Better is better with proactive referrals
With two good friends, Anna and I just completed a 17-day walk across Northern England – the Coast to Coast – a through-trek charted fifty years ago by Alfred Wainwright.

It was challenging.

It couldn’t have been better.

Britain’s Right to Roam offers walkers front-row steps into centuries-old fell and moor farming lives (gorgeously captured in The Shepherd’s Life), lush countryside, embracing tarns, broad accents, welcoming pubs, and all shapes of trekkers to share a day’s highs, lows and vistas.

We didn’t need any wet weather gear – apart from a misty morning at Kirby Stephens’ Nine Standards – it was clear skies for 300k. Amazing.

Sarah and her team at Mickledore – a UK-based group – arranged the trip.

They did a great job.

I’ll use them again and am happy to refer them to anyone seeking similar adventures.

Referrals matter.


However, they are rarely done well.

They are misunderstood – especially by advisory teams.

Seasoned advisers with too much work and no spare time regard asking for referrals as inviting terrible weather, making activity levels even more ridiculous. For some advisers, proactively seeking referrals is a tactic only for desperate start-ups.

I know advisers who regard not having to ask for a referral as a badge of honour, a testament to their success – these guys are often mired in high activity and low productivity.

Bigger isn’t always better.

The credentials needed for ‘better’ growth differ from those for ‘bigger’ growth.

Proactively seeking referrals is vital for every advisory firm’s better growth.

Most advisers stuck on a hamster wheel of activity providing jobs averaging $1000 would welcome the opportunity to deliver jobs averaging $5000.

That’s the beauty of proactive referrals – a shift from average to more productive work.

Productive referrals require positioning.


Because people pay attention to the recommendations of trusted peers, referrals are the most consistent form of generating new business opportunities.

While I am confident recommending the Mickledore team to anyone considering a through-hiking trip, I wouldn’t refer them to anyone looking for a cruise organiser.

However, some advisers ridiculously believe they must accept any referral from any referrer or network source because they don’t want to upset the referrer. These are usually the same advisers who don’t correctly position their referrals.

Positioning referrals is simple and essential.

It serves at least three functions.

Firstly it helps to identify which existing clients to seek referrals from –the clients who are most similar or most likely to resemble the more productive work the firm is seeking.

Secondly and of foremost importance is reassuring existing productive clients that the firm’s growth will not cause their service experience to deteriorate if they were to refer similar productive opportunities.

Thirdly it helps existing clients who might refer, and not all do or will, to identify a potential opportunity if and when they hear of a need from among their peers that your firm could help resolve.

Positioning is important.

So too, is consistency.


Proactively and consistently seeking referrals is not an email footer that includes “we appreciate your referrals”. Those lines encourage more activity, not necessarily more productive referrals if any at all.

Consistency is the discipline to measure, manage and continually position a firm’s desire for ‘better growth’ with selected existing clients most likely to assist that growth. Without the measurements and disciplines to manage a referral process, it will be another good idea that everyone is too busy to implement.

Becoming ‘too busy’ to seek more referrals is symptomatic of getting stuck in an activity trap ironically created by too little productive work that good referrals provide.

Only a minority of existing clients will refer – I reckon approximately 40% – however, a tinier minority of these often act as super-referrers.

The existing clients who do refer are unpaid salespeople.

They will only refer when they genuinely hear of a need among their peers. This may take months, so expect the positioning of a referral today to not generate interest for a few months. With lengthy lead times, it is easy to lose patience.

Consistency and persistence produce returns in time.

Not all introductions from referrals are ideal, successful, or need advice.

With consistency, good positioning and management of all client-facing team members (i.e. not just the qualified advisers), good referral practice provides a 33%-50% return. This means that somewhere between one out of three or one out of two positioning conversations generates a new potential productive referral.

Results less than this are usually a result of poor positioning, lack of consistency or buy-in throughout a firm for proactive referral practices.

Mickledore’s Coast to Coast through-treks are booked out well in advance.

That’s a ‘problem’ with good referrals.

Provided referrals generate productive introductions, managing too many ‘good’ referrals is a better problem than trying to find good enduring profits from a growing number of average jobs.

Less is more.

What do you reckon?




Photo credit: JJS_ullswater_230518



For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. He founded a training firm, Certainty Advice Group, to coach, skill and build advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice with fees priced purely on client value. He has grown a solid and collaborative community of advisory firms aligned to his firm’s comprehensive advice model – Certainty Advice – Australia’s only Certification Mark accredited by ACCC and IP Australia for comprehensive financial advice. He presents at conferences, has judged professional advice awards, written industry white papers, chaired practice management curriculums for tertiary institutions, and authored four books on financial advice – his latest – What Price Value – was released in March 2022.

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