In the financial advisory business, the key to success is referrals.

Financial advisors who get a good referral program going are almost bound to do well.

But instead of scheduling talks at the local Elks Club or offering mini-courses in personal finance at the local high school, some industry observers suggest that all advisors need to do is pursue their passions, and the referrals will come.

Take Scott Adams, a certified financial planner in Kansas City, Mo.

He and his wife have two special-needs children, and in struggling to find programs that could assist them with their kids, Adams says that they became experts in related issues, which they then realized that countless other families also face.

Because he and his business partner had financial expertise, they were also able to help those families with matters such as increasing assets and setting up trusts to ensure the long-term support of special-needs children who would likely outlive their parents.

“At some point, there was an ‘Aha!’ moment when we realized there was a business niche here, and we started really focusing on developing a business plan and learning what we needed to know to really be able to help special-needs families,” Adams says.

Their advisory firm is now known as the Special Needs Planning Center, and though it is based in Kansas City, it has clients all over the United States and even around the globe.

Interestingly, though, Adams says that his clients aren’t limited to special-needs families because “in a relationship-based practice like this, when you help someone, they will recommend you to other people because they trust you and know you will do a good job.”

Rick Rummage, president and chief executive of the Rummage Group, an advisor training firm in Herndon, Va., makes the same point.

“Anytime you have some passion and you get together with other people who share that passion, they are going to see you as the person with that passion, not as a financial advisor,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s helping special-needs kids or saving the environment.”

Advisors don’t have to sell themselves professionally in such a group and shouldn’t even try, Rummage says.

Once an advisor-client relationship is based upon that shared passion all it takes is a few of those like-minded individuals becoming clients and the referrals will follow naturally, he says.

Adams agrees.

“Whether your passion is water skiing, conservation or building schools in Central America, it’s the same,” he says.

“It’s a much deeper relationship you have with people than just, ‘Hi, here’s the Morningstar Report. Let’s discuss your financial goals.’” Adams says.

Dave Lindorff spent five years as a China correspondent for Businessweek and has written for The Nation and

This story is part of a 30-day series on how to generate the best referrals.

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