The investment business is built heavily on relationships, and in such a business, the benefits of a professional network simply can’t be overstated.

The value to clients of a one-stop shop is matched only by the benefits it brings to the advisors themselves —of specialized legal, financial or tax advice for their clients; of new referrals from these outside professionals; and of the peace of mind that comes from clients knowing all the bases are covered.
Someone who knows this well is Paula MacMillan, a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based advisor with Sun Life Financial who has truly taken advantage of networking opportunities to grow her business.

Centre of influence

Within her first year in business, MacMillan had formed what she refers to as her centres-of-influence group, which consists of a number of professionals, including a mortgage broker, a banker, a lawyer and a realtor.
“We have a regular monthly meeting,” she says. “We’re all clients of one another, and we relate back and forth to each other the value of what we do. It really gives people a sense of comfort knowing that if they need a lawyer or a realtor, I’ve got somebody there for them.”

Over the past seven years, she says this network has helped her build a lot of value, because clients who end up connected with one or two of the group members tend to get referred to the others. “It’s a simple system that works very well,” she says.

Further, the group has an extensive network of other associates, including plumbers, electricians and other professionals they use personally and can recommend to others. MacMillan makes full use of this tool, functioning as a go-to contact for clients’ needs for a range of help beyond financial services.

This was put to the test a couple of years ago, she says. “I was at my cottage on a Saturday afternoon and the phone rang. It was [some clients] phoning me about an electrician. And the husband was in the background saying ‘I can’t believe [you] phoned on Saturday afternoon. She’s probably at the lake.’ Which I was.”

But she pulled her electrician’s contact information from her BlackBerry and was able to make good on her word.

“That in itself is very helpful, I think, to differentiate me [from other advisors],” she says.

Strong networks, strong business

MacMillan also says frequent interaction with colleagues is key to building a better business.

“We have a tremendous benefit in our branch: We have monthly communication meetings, where all of the advisors are encouraged to participate. Different advisors are asked to speak about successes or challenges or ideas they had in their businesses.

“The management team always has a sales idea, or discusses questions or concerns behind a new product, or trends in the market. [There’s] a lot of inter-office discussion and it’s fostered very good morale—to know anyone can literally walk into anyone’s office with a knock and a ‘Hey have you got a minute?’ and really be able to foster that team feeling.”

In addition, three years ago, MacMillan became a member of the Million Dollar Round Table, an organization of top financial professionals in the world. This, she says, gives her access to some of the most successful advisors in the industry.

“A group of us leverage that quite heavily,” she asserts.

In this business, it’s all about people, and whether they’re potential new clients, professionals to add to a centres-of-influence group, or just new friends, there’s no better way to meet them than through networks.

As MacMillan sums it up, “That’s the kind of thing that will build any strong business.”

Originally published in Advisor's Edge