Cultivating a reciprocal referral relationship with centres of influence (COIs) — professionals such as accountants and lawyers — can help you build your business. A good COI relationship can provide you with quality referrals and give you the ability to help your existing clients get the services they need.

The challenge is finding professionals who are willing to participate in such a relationship with you. The following are steps you can take toward developing mutually beneficial COI relationships:

> Seek out introductions
Start by contacting professionals in your own circle of acquaintances. Do you know any lawyers, accountants or other professionals who might be able to help your clients?

To extend your search, ask some of your clients who they use for these professional services. If a potential COI’s name comes up more than a few times, ask your client for an introduction.

Having a personal connection and an introduction can make for a more natural start to the relationship, says Sylvia Garibaldi, business coach and founder of SG and Associates in Vancouver. “It’s always better to get a referral to a COI than to look them up in a phonebook.”

> Think beyond lawyers and accountants
When you mention COIs, most advisors think of lawyers and accountants. While these professionals can be useful referral sources, Garibaldi says, your COI strategy shouldn’t end there.

Think about your target audience and consider what services and professions these clients use. Garibaldi knows of advisors who have COI relationships with mortgage brokers, real estate agents, interior decorators and human resources managers. As long as the relationship makes sense for all involved, it can be worthwhile to pursue.

> “Interview” your potential COIs
Once you have found a potential COI partner who is willing to meet with you, find out what he or she can offer your clients and ask for his or her areas of specialization. By asking these questions, Garibaldi says, you are reminding the COI that this is a two-way street.

You’re also making it less likely your conversation will sound like a sales pitch.

> Keep potential COIs in the loop
When connecting with COIs, Garibaldi says, your challenge is to prove your credibility.

One way for you to build trust is by offering to educate potential COIs before asking for referrals. Send them your newsletters, notify them when you’ve handled a specific situation for a client and invite them to client events to help familiarize them with yourconvey that you’re serious about your work.

> Be patient
Courting COIs can be a long process, so don’t become frustrated by what can, at times, seem like a non-reciprocal relationship. After you have sent a client to a COI, it can take over a year to receive a referral in return, according to Garibaldi, even if you maintain a schedule of monthly contact.

“Often, advisors send a couple of emails back and forth and expect the referrals to come flowing in,” she says. “But it doesn’t work like that. It takes time and effort.”

> Go multiple
As with any type of relationship, some COI connections are just not destined to last, says Garibaldi: “We connect with some people and don’t connect with others.”

That’s why it’s important to have multiple COI relationships. A variety of COIs can mean more referrals for you. It also means you won’t be referring all interested clients to one COI in a given field.

Says Garibaldi: “The last thing you want to do is keep referring to the same one and find out that they didn’t deliver.”

This is the third installment in a three-part series on referrals.