. Whatever their specialty, dig into your client base and find someone who needs their help. Whether the relationship flourishes or not, you’ll have extended your hand. The best part: without ever asking for a thing, but you can almost certainly expect the favor to be returned in the future. And you’ll be one step closer toward that mutually beneficial relationship you’ve been seeking all along.

“Never eating alone” may be great in theory, but for busy advisors, a corporate approach to networking rarely works. Instead, try this step-by-step method for networking that makes the most of the trusted relationships you already have with your affluent clients. And while you may not be going about it by “hunting” for relationships the way Keith Ferrazzi recommends, you may ultimately end up with the same reward: a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors. The only difference is that you’ll have added the powerful missing link—clients—to the list. What more could an aspiring advisor hope for?

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The information and opinions herein are for general information use only. The opinions reflect those of the writers but not necessarily those of New York Life Investment Management LLC (NYLIM). NYLIM does not guarantee their accuracy or completeness, nor does New York Life Investment Management LLC assume any liability for any loss that may result from the reliance by any person upon any such information or opinions. Such information and opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security or as personalized investment advice.
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