"Networking" gets a bad rap. Probably because "networking events," as many people have experienced them, push the limits of human discomfort. It's worse online; the phoniness and self-aggrandizing witnessed on LinkedIn begs the question: what's a "connection" really worth?
A lot, depending on the circumstances. This article will walk through three types of common encounters and how to approach them in a way that doesn't stifle natural conversation but opens the door to potential business growth. That includes:
How to tastefully guide conversations with prospective clients in non-business settings
How to initiate COI-focused business development conversations with other wealth-adjacent services (attorneys, accountants, consultants, etc.)
How to build your financial advisor network in a way that opens the door to referrals, marketing collaboration, M&A activity, and succession planning.
Networking with prospective clients in person
It's natural to talk about work. When meeting someone for the first time, a simple, "what do you do?" lets you demonstrate a genuine interest in how this person spends their time. Ask follow up questions, probe into areas where there's personal overlap. At some point, you will likely get a similar question: "What about you? What do you do for work?"
This is your opportunity to keep it simple and signal a few things–
A complete disinterest in selling anything
Here's an example of a few sentences that accomplish those objectives:
"I'm an independent financial advisor. I specialize in working with pre-retirees who want to minimize taxes during retirement. Been at it for about 17 years—14 of which have been fantastic. And thankfully I'm at the point in my career where I can be selective about who I work with; most of my clients have become friends and live about 15 minutes from my house."
Then let the conversation run its course. If the person takes your lead and asks some follow up questions, take the opportunity to talk passionately about your clients, tell a few stories (but make sure you have a point… and get to it), and ask them similar questions when you're done answering.
When it's time to step away, give them your business card and part ways. Don't turn a quality interaction into a pitch by trying to "close the deal". You've made a personal connection, built some rapport, and exchanged information. Networking = complete.
Networking with prospective clients online
The example outlined above is much harder to execute online. There's still a way to grow your network and build brand value online without attempting an awkward intro via direct message. If you regularly create and post valuable content, people will reach out to you. We've covered content marketing at length here and here and in our Content Marketing Masterclass series – if you'd like to learn more, please check out those resources.
Networking with potential Center of Influence contacts
Establishing relationships with other wealth-adjacent service providers (accountants, attorneys, realtors, bankers, consultants, etc.) is a great way to grow your business and provide additional value to your clients. There are three things to consider when evaluating potential COI contacts – if you can answer "Yes" to these questions, you and your clients will be set up for a good experience:
Do you serve clients with similar needs?
Do you share a similar ethos around client experience?
Do you have compatible workstyles and communication expectations?
This sort of networking is more business-oriented – you're looking for a mutually beneficial relationship where clients can be confidently referred between multiple service providers. How do you source these relationships?
Sourcing contact information
Get introductions to highly regarded potential COI contacts that your clients are already happy with (this can be as simple as asking them who they work with for X, Y, Z at your next client meeting)
Look to your existing professional network or trusted professional associations
Set up a casual lunch of coffee chat to evaluate compatibility – outline values and mutual benefits
Explore any and all content you can find (blog, podcast, newsletter, etc.)
Identify an upcoming opportunity for each party to "test" the relationship
Referring and Receiving business
When referring initially, communicate to your client that you're interested in developing a working relationship with this contact and are eager to get their feedback on the quality of service provided
When receiving, deliver a top-notch client experience.
Networking with other financial advisors
There is a lively community of financial advisors on Twitter and LinkedIn, fighting for better client outcomes and better wealth management experiences. Tapping into this community can open the door to referral opportunities, marketing and content collaborations, new hires, M&A, and succession plans. Reaping these benefits requires a few simple, consistent actions.
Showcase your expertise
Put your values on display
Positively engage with other advisors doing the same
When you see someone doing something commendable, reach out and let them know. In this instance, a personal direct message is a great way to initiate a valuable new connection.
Don't overcomplicate networking.
Approach it with clarity, genuine interest, and a focus on mutual benefit. The goal isn't to jam an entire sales cycle into a 5-minute interaction but rather to make a phenomenal impression that leaves the other person thinking: I could definitely see myself working with them.