Centres of influence (cois) can be a good source of referrals for building your financial advisory practice.

“They can play a critical role at all stages of your growth,” says Aiman Dally, CEO of Copia Financial Solutions in Toronto, “especially at the early stages, when you can benefit most from referrals.”

Dally recommends establishing relationships with as many COIs as possible.

COIs fall into two broad categories: professionals, such as consultants, accountants and lawyers; and community and professional associations.

Says Dally: “You must cultivate and nurture COI relationships, which, over time, can provide you with a rich harvest of referrals.”

George Hartman, managing partner of Accretive Advisor Inc. in Toronto, cautions that it can be challenging to establish relationships with lawyers and accountants, who are typically approached by many financial advisors. Some COIs, he adds, may be reluctant to recommend advisors because these COIs face restrictions from their professional associations. Accordingly, when referring a client, they may provide the names of three advisors instead of recommending you alone.

Below are five tips for cultivating and maintaining COI relationships:

1. Be proactive. “You find COIs the same way you find good clients,” says Hartman.

A good way to start is to make a list of professionals with whom you have an existing relationship and those with whom you would like to work. You also can ask your clients for references to professionals, such as their accountants and lawyers. Says Hartman: “You must initiate contact with COIs in a professional and respectful way.”

2. Show what you bring to the table. Let potential COIs know what you have to offer: what you do; the way you work; your skills and experience; and the types of clients you would like to work with.

Show potential COIs that you are willing to collaborate in providing complementary rather than competing services that benefit common clients, Dally says. Give potential COIs compelling reasons why they should work with you.

Says Hartman: “Tell stories about your successes.”

3. Nurture the relationships. “Stay in touch regularly with COIs,” Hartman says. Over time, he says, strengthen the relationship and build trust.

“Manage the relationship,” Dally says, “just as you would manage that of a high-value client. Referrals will not come overnight, and you must have patience.”

4. Maintain a two-way street. “While COI relationships tend to be more of a one-way street,” Hartman says, “offer to reciprocate.”

But if the relationship is strong enough, Dally says: “You can get COIs to make a pitch to your existing clients about what services they offer.”

Both parties must see and derive value from the relationship if it is to be sustained.

5. Provide feedback. Thank your COIs for referrals. Send them a personalized note, call them directly or give an appropriate gift.

Dally suggests offering updates to each of your COIs about progress made with any referrals sent your way by that COI: “Put a process in place.”

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