By Brian Shapiro

As a follow up to my recent discussion on how to foster referrals from key centers of influence, I offer a different view on asking for referrals from existing clients. In this article, I contend that advisors should strongly consider changing their current client referral strategy.

Rather than just developing a strategy to obtain referrals from existing clients, I think it is important for advisors to take a step back and develop a profile of the type of clients who make up their ideal advisor practice. This can include anything from client demographics to industry niches, or a combination of both.

For instance, I know a successful advisor who developed a niche working with young dentists and doctors with relatively new practices. The advisor determined that this was a good niche for him because his office was in close proximity to a distinguished university with both a highly respected medical school and dental school. Plus, he had already naturally brought on a handful of clients in this niche in the five years that he had been in business.

This profile made sense to him because he was also a young professional, so he could personally relate with his clients in many ways. He understood the challenges and rewards of starting a business and what it meant to take care of clients. It didn’t hurt that his client base tended to be high earners who were accumulating wealth rather than spending it down.


Asking for Client Referrals

Once you have developed your ideal client profile, you then need to build a strategy for how to get in front of such prospective clients. For the remainder of this article, I’m going to concentrate on what I would consider direct and indirect client referrals.


Direct Client Referrals

I think we are all familiar with the concept of a direct client referral. This is when you ask existing clients if there are any specific individuals who they believe could benefit from the services that you are currently providing to them. Upon learning that there are a few individuals who could be interested, you would ask to be introduced or request permission to make your own introduction.

Getting these types of referrals from clients who meet your ideal client profile isn’t as easy as just asking for them. You need to create an experience for clients where they are naturally inclined to feel confident and even proud of having others in their network meet with you because you have connected with them on a personal level and demonstrated a competency in working through issues with them.


First Impressions Count

In preparation for that first prospective client meeting, here are four ways to foster a successful and productive conversation.

Let prospective clients do most of the talking. When you allow prospective clients to lead the conversation in an initial meeting, this creates a memorable experience and sets the stage for a great relationship. Clients appreciate being heard and understood on an individual level before solutions are prescribed to them, so make sure to ask follow-up questions.

Get to know more than their account statements and balance sheet. Spend some time getting to know the people in their life who are important to them, what’s keeping them up at night and their goals for their money.

All the little things add up. When thinking about your overall client experience, remember that details matter. Someone should be there to greet guests when they enter the office, preferably with a warm smile. A beverage such as coffee or water should be offered upon arrival. If the prospective clients wish to hang up their coats or even prop up an umbrella, assist them with these items.

Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. Be sure to cover the topics that highlight your skill sets and your ability to solve the specific issues that are keeping them up at night. This is especially important when trying to develop a niche with a certain ideal client profile.


Indirect Client Referrals

The most common way that advisors obtain indirect client referrals is by hosting an event where they invite clients to attend and bring any guests they think would benefit from the event’s topic.

In the case of the advisor who concentrated on building his business with young dentists and doctors, the advisor held events featuring topics that were particularly relevant to his niche client base. For example, one event concentrated on strategies for paying down student debt while still saving for the future and another event for solo practitioners discussed combining business planning with individual wealth planning.

Advisors who hold certifications and designations can share their expertise in these areas and act as the presenter on related topics. If a subject is relevant to the audience but an internal subject matter expert is not available, then an advisor can choose to bring in an outside expert to complement the firm’s knowledge base.


Using Your Ideal Client Profile to Build Your Practice

While asking for referrals has become a common theme discussed in the investment advisor space ad nauseum, I find that advisors typically take too broad of an approach, which leads to inactivity that in turn leads to missed opportunities. Start with the end in mind and define your ideal client profile first. This will change how you ask for client referrals by employing a focused approach that ultimately delivers better results (prospects become clients) and grows your ideal client base.



As Advisor Development Officer, Brian focuses on recruiting like-minded advisors and Registered Investment Advisor firms to join Forum Financial Management (WAA’s parent company). Before joining Forum in 2019, he led the client development efforts for one of the largest turnkey asset management providers in the evidence-based investing space. Through a consultative approach, Brian works with firms to uncover their needs and challenges to identify ways that a partnership with Forum would be beneficial to their business.

To learn more about how Forum can help you amplify your life’s work, contact Brian at

We help advisors establish and grow successful wealth management practices. You can follow us on Twitter@theWAAlliance and on LinkedIn.

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