Becoming a Referral Magnet

Growing your practice through the people you already know

By Kelly Edwards

“I don’t need more referrals, I’m good.”

… said no one, ever.

The truth is, every advisor wants more referrals, but most don’t know how to get them-at least, not without asking for them, which usually feels awkward and “salesy.” But there is a better way-I promise.

My agency, Lawton Marketing Group, works with hundreds of top advisors across the country, and very few of them ever ask clients, “Do you know someone who would benefit from our services?” Instead, they’ve built practices focused on relationships where referrals come naturally.

That’s a great place to be in business, but getting there is often a mystery to people. Here’s the good news-building a referral-centric practice isn’t dependent on luck or longevity. You can do it intentionally and have fun in the process.

But first, you have to understand how the referral process works.    

The Paradigm Shift

When it comes to building a referral-centric business, there are two factors at play: 1) getting referrals and 2) converting those referrals to genuine prospects. Most people forget about the second part of the process-they assume that if their clients tell their friends about them, they’re on the road to success-but what good is a referral if that person never calls you?

Everyone talks about marketing in terms of getting referrals, but not many focus on what comes next. In fact, most advisors get more referrals than they realize-they just don’t know about them because the referral never makes the decision to contact the advisor.

If you want to grow your practice through people you already know, you have to cultivate both parts of the process-getting referrals and passing the test when they’re deciding if they should contact you.

First Things First: The Vetting Process

Here’s the important thing to understand about referrals: when someone is referred to you, their next step is not to contact you. It’s to vet you-they’re going to do their research and determine if they should contact you.

So before you can focus on getting referrals, you need to focus on what those referrals will see when they vet you. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of time and energy generating referrals that won’t convert.

Page One: The Google Test

One of the best things you can do is research yourself the way a potential client would if they were referred to you. Search for your name (or the name of your practice) on Google and see if you show up on the first page. If you don’t, you’re losing people before they ever find you-referrals might simply give up the search or assume you’re not tech-savvy enough for a decent website.

If that’s the case, you’ll need to work with a professional to optimize your site so people can find you easily. When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), there isn’t one fix-all approach-there are multiple moving parts, so it’s best to work with someone who understands the process and can guide you through it.

Your Online Presence: What are You Saying?

The next thing you need to do is review what people see when they find you online. Go to your website and read the content through the lens of your ideal client-are you saying the right things? Do you have the right information available (i.e., answers to the question, “What can you do for me?”, not jargon-filled financial articles)? When it comes to content, brevity is key-people don’t read websites anymore; they skim them. So you want to pare down the verbiage and make sure you’re answering the most important questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What kind of expertise or background do you have?
  • How can you help me?

You should have a headline that greets them and gives them your “brand promise,” as well as a brief, compelling elevator pitch that explains what you do and who you do it for. The goal is that when your ideal prospect lands on your site, they’ll read it and think, “Okay, yes, this person can help me.”

There’s one exception to the brevity rule, and that’s your bio. People hire people, especially in your industry, so they’re on your website to vet you. That said, if you have extensive experience and education that’s relevant to your practice, you should share that information just to make sure it’s organized well.

The best way to do that is by dividing your bio into sections with headlines so people can skim and find what’s important to them. Some people will care a lot about your education; others won’t care at all. Some will love learning about your personal life; others will skip that section-so you want to make it as easy as possible for a prospect to find what they’re looking for.

When you put everything together, this is the best way to format your bio:

  • Start with who you are as an advisor and what you do in your practice now.
  • Then, talk about what led you there-your education, background, and relevant experience.
  • Then include personal details at the end.

Adding personal information isn’t fluff; it’s purposeful. These details round you out as a person and help others connect with you before they ever meet you-so include any details you’re comfortable sharing from a privacy standpoint-whether that’s the names of your kids or just your favorite football team.

Apart from your bio and the answers to “Who are you and how can you help me?”, most of the other content on your website is arbitrary. We manage the websites of hundreds of top advisors across the country, and we see their analytics-and we can tell you, people don’t spend time looking at pages with financial articles and calculators. If you want educational content on your site, make it original-your own blog, videos, or articles-so you can position yourself as a thought leader and improve your SEO with fresh content.

Consistency is Key

After you review the content on your website, look at your other content online, like your social media profiles (which should also be on page one of Google). Everything written about your practice should have a consistent message-otherwise, you send prospects mixed signals.

Think about it this way: If you work with business owners and your website talks all about key person planning, succession planning, and everything you do for business owners, but your LinkedIn profile doesn’t even mention business owners that’s a major disconnect, and it can turn people off.

Your brand identity is a single entity across all platforms, so the messaging about your practice should be consistent everywhere it appears. Your website is essentially the main hub of information about your business, and everything else, like your Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, should reflect what’s written there.

Step Two: Driving Referrals to Your Practice

Once you have an online presence that impresses referrals and converts them to prospects, you can focus on getting people to that online presence. Here are three of our favorite strategies for generating referrals:

Make Friends

People will bend over backward to refer their friends to people. On the other hand, if your advisor is just someone you do business with, you’re not going to be very motivated to send them more clients. That’s why getting to know your clients as friends don’t just make your job more enjoyable-it’s a strategic way to grow your practice.

One of our favorite ways to get in the “friend zone” is through social media. Essentially, you (via your personal profiles, not business pages) send friend- or connection requests to all your clients and COIs. Then you spend a few minutes each day commenting on their posts. (I’m not talking about finance-related comments-these should be personal.) When a client shares a picture of their grandbaby, comment on it and say how beautiful she is.

When a client posts a picture of their recent trip to Italy, tell them it looks like they had a great time and you can’t wait to see more photos. When you do this, you change the dynamic of your relationship from “advisor and client” to “friends.”

It’s also beneficial to share your own personal posts, even from your business pages-things like wishing a team member a happy birthday or photos of your recent vacation can lift the veil and give people a peek into your world. This makes them feel connected to you, which makes them view you more as a friend.

But if sharing personal posts aren’t your thing, just comment on your clients’ posts that’s the most effective way to build personal connections on social media and it takes literally no money and hardly any time.  

Spend Time Together

Another great way to generate referrals is to spend time with your A clients outside the office. Not everyone is in a place where it makes sense to just “hang out” with clients, so hosting events is a great way to do this. You can do something purely social like renting a box at a local sporting event, or you can host a “Financial State of the Union” at a local country club-offer wine and hors d’oeuvres and give a 30-minute, high-level talk about the current financial world and how it affects your clients’ lives.

Not only do these types of events position you as an expert in your field, but they show you care about educating your clients, and that makes people trust you.

Whatever type of event you choose, invite your top clients and encourage them to invite their friends. When you offer something of value, you’ll be surprised how often clients are excited to attend and bring others-and those friends they bring often turn into new relationships for you.

Deliver Share-Worthy Content

This last tip is something else that requires no money and almost no time, and like hosting educational events, it builds trust and positions you as a thought leader. The process is simple-whenever you find a helpful article about a timely financial topic you feel is important, send it to your A clients-not as part of an elaborate newsletter, but in a simple, personal email.

Write a sentence or two that says something like, “Hey, I saw this article and I thought it was great advice; you should check it out!” You can even add something like, “Feel free to share this with anyone you think could benefit from it.” 

Short, simple emails like this feel much more personal than a newsletter or elaborately designed email (though there’s a time and a place for those). The point of these shorter emails is to create personal connections, position yourself as a thought leader, and distribute content your clients want to share with friends-friends who are interested in the same information, which means they’re probably the type of people you want to work with. Those friends will then see you as a source of knowledge and as someone who cares about their clients enough to make sure they’re educated about important financial topics-which, again, builds trust.

Become a Referral Magnet

Sounds simple, right? Becoming a referral magnet isn’t complicated, but it does require intentionality. These are just a few effective ways to start building a referral-centric practice, but if you want a complete game plan to grow your business through people you already know, check out my book, The Referral Magnet, on Amazon.

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