Four ingredients to grow your business through professional connections

“There was a case last week – it was an older lady who was very anxious. She’d been trying to sort out her will for ages, but nothing had happened.

So I called our legal connection, Edward, and explained the situation. I provided him with names and the soft facts. That way she was really quite comfortable when he called her. He knew what was going on and that was reassuring for her.”

James Lockyer, wealth management consultant at Weald Wealth Management

When professionals work well together it can benefit every party. The referrer has a fuller offering by bringing in technical expertise. The connection gains a client. And, crucially, the client receives a better service.
There is no doubt that working with solicitors and accountants also makes commercial sense.

‘When making referrals out, these are significant sums of money,’ says Duncan Sykes, Partner at Foot Anstey LLP. ‘We have clients receiving settlements of £5 to £20 million. It’s critical that the adviser does a first-rate job.’

But accountants and solicitors are exacting before they make a referral.

That’s understandable. They want to protect their clients and expect only the best. After all, the service provided to their client will ultimately reflect on their own proposition.

So what do professionals look for before making a referral?

#1 Be highly qualified

There was a time when just being extremely qualified would be enough to see referrals from professionals. Justin King, Chartered Financial Planner at MFP Wealth Management, built credibility through additional qualifications and accreditations. ‘We were ahead of the game,’ he notes. ‘We were in a small pool of advisers with these qualifications.’

Today, things are different. Qualifications are more commonplace and standard. ‘Now they are just hygiene factors,’ says King.

Does this mean it’s less important to be qualified now?

Not at all. While they might not set you apart, qualifications allow you to turn up to the table in the first place. Having industry standard qualifications and being accredited by organisations such as SOLLA and STEP show a willingness to go above and beyond.

‘Solicitors like referring their clients to me because I’m chartered, a fellow and SOLLA qualified,’ says Lynne Gadsden, financial planner at Grovewood Wealth Management.

‘I want advisers to be as qualified as possible,’ says James Hall, solicitor and managing partner of Gaddu and Hall. He adds: ‘If an adviser doesn’t want to be the best they can be, then why should I let them loose on my client?’

But while qualifications can be essential, on their own they’re not a guarantee you’ll make connections that will grow your business. They give you credibility, but they might not give you an edge when looking for referrals. That’s because professionals are looking for much more than qualifications.

#2 Be clear on your proposition

Professionals tend to look for an adviser with an area of expertise when referring a client, rather than one who offers a very broad service. It might be tempting to be everything to everyone, but this might not stand you in good stead if you want referrals from professional connections. That’s because it’s difficult for a professional to see how such an adviser could add specific value to their client bank.

‘Specialisation is important,’ says Nick Simkins, accountant and partner at BDO. ‘Being a generalist isn’t always the right thing.’

‘I think it’s more important than ever to stick to what you’re good at,’ agrees James Hall.

Professionals are looking to match a client to an adviser who has the right kind of specialist knowledge and technical ability to solve that client’s problem. So it’s important to be clear about what specific expertise you bring to the equation.

‘What advisers don’t do particularly well is to set out their proposition clearly,’ says Justin King, who also coaches advisers in how to run their business. ‘Being very clear about your proposition and who you can add value to is the key thing.’

You might specialise in, say, retirement advice. King suggests you can go further still: ‘You could be really niche and be the inheritance tax guy or the care guy.’ If you are clear about what exactly you bring, it’s easy for a professional to match you with a client in need of advice.

‘You have to be perceived as an expert in your field,’ notes King.

Many advisers go to great lengths to build this credibility and industry perception. Lynne Gadsden, runs seminars with accountants and solicitors.

It’s a similar story for Justin King. He produced a documentary on retirees and baby boomers, co-wrote a book called Ready, Steady, Retire, and ran an event called the Retirement Café, where he brought in professionals to talk about subjects (such as dementia, nursing homes, wills, power of attorney and Office of the Public Guardian).

He says, ‘When I interview a local top solicitor for my podcast, it’s building credibility with the solicitor and it’s building credibility with my audience. A member of the public once saw me interviewing their solicitor on a video and called me up directly.’

#3 Be a good fit for clients

‘It’s about matching people to people.’
James Hall, solicitor

Even with a specialist offering, there’s more to the equation than technical ability. How you interact with clients is crucial. This won’t come as a surprise, since advising a client is a very personal service.

Professionals are looking to match their client with an adviser who, above all else, gets them. It’s a matching game.

James Lockyer, a financial adviser, puts it this way: ‘We match clients based on personality. For example, if someone wants to speak with someone more serious we’ll introduce one type of connection, whereas if they are looking for someone more laidback and jovial, we might introduce another connection.’

Ask any professional and it’s a similar response. Nick Simkins, an accountant, says, ‘We will introduce a client to someone who we think is best suited. Client care skills and personality are most important.’

If you have a good awareness about the type of client you work well with, then this should inform your approach to working with other professionals. You should be clear about what expertise you bring and what kind of client you can help best.

James Hall notes, ‘I spend a lot of time getting to know my clients and I know who they’re going to get on with. I know advisers who are incredible with business owners, very entrepreneurial. But if I were to put them in front of an elderly client, they might be too much. The client is unlikely to get on with them.’

#4 Be collaborative

So you’re qualified, an expert in your field and are clear on your ideal client. What next?

Well, an accountant or solicitor will be looking for signs an adviser can work collaboratively.

On the one hand, the relationship is very much a commercial one. Nick Simkins notes, ‘It’s always nice to get a referral back from an adviser.’

But on the other hand, professionals are making referrals to get the best outcomes for their clients. That means they’ll be looking for an adviser they can work well with. Any relationship should involve both parties being on the same page. James Hall agrees: ‘I want an adviser that wants to work as part of a team. It’s about taking care of the client and acting in unity.’

Relationships break down when professionals don’t work together. Hall recalls, ‘I’ve had one instance where an adviser put a life policy in place earlier than he should have, so It didn’t work with the trust documentation we put together. I had to redo everything.’

The underlying issue here is communication. Advisers and their connections need to be aware of what one another are doing.

Hall suggests that communication should come naturally and be organic. ‘If you can’t just pick up the phone and have a conversation then it says something about your relationship.’

He notes on the frequency of contact, ‘I don’t need a constant check-in. But if the adviser had a meeting with their client and it has a bearing on my work, then I need to be kept in the loop.’

James Lockyer gives his perspective as an adviser: ‘We will update professional connections once a result has been achieved. If we were investing into a VCT to save a client some income tax, then we might send a copy of the acknowledgment letter to the accountant to confirm. “This is why we’ve done this and this is what it’s achieved.” The accountant loves that.’

How should I approach growing my business through professional connections?

Referring a client to a financial adviser is a very personal thing. It doesn’t happen overnight. And you’re unlikely to be successful with every connection you make.

James Hall says, ‘Sometimes you meet someone several times and you decide you’re not able to work together in the best interest of your clients and you leave it there.’

But this shouldn’t put you off.

Remember, you can improve your chances by meeting these criteria:

  • Be highly qualified
  • Be clear on your proposition
  • Be a good fit for clients
  • Be collaborative

Lynne Gadsden suggests that a measured, patient approach will serve you best. ‘Don’t try to conquer every firm and everyone in there’ she says. ‘Pick and choose the ones you get on with.’

It pays to narrow your focus and be selective. This applies to choosing the professionals you seek to work with, the scope of the service you offer and the kind of referral client you look for.