Growing Your Business Through COIs (Beyond CPAs)

Marketing and Project Management

Referrals are a critical resource for growing your business. Why, then, do some advisors solely go after CPAs when trying to forge strategic alliances or centers of influence (COIs)? I’m not saying CPAs don’t make good partners—far from it. But that’s one reason a referral partnership with CPAs can be elusive: you won’t be the only one trying to draw a line from their clients to yours. By focusing on only one COI strategy, from one source, you could be shutting out other COIs who could be just as helpful—if not more so.

It’s Time to Widen the Circle

Remember the value of a COI: It’s someone who can have a positive impact on your business by providing introductions to other people, networking opportunities, and word of mouth. Rather than spending your time and energy chasing CPAs—a group known to be cautious and reluctant to give referrals—ask yourself this: based on my business model and the clients I’m trying to attract, who else could make a good COI for me?

Let’s say you want to attract more widows and widowers to your practice. Yes, CPAs and attorneys could be useful COIs to help develop this niche, but you could be overlooking other opportunities. Consider the specific needs of those prospects and where they may be spending their time and getting guidance:

  • Funeral home directors. They’re the first to know when there’s a death in the family and can serve as a useful contact with extended families.

  • Support group leaders. Many churches and hospitals offer support groups for widows and widowers.

  • Clergy. Often called on to help the recently bereaved, clergies play an important role at this stressful time in someone’s life.

  • Local organizations. You likely have organizations in your area that skew toward older people, such as garden clubs, historical societies, book clubs, or libraries.

As you can see, there are many professionals who could be great sources of referrals. And that’s the point! Think about COIs more broadly, and you may discover you already have a large pool to network with right in front of you.

Who else could make a good COI? Think about your ideal clients, then think about who among them might make great COIs. With this as your starting point, your options might include:

  • High-end realtors

  • Mortgage brokers

  • Concierge physicians

  • Jewelers

  • Restaurant owners

  • Football coaches

  • Gym owners

  • Police or fire chiefs

  • Editors of local publications

  • Chamber of commerce officials

  • Wedding planners and photographers

  • Caterers

The best part about this list? These COIs are probably less tapped out than CPAs and perhaps more open to learning how you help people. Still, you want to start off on the right foot. Here’s how.

4 Tips for Connecting with New COIs

1) Be deliberate. When advisors take a potential COI to lunch, they all too often don’t bring any professional documents because their goal is for the individual to “just get to know me” or “see me as a nice person.” It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that careful, cautious, and analytical CPAs don’t go back to the office and start referring clients to the advisor.

Instead, here are a few tips for approaching a meeting with a potential COI:

  • Bring a statement of what your firm specializes in.

  • Include biographies of you and the team, along with bullet points of your process.

  • Clearly and simply detail what you do and how you help people.

  • If you have supporting information, such as case studies, articles, awards, or a sample of your work (e.g., a financial plan), bring those along, too.

  • Be prepared for questions; in fact, welcome them, as they are a sign someone is interested.

2) Learn all you can about the COIs. Who are their families? Do they have pets? Where did they go to school? What are their hobbies and community involvement? You’ll uncover a lot of valuable information, and they’ll learn a lot about you, too. In short, you have to know them.

Then, try to steer the conversation toward a topic that the COI would want to talk about and be easily able to discuss. Below are some examples:

  • Tell me about your practice or business.

  • Can you describe your typical client? Your ideal client?

  • How do you see your practice evolving?

  • What types of cases or clients would be best suited for your practice?

  • Are you active in any professional associations?

3) Involve your clients. Simply ask your clients who their tax or other professional advisors are and suggest that you all meet for coffee. The professional is likely to accept the invitation when it comes from your client, and you now have common ground—as well as an advocate for you at the table.

When the meeting happens, be prepared with an idea for solving an issue you know your client faces. A simple discussion about the best way to approach a tax issue, for example, will allow everyone to engage in the conversation, and your client will likely be impressed by the extra effort on tax-saving considerations. Also, be sure to try to turn your COIs into clients of your firm; they will then fully understand your process and differentiation—and feel good referring others to you.

4) Be clear about your value. You offer many services that can benefit clients, and most of them are separate and distinct from what the COI offers. What are the particular pain points for your COIs? If you can identify where they need help, you will be better able to position your services effectively.

Expanding Your Reach

There’s more than one way to be successful. Growing your business—the way you want it to grow—may require shifting strategies or looking at things, and the people around you, in a new light. If you’ve had luck with CPAs so far, that’s wonderful, but there are other avenues to explore, too. As an added bonus, attempting to expand your pool of COIs could help you gain a better understanding of your clients’ world—and how to best meet their needs.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2016, but we’ve updated it to bring you more relevant and timely information.

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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