Building your professional referral sources

By Jeff Thorsteinson | August 22, 2005 | Last updated on August 22, 2005
4 min read

(August 2005) A clear indication of a successful financial services practice is the number of high-quality referrals that come from other professionals, peers, and community leaders.

Ten years ago, I remember reading about how important it was to contribute time and money to meet influencers of charitable organizations. Not good enough today. Joining professional associations and getting involved with community business groups are a great way to meet people. But “buying” referrals is a ridiculous concept — even back then. Today, you need to be a little more strategic in your efforts.

First it’s important to consider that the techniques you use to generate referrals from clients don’t always work with professionals. You’ll have to modify your approach, meet the professionals on their “home turf,” and take a longer-term view of your relationships if you want to secure a steady stream of professional referrals.

Let’s take a look at some of the methods and strategies our top financial advisors use to generate more referrals from professional sources:

How many referral sources do you need? When it comes to professional referrals, many advisors take a “quality, not quantity” approach. While that can be an effective strategy, why not have quality and quantity? We’re increasingly seeing advisors cultivating close personal relationships with multiple referral sources. Here’s how:

  • Develop a list of 50-100 professional referral sources worthy of a relationship with you. Create a monthly e-mail newsletter just for them.
  • Set up a quarterly theme breakfast seminar, and invite three of the best professionals (in their respective disciplines) to speak at each event. As the event’s emcee, you are demonstrating your expertise in assembling the top talent in the community and profiling your ability to network with the best. Not to mention, at each event, you will be educating guests about how to build their business, or at least add value to their client’s lives.

Some of our clients have over 1,000 referral relationships. How they manage their relationships is through an “assignment” of professionals. While this may seem onerous, this form of marketing has replaced the “big marketing budgets” that we saw in the 1990s. A Centre of Influence (“COI”) technique can multiply the number of professional referral sources, without sacrificing the personal attention your core referral sources need.

Who should you target? When they speak of “professionals”, most advisors think of accountants, lawyers, and perhaps personal bankers. But almost any group of professionals can be thought of as a source of referrals. Think past accounting professionals. Don’t limit your thinking. Instead, try to target well-regarded professionals and established business people. Some examples: a general insurance agent, the leader of the local chamber of commerce, the chair of the local construction industry association, a local radio personality, a municipal politician, or an architect. They all routinely come in contact with dozens of possible leads in a given week. This can be a particularly effective strategy in smaller communities, where “who you know” is almost more important than technical expertise or specialization.

How should you target them? There are many effective ways to capture the attention of professionals. But the most effective way is through education. Write an article that explains some basic investment strategies they could tell their client about. Let them know what’s going on in your industry, and what that means to them. Organize a workshop or breakfast discussion where you share a “case study” or other client experience, so they can learn from your success. The point is not the way you deliver the information (via seminar, newsletter, published article, or one-on-one conversation), but rather what that information can do for the professional. By demonstrating the value you can bring to their existing client relationships, you are showing the professional how their practice can actually be strengthened by you. That can be a very powerful way of building referrals.

For how long? Some advisors fail to maximize their referrals from professional sources due to their inability to stick with a referral strategy. It takes four or five times longer to secure a referral from a professional source than it does from a client. If you don’t secure a referral from a given source within 12 months, don’t give up. Conversely, if you’ve had some success at first, but then referrals have dropped off, that’s not necessarily a reason to change your strategy. Keep publishing. Keep hosting seminars. Keep meeting new professionals. You will succeed!

Ultimately, your ability to generate referrals from professionals depends on your ability to generate confidence — confidence not only in your technical abilities, or your commitment to client service. Before they refer you, professionals must have complete confidence that you will not damage their professional reputation — something a professional values very highly. Obviously, this kind of confidence takes time to build. Take the long-term view. Be authentic. Keep meeting new professionals. You will succeed.

Jeff Thorsteinson is the creator of the YouFoundation, an organization that has helped advisors build world-class practices through innovative concepts, tools, and systems since 1993. Contact or 1 800-223-9332, ext. 21, for more information to help you build your referral business. Or visit the website at


Jeff Thorsteinson