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Building a better referral network

Centers of influence (COIs) can expand and deepen your business relationships while boosting your credibility through quality referrals.

Where leadership starts: Best practices for successful board memberships
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Step 1: Identify partners

Develop your list of potential centers of influence

Starting a COI network can be simple. You likely already know influential people.

Click on each category below for a list of sources. Speak with your Delaware Investments regional director for tips and insights into identifying the right COIs for your practice.

Certified public accountants

Finding the right CPAs to partner with can be essential to your practice. What are the primary characteristics necessary for matching a CPA with your unique client book? Consider not only the client roster of a CPA, but look at your own chemistry with the individual (you'll likely need to partner with them, in addition to trading referrals), and whether they do financial planning themselves, or frequently look to refer.


Ideally, a capable advisory board should have multiple attorneys available as potential referral resources. Consider more than just divorce and estate-planning expertise when building out your network of legal associates. Look at any specialized area of law that might at some time benefit a significant segment of your clients. Does it make sense for you to include commercial bankruptcy lawyers, civil litigators, or real estate or malpractice attorneys? Lawyers with specialty in entertainment? The legal needs of your clients may well be defined by the targets in your own business plan.

Insurance professionals

Personal insurance policy cases can easily go uncovered by financial advisors, but are intrinsically tied to wealth planning. If insurance sales are not part of your practice, consider life insurance and other insurance representatives who would be willing to partner and work together.

Real estate agents

Buying and selling a primary home is a major life event for most individuals. Associating a high-producing or exclusive residential real estate agent with your practice can be mutually beneficial and even add prestige to both practices. Consider commercial real estate specialists as well. Who in your book of business would need additional perspectives on commercial real estate transactions, and what would a discussion about real estate help you uncover about a client's financial needs?

Business coaches

Coaches come in all shapes and sizes, and many major corporate consultancies nowadays employ coaching as a tool. Partnering with a business coach or consultant who boasts major clients can bring a wealth of opportunity to you, and allow you to offer significant value to your clients. Look for coaches certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF), or ways to work with a consultancy organization.

Current clients

Take time to formally consider each client. Have you ever asked them for a referral, or qualified them as a referral source? Why or why not? What part of their lives or businesses could you work to learn more about? Consider employing your advisory board for clients who might someday benefit from being a part of it as well. It's possible, too, that a client could recommend a potential advisory team member with whom they've worked independently.

Personal friends and family members

It’s not uncommon for friends and relatives to have only a vague idea of what you do. Take the opportunity to enlighten them as to the exact nature of your business and devise a method of maintaining contact on a regular basis. Send them something periodically to keep them up to date on you.

Work colleagues

Volunteer to host a business after-hours event. You can follow up with attendees by inviting them to lunch or coffee.

Former classmates

Your alumni association can help you find former classmates. It can also help you expand your network beyond those you knew in school. Become a member of your association or volunteer to serve as a speaker to increase your exposure.


Take a look at businesses in your neighborhood, such as dental practices, veterinary clinics, and restaurants. Their owner-operators may need your insight. Their needs could include funding their retirement, establishing a retirement plan for their employees, and a properly structured succession plan.

Hospital administrators

Larger facilities employ several administrators. If you’re involved in a religious or spiritual community, consider asking your religious leader for references. They often have relationships with doctors, nurses, and administrators.

Life coaches

Target life coaches who are self-employed, not employees. Also, seek coaches with a large number of clients (at least 20 or more). These coaches will generally be better connected and will therefore provide more opportunities for you to network.


Nutritionists are generally well connected. They can have affiliations with schools, hospitals, spas, and rehabilitation centers. Some facilities have nutritionists on staff.

Personal trainers

Trainers at higher-end clubs in large cities and independent business owners are preferable targets.


Pursue higher-earning specialists (such as heart surgeons and orthopedic surgeons) rather than general practitioners. Primary needs are small business planning and asset protection (such as liability insurance) because of malpractice litigation.

Physical therapists

Physical therapists have wide circles of influence because they often work with a variety of professionals, including doctors, hospital administrators, and small business owners. Compile a list of organizations in your community where physical therapists work, such as hospitals, clinics, and rehab centers. Physical therapists are also increasingly common in spas, where they work with stressed-out businessmen and women and other wealthy customers.

Plastic surgeons

Target cosmetic, rather than reconstructive, surgeons. Primary needs are asset protection (such as liability insurance) and small business planning. Approach local practices or contact professional organizations for plastic surgeons.

Spa owners

There are three types of spas: day, resort, and destination. Of the three, destination spas cater to the most affluent clientele. These spas are known for offering classes, seminars, and presentations on fitness. Consider hosting a financial fitness presentation at either a resort or destination spa.


Target gemologists (who are seasoned and talented jewelers) and retail jewelry store owners. Their primary needs are marketing or business plan advice. Contact jeweler trade organizations or attend trade or craft shows.


Commercial, residential, and institutional architects are preferable targets. Independent architects will have needs similar to small business owners (estate and succession planning, marketing, college education for their kids) while corporate architects’ needs are the same as other corporate employees (retirement and tax planning). Seek out local architect trade organizations in your area.

Art dealers

Seek out dealers who own their own galleries. Contact professional associations for names of local art dealers. Local meetings and subscriptions to publications will provide you with insight into current issues in the art dealer community.

Museum curators

Large museums may employ several curators that each specialize in a certain field. Small museums may have just one museum curator who handles many different tasks and works with collections in many different subject areas. A museum curator employed in a large museum may travel often to seek out items to add to the museum's collection, while a museum curator in a small museum does not usually travel as part of the job. Consider volunteering or becoming a council member.

Humanitarian agency executives

Build exposure and credibility by volunteering or joining the board at a charitable organization.

Chambers of commerce

Enroll in your local chapter. Participate in business roundtables, enroll in seminars, or be a public speaker.

Sports clubs

Go beyond just participating in the sport. Volunteer to serve on planning committees or other groups that administer club functions.

Religious organizations

Religious leaders often have contacts within healthcare facilities such as hospitals and retirement homes.

Academic consultants

These professionals, specializing in helping families select schools that are educationally and socially sound matches for their children, may be well connected among families that favor exclusive private schooling and those that aspire to send their children to the best colleges and universities.

School chancellors

Trustees have affiliations with a university’s influential donors and alumni. Target schools with which you already have ties, as a member of the alumni association or through other connections.

Local sports coaches

Coaches of all kinds have strong ties with the best young athletes (and their families) in your community. Think about coaches in your area who run the most popular and successful programs.

Consider alternative sources when creating your list. Although CPAs and attorneys can be good leads, they often engage with many other types of professionals. Think about your ideal client.

  • Whom do they hire?
  • With whom do they engage?
  • Whom do they trust?
  • To whom are they delegating?
  • To what specific professional organizations or business groups do they belong?
  • What hobbies or leisure activities do they enjoy?

Define your value and assemble your information

Before you approach the centers of influence you've identified, you'll need to define what you can offer them. Develop a brief, clear statement of what you do for your clients: your elevator pitch. The following topics may help you create your pitch:

  • Who you are. What are your credentials and experience?
  • What you do. What services do you provide and when?
  • How you work. What process or methods do you employ? What is your philosophy?
  • Whom you help. In what types of personal financial problems do you specialize?
  • How you help. What are the personal benefits clients receive from your work?
  • How you are compensated. How will you be paid for advice, transactions, and other services?
  • Why clients work with you. What is your value proposition in clear and simple language?

It's also helpful to bring some printed materials with you, such as a fact sheet and personal bio, when you make contact.

Step 2: Build your team

Vet your candidates

Before establishing referral relationships with the COIs you've listed, you'll need to determine whether they possess the qualities you're seeking.

Expect to conduct three or four meetings in a variety of settings (for example, over breakfast, on the golf course, or at the potential referral provider's office) to help you determine whether the professional can become a powerful referral source.

Here are a few questions to ask over the course of your conversations:

  • How would you describe your typical client?
  • What are the top two or three reasons clients typically choose to work with you?
  • How do you develop strong personal relationships with your clients?
  • What prompts you to refer your clients to other service providers?
  • What qualities do you look for when evaluating a financial advisor before introducing him or her to your clients?

Invite your COIs to meet

Use your findings from these conversations to decide whether it's worthwhile to continue the relationship-building activities required to generate a steady stream of high-quality introductions from this professional. If the answer is yes, extend an invitation to an advisory team meeting. View a sample meeting invitation.

Step 3: Meet and repeat

Host a team meeting

The following tips may help you organize your advisory team meeting:

  • Choose a location that has a personal touch. For example, your local country club or the meeting room at one of your COIs' offices.
  • Select a time during the week when most people are taking a break from work, and keep your meeting time within that constraint. Choosing a one-hour meeting over lunch or breakfast may be a good idea.
  • The meeting should add value to the individual businesses of all participants. Presenting a case study of a client would be ideal for the meeting. Doing so would allow all COIs to actively share expertise in their given fields. For an example of the type of client detail you might present at your own meeting, and ideas for how the advisory team approach can help, view this sample client case.

For more details on planning your meeting, see the How to host a COI advisory team meeting brochure.

To develop a better understanding of the structure of a COI meeting, view this sample meeting agenda.

Give referrals to get referrals

Remember: Your value proposition is one type of incentive for your potential advisory team members, but you also need to be willing to refer business to them. It will be difficult to get business if you are unwilling to refer it first.

Put another way, see what you can do before you see what you can get. Don't look for an immediate payback. Instead, get to know COIs and refer business to them because it will help your client. Eventually, you will see a return on your efforts.

Maintain regular contact

After the meeting, you need to keep your ideas and value in front of advisory team members. How will you do that? E-mails, phone calls, or in-person get-togethers are a few of the many ways you can keep in contact.

Also, when a team member refers you to a new potential client, make sure you show your appreciation. A phone call or handwritten note of thanks lets them know that you don't take their assistance for granted. Also, keep them informed about the progress you make with the referral.

Speak with your Delaware Investments® regional director for insights into building and maintaining your own successful COI advisory team.

Contact information

Delaware Investments, a member of Macquarie Group, is based in Philadelphia and maintains additional offices in Boston and San Francisco.

Delaware Investments
2005 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-7094
Sales desk: 877 693-3546



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