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4 steps to mastering the art of networking

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Having a strong network of fellow professionals, influencers and experts is crucial to achieving success as an adviser. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • 72.7% of advisers we studied report that their networks connect them to affluent prospective clients.
  • 83.3% of advisers say their social networks are an extremely (or the most) important source for attracting clients.
"Having a strong network of fellow professionals, influencers and experts is crucial to achieving success as an adviser."

The benefits are myriad and include: A new source of revenue through affluent-client introductions; stronger loyalty among existing clients because of the enhanced skills and expertise your network provides; exponential growth from a steady stream of ideal clients; and you may even enjoy your career more. The elite advisers who excel at networking tell me time and again that collaborating with other professionals is tremendously energizing.

Unfortunately, most of the advice we receive about building networks is bad. Just going to random meetups or joining elite organizations doesn’t typically lead to the best results. To build successful networks, you must be systematic and smart in your approach.

1. Prepare: Reach out to others before you actually need help. As you begin, ask yourself some key questions about where you are today:

  • How powerful is your network? Is it meeting your needs?
  • Does it solve your professional challenges? (For example, does it help you deliver a broad range of services and expertise to your clients?)
  • Does your network connect you to affluent investors who are ideal prospective clients?
  • Does it generate a steady stream of quality prospect introductions?

What business needs do you have that require a great network of people? The most obvious one is the need for more business. Great networks help generate new business through various types of working relationships, such as joint ventures.

But great networks are also vital if you are going to provide services around estate planning, asset protection and other advanced planning issues. No adviser alone can be the top expert.

A great network of resources is also key to better understanding the clients you currently serve or want to serve. When you meet and build relationships with the influencers in your area, you can gain valuable insights that will empower you to better serve that community.

2. Expand and seek. The best way to find collaborators for your network — and get them to work with you — is to position yourself in the middle of the action. The way to do that is to serve as a wealth manager who can coordinate the efforts of a team of professionals on behalf of shared affluent clients.

Start by identifying four key outside experts to partner with: a private client lawyer, an accounting specialist, a life insurance expert and a personal lines specialist. These should be the core members, because together their combined expertise can address most, if not all, of the biggest challenges affluent clients face.

Then there are ancillary professionals you might add to meet specific clients’ needs. For example, if you work with the estate of an entrepreneur who had many businesses, you might need a valuation specialist and a credit analyst.

In addition, one of the things we’ve learned through our research is that you may need to increase the overall robustness of your network in order to get ahead. That means, you need connections that will help you reach out and access lots of people with many resources.

"No adviser alone can be the top expert for all their affluent clients’ needs."

A network with range has:

  • People who are different from you demographically (occupation, skill sets, backgrounds, hobbies, even geography).
  • People who are different from each other.
  • People who are not too interconnected; it’s best if a low percentage of your network knows each other.

Having a diverse network gives you the ability to leverage what’s known in marketing circles as the strength of weak ties — that is, help and insights from people you aren’t especially close with, or even from friends of friends whom you don’t know at all. It can also plug you into a broader range of ideas and expertise than you might get from a homogenous network.

3. Meet and listen. When you speak with potential network members, don’t spend your time bragging about how great you are. Get to know them and understand their needs by asking them questions such as:

  • What are the three key financial concerns that members of your community are asking you about?
  • What have been some of your biggest marketing successes with this community?
  • How do you differentiate yourself from your peers?
  • What has been your experience working with advisers — what’s worked and what hasn’t?

Then you should be fully engaged as an active listener when they respond.

4. Look for the economic glue. Your questions will help you discover how you can help members of your network in their efforts to attract and serve clients. This is crucial. Too often, networking is nothing more than a bunch of people seeing what they can get from each other. By positioning yourself as wanting to help others reach their professional goals, you will immediately stand out as someone without selfish motivations. When you help others, it creates what is commonly called the law of reciprocity — being helped by someone, we feel almost compelled to then turn around and help that person.

Of course, for a relationship to move forward, it needs to be mutually beneficial, so you’ll want to figure out if the other person can assist you, too.

If you see the potential for a synergistic relationship, you can start exploring the economic glue that will bind you together in ways that create win-wins.

There are two forms of economic glue:

  • Business development. Like you, other professionals want more clients. If you work together to help grow your businesses — with a focus on helping them first in order to create reciprocity — you form an economic glue that will maintain their desire to keep sending business your way.
  • Revenue sharing. Whether another professional will (or even can) enter into a revenue sharing agreement with you depends on various rules. But obviously, by sharing revenue, you create a sticky economic glue that helps promote long-term success for both of you.

Economic glue is what enables you to work together on an ongoing basis. After all, you don’t want one-off relationships with great professionals — you want to regularly consult with them to continuously bring value to clients. When you think long term, you work better together.

Ultimately, the payoff is a steady stream of new prospective client introductions, which might include top clients of the other professionals’ firms, as well as associates and partners within those firms. Some of the most successful advisers in our coaching program have generated tremendous AUM growth simply by serving the executives within the CPA and other firms with which they have created networks.

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