In the quest for the best centre of influence (COI) for your business, the key is finding someone with a personality and an approach to business that meshes with your own. Once you find that perfect match, the benefits can be significant.

“The second most successful business strategy [after client referrals] that we see is getting referrals through centres of influence,” says Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist Business Development in Montreal.

A COI is another professional, such as a lawyer or accountant, with whom an advisor has a reciprocal referral relationship. Michael Newton, portfolio manager, director, wealth management, ScotiaMcLeod Inc. in Toronto has used COIs as a tool in building his business for 17 years. During that time, he has built a successful network of professionals who are willing to pass on his name, including several senior law partners, two accountants and a “serial” board member of the Toronto area.

According to Newton, it takes a certain type of personality to build a strong COI network. It helps to be a sociable person who is willing to go out and get involved within the community.

“If you’re a member at a golf course, get involved on one of the committees,” he says. “If your kids are at a school, get involved in one of the boards or the parent/teachers association.” Doing so will put you in contact with individuals of similar interests who in turn can introduce you to their own respective networks of contacts.

Newton’s own network has grown out of knowing and making use of his own client base, and he says any advisor’s existing client base is an effective starting point in the process of establishing a COI network. The first step is to identify your ideal client.

“It’s not just getting any type of centre of influence,” says Gilbert, “it’s getting a centre of influence where you share a common target market.”

Start out by thinking about your most successful client relationships, as well as the clients you most enjoy working with, Gilbert suggests. For instance, if most of your book consists of entrepreneurs, the best COIs will be ones who also have expertise in working with business owners.

After you’ve identified your ideal client, April-Lynn Levitt, a coach with the Personal Coach in Toronto, suggests you take a moment to think about and write down your ideal COI profile. “For example, they’ll refer business back to me, they’re ethical, they’re honest,” says Levitt. “Whatever those kinds of values are to you.”

Since you’re looking for a COI that specializes in working with your target market, one of the easiest ways to find candidates is by asking clients about the professionals they work with regularly, such as accountants, lawyers or realtors. If you notice a name is mentioned three or four times, consider approaching that person as a potential COI.

Once you have a few names to choose from, assess each candidate from both a personal and professional perspective, to determine the best fit for your practice.

“An advisor’s best clients have similar personality traits [to the advisor themselves],” says Gilbert. “So, if the client clicks with you, he will click with a centre of influence.” For example, if you’re a very analytical individual, it’s best to look for COIs who are also analytically-minded.

This is the first article in a three-part series on COIs.

On Wednesday: Cultivating COI relationships.