As a financial planner in a growing firm, part of my remit is to engage in business development activities.
I’ve embraced the opportunity to network and build strong relationships with new clients and centres of influence through some innovative, yet straightforward, methods.
It's my belief that any financial planner can significantly improve their business prospects by understanding the value of community-building.
After all, your ability to develop professional relationships will always be the most important driving force in your business growth.
The power of networking mustn't be understated, but I think there’s even more to it than that.
Through what I call 'value-added networking', it is possible to reach significant numbers of people with your message and establish yourself as a reliable, accessible financial expert.
As an example, earlier this year I launched a podcast called Inside Kingston™.
The podcast tells the stories of successful business owners, experienced professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders based in Kingston upon Thames.
By interviewing these people and building genuine relationships with them, I am embedding myself in our business community.
This in turn helps our business establish itself as a trusted brand, leading eventually to new clients and professional connections.
It's by no means a ‘quick win’, but it has already paid dividends.
These are both in uncovering good business practices from our local community, as well as in building mutually beneficial relationships with a wide network of professional colleagues and friends.
Aside from the podcast, I've also hosted technical seminars to meet with specific professionals in our local area.
For example, I recently ran a tax and trusts masterclass for estate planning teams of local law firms who could benefit from my financial planning services.
These opportunities don’t always come knocking, and when they do, they’re less likely to benefit you directly.
By creating opportunities, like hosting a seminar and sending targeted invitations to the people I want to meet, I am building relationships that are quickly turning into business partnerships.
The trick is to demonstrate your value, and they will turn up.
Out of the 25 professional I invited to the masterclass, 16 attended, and I had their full attention to prove the value of my knowledge, experience and services. This is what I mean by value-added networking.
With potential professional colleagues as a captive audience, it's essential to define the parameters of what everybody does, and how you can help each other.
Demonstrate that you understand what they do and what sets their expertise apart from yours.
At the same time, you can show how you can manage the client’s financial plan and their underlying investments, plus help with their day-to-day business in a meaningful way.
Research proves this to be a winning tactic, too.
Libby Sander, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond University in Australia, showed in a 2017 report that the role of a host in firms that help start-ups was essential in identifying and creating opportunities to build networks.
Opportunities are out there waiting for you. Yet your success depends on whether you are willing to be the host.
Using value-added networking in your firm
Value-added networking can transform your business prospects. But you must be willing to create situations where you'll meet people in professional fields that you want to regularly interact with.
Adding value also means demonstrating what you can do for these people right from the beginning.
Find an audience that would benefit from your services and consider new ways to engage with them.
It may be through a free local seminar advertised online, or through your local chamber of commerce. It could also be through some other professional event.
Produce content that outlines how you can help them, and be prepared to show how a professional relationship can be mutually beneficial over time.
This makes your intentions clear, shows you understand their business and demonstrates your value.
Remember also there's no point trying to be ‘all things to all men’.
You don't have to be loose with the truth, or promise services you can't realistically offer. Find your niche, know what you do better than other people in your field, and sell that message accordingly.
This is all about business development, and both you and your potential new connections will understand that.
Accountants and solicitors, should you choose to target this audience, will have faced professional rejection before too, and so will understand (and appreciate) an offer from someone who is setting out to demonstrate value.
You'll win some, and you'll lose some – but you'll win more than you would if you hadn’t tried.
Value-added networking can achieve more than most advertising campaigns. Ask yourself: would you trust an online advert, or a real world interaction with someone who has proven their value?