Building your professional network

By Raf Brusilow | August 2, 2011 | Last updated on August 2, 2011
4 min read

Few accounts are so simple that they require no outside counsel. That’s why it’s important to actively work on building a trusted network of professionals you can rely upon.

Pretending you’re an expert at everything by trying to do it all yourself is generally a terrible idea because in most cases it will make the service you provide less effective.

Whether you suddenly need the expertise of a tax lawyer, an estate planner or an insurance specialist, the last thing you want is to be rushed to identify the right professional for a time-sensitive job.

Gradually adding outside professionals to your Rolodex increases your ability to provide strong service to your clients and also widens the scope of what you can offer them, says Francois Beauregard, director of wealth planning at Richardson GMP in Montreal. You don’t cheapen your own value to the client when you bring on talented allies; rather, you strengthen your ability to do a great job.

“You can differentiate yourself in a challenging market by offering more than just portfolio consulting. Having a network of experts in their field provides your client with a blanket of expertise you wouldn’t be able to provide by yourself and it can supply you with a network of referrals. These professionals, by their specific expertise, bring value to the table,” Beauregard said.

For many advisors of high-net-worth clients, a client’s own team of professionals can be a major source of potential contacts, as many HNW individuals like to rely on the advice of the people they already trust.

Having a strong network of professionals to support you will make clients more likely to retain your services over the long term because they know that through you they will be able to find a solution to a wide range of potential issues.

“Clients will not necessarily stick around because you’re beating the TSX every year—they’ll stick around because they trust you and the people around them trust you,” Beauregard said.

When choosing people to work with, focus less on the size of their client list and more on whether their business philosophy is in line with your own, so that you’re only cultivating business relationships with people who have an approach to their work and clients you can respect.

“You want like minds and high service levels that would only be complimentary to your business. You have to really get to know each individual and how they run their business,” said Lorne Searle, an investment advisor at Macquarie Private Wealth.

Beauregard suggests a little test to see if someone you’ve worked with could make a good long-term partner: offer to do a joint presentation or workshop to meet each other’s clients and explain what you do.

“If you can cross-pollinate and expose one another to your clientele then you’ll know you can trust each other. If the other person won’t do that, they definitely won’t want to manage your clients or refer you their own,” Beauregard said.

Searle suggests not stopping at finding just a single person to fill each slot because even in the same roles people will have different strengths and weaknesses.

“You need to have a mix of professionals to draw upon. It’s not about one-stop shopping for everybody and you don’t want to be perceived as having any bias. You also want to give clients the option to choose who they work with,” Searle said.

Mike George, a Richardson GMP director in Toronto, says one sure-fire way to connect with a great contact is by spotting outstanding work in the course of servicing an account and giving credit where it’s due.

“When you see a very well-drafted will or a corporate structure that demonstrates advanced planning strategies, reach out to those people. They could prove to be a great contact for the future,” George said.

Searle and George offer some other tips for cultivating good professional partnerships:

  • Stay connected to industry events, particularly seminars put on by the kinds of professionals you need in your network.
  • Approach your client’s existing team early and with a desire to share responsibilities.
  • Avoid blind tit-for-tat referral agreements or carrot-and-stick incentives (sports tickets, paid swag, etc.) as those don’t lead to healthy partnerships. You want to cultivate mutual respect and admiration.
  • Meet with your supporting professionals regularly and try to schedule joint events together like industry seminars or free information sessions for clients.
  • If possible, get your external partners as your own clients and vice versa—it’s the most resounding way to demonstrate your abilities.
  • Talk about how you each perceive the business and how you perceive your service to clients. It’s much easier to work with someone if you share their business outlook.

Above all, remember that symbiotic professional relationships take effort from both sides to flourish. “The value you bring to each other does take time to develop—it’s not something that happens overnight,” Searle said.

Raf Brusilow