Put the

By Barry LaValley | January 15, 2003 | Last updated on January 15, 2003
6 min read

(January 2003) As you look at your business plan for the coming year, how are you going to build referral relationships in your community? Have you thought about building relationships — and developing potential clients — with those businesses that are outside of the normal financial stream?

The life planning approach offers you the chance to develop relationships with a different group of professionals than most advisors think of — those people in your community who have the same clients as you do and are in various businesses serving the needs of the community.

It is common for financial advisors to seek out strategic alliances or collaboration with other financial specialists such as bankers, tax accountants, estate planners and lawyers. Life-focused planners have extended their referral network to include those people in their community who focus on the non-financial aspects of life planning and can support the advisor’s service to the client.

By doing so, the advisor avoids taking on the role of expert in all life planning areas and doesn’t have to partake in a personal or uncomfortable discussion that is beyond the scope of his expertise. It is a lot like “having your cake and eating it, too” — you can provide a life planning service for clients simply by leveraging the knowledge of other professionals.

Developing your professional referral team

Most advisors have an unofficial list of people they call when they need answers to help a client. There is an opportunity, however, to create a more formalized strategic alliance with a group of professionals and then use it to extend an advisor’s branding as a life-focused planner.

You aren’t necessarily offering the services of a psychologist or personal coach in your practice. Instead, you are offering your ability to provide a meaningful referral to a professional who has expertise in a particular area. You have helped your client by doing the legwork to find someone knowledgeable and you have demonstrated that you are interested in a holistic approach to your client’s life by recognizing the need for outside assistance in areas not directly related to financial planning.

Finally, by creating the concept of a life planning team of outside professionals for your clients, you have shifted your role from being the expert to becoming the “point of entry” for a client to understand the key issues associated with their life plan. In other words, you don’t have to be the expert — you just have to know where the experts are.

Selecting your partners

Tips on developing your professional referral network
1. Interview all potential referrals.

2. Explain what you are trying to accomplish and how they benefit through exposure to your client base.

3. Explain your philosophy and how you differ from other advisors.

4. Learn about their expertise and how they are different from their competitors.

5. Ensure that they are willing to refer people to you in return.

The trust your clients provide you is tested each time you bring in an outside expert to help out. If the professionals who make up your referral team don’t maintain the same high standards that you do, your reputation could be hurt. For that reason, you should use a checklist to ensure that your strategic alliances meet your standards. Some of the areas to watch are:

  • Their reputation in their field
  • How they service their own clients
  • Whether they share your same values in the area of life planning
  • The kinds of clients they currently serve
  • Their ability to communicate
  • Their views on confidentiality
  • Their follow-through
  • Whether you like them

Ask yourself whether you would be comfortable dealing with this person. Delve into what they do, what their philosophy is, how they charge for their services and whether they would be interested in creating a formal strategic alliance with you. Share with them your views of the relationship between financial planning and life planning and the fact that your clients need to understand and sometimes receive assistance on the latter before you can help them on the former.

Create a referral club with your professionals

As you build your list, you also have a unique opportunity to develop relationships with the professionals who are part of your strategic alliance. A key to building a life planning team is to contact members of your community and ask for interviews. Use this approach: “I am in the process of developing a referral list of professionals in my community to refer my clients to when they need help in areas I am not trained in. Would you mind if I came by your office and interviewed you to find out a little about what you do and how you might be able to help my clients should they need it.”

Covering all the bases

There are professionals in your community who specialize in all areas life planning. If you are going to make a referral or help your client understand life issues, do you have a strategic alliance with the experts you need to extend your service?

Life planning professional When you might use them for your clients To whom do you refer your clients?
Personal coach Goal setting Non-financial life challenges Clarify their thinking Seminars

Personal trainer Clients concerned about health and fitness Clients seeking change in lifestyle Clients needing motivation Client seminars

Nutritionist Lifestyle change Health issues Family referral Client seminars

Fitness expert Family referral Clients need information Client seminars

Executive coach Career challenges Second-career possibilities

Career transition expert Job loss Advice to older children Career challenges Second career Retirement lifestyle planning Client seminars

Psychotherapist Personal crisis Family crisis Motivation issues Clarifying life plans Client seminars

Family counsellor Family crisis Relationship issues Older parents Children’s issues Client seminars

Divorce specialist (lawyer, accountant etc.) Family breakup Asset distribution

Real estate professional Job relocation Career transition New home purchase Asset valuation

Travel consultant Leisure planning Seasonal relocation (snowbirds) Emergency travel Client seminars

Tax or estate planning expert Executor issues Personal legacy Charitable giving Asset transfer Family protection Asset protection Client seminars

Family lawyer Personal legal issues Relationship issues Executor issues Client seminars

Bereavement counsellor Family or friend bereavement Personal bereavement Community tragedy

Special event coordinator or party planner Party or special event planning Leisure activities Weddings Second-career opportunities Client seminars

While you may not choose to have a referral source for each of these categories (and the list is by no means exhaustive), your clients may have a need for the services of everyone on this list at some time during your relationship. If you have interviewed each person you place on your list, you have provided your clients with a special service.

Put the "life" in your practice in 2003 — previous stories

  • Creating your marketing brand
  • Developing your mission statement and value proposition

  • Creating your communications strategy
  • Creating your own virtual life planning company in your community

    If you are uncertain about whom to contact in each area, ask around and try to interview two or three professionals in each area. Remember that they are just as interested in developing a business relationship with you as you are with them.

    Leveraging your professional referral — some ideas:

    • Joint workshops or seminars.
    • Create brochure on your professional referral sources.
    • Maintain supply of your professional referrals’ business cards in a file.
    • Create a display of your professional referrals’ brochures in your waiting room.
    • Advertise in your marketing material that you are part of a group of life planning experts.
    • Use articles from your professional referrals in your newsletters.
    • Create links to your professional referrals on your Web site.
    For a list of 80 different professionals you can build a relationship with in your community, please click here.

    There are a number of businesses in your community who have the same clients as you do. Why not create your own life planning “association” that would share some common principles around service to clients? Not only would you get to meet new people in your community, but you are also in a position to generate cross-referrals for seminars. If you are in a smaller community (or a small community as part of a big city) your association’s branding will be that much more effective. For example:

    We are a proud member of The Oakdale Lifestyle Professionals Group, an association of caring organizations in our community dedicated to providing you with the tools to help you enjoy all aspects of your life. Look for this sign when you shop in Oakdale.

    • • •

    Barry LaValley is a partner in The Retirement Lifestyle Center along with Dr. Betty Ann Turpin. Their new organization continues their past work in the area of retirement life planning issues for retiring baby boomers. In addition, Barry’s company, LaValley Communications, focuses on helping financial advisors in North America understand the key communications and planning issues that will help them deal with clients contemplating retirement. For more information, visit his Web site at www.lavalleycommunications.com.