In another time and place—far, far away and long, long ago—doing a great job for your clients was all it took for your business to prosper. Word of your exceptional skills and your superlative service would spread throughout the realm.

But like many fairy tales, this one requires modern revision.

While it is true that skills and service are still factors critical for success, you can no longer rely solely on them to build a professional practice or business. A variety of marketing strategies can help spread the word and attract clients. However, the most effective and often overlooked strategy is to encourage referrals.

The first thing is to acknowledge a fundamental human reality: people want to help others. So, ask your clients for help. They will be happy to do so, and they will feel good about it.

Then, help your clients help you by devising a system to encourage personal introductions.

Here's how to become your clients' “introduction mentor”:

  • Consider where your clients live, who their friends are, and what clubs or personal or professional organizations they belong to. Who do they do business with—from clients to vendors? Develop a list of people that you would like to have as clients and ask them if they know anyone on your list. This will significantly jumpstart the process. Once your clients understand the kind of prospects you want and that they know some of them, they will begin adding to your list. This approach avoids the “I don't know anyone who needs your services” response.

  • If they are willing to make a call for you, provide them with one sentence about the benefits of working with you. Make sure they agree with the statement and are comfortable using it. For example: “Joe, I thought I had the best advice in the city, but after I worked with this fellow, I was astounded by how much he helped me make money/save taxes…” or another benefit-oriented statement. Keep it simple. Any more is too much for most people to remember or deliver effectively.

  • If they prefer for you to call or send a letter rather than doing it themselves, explain what you will say and how you will follow up. It is critical for you to describe this process to ensure their comfort level. Some people have fears that you will embarrass them or they will be perceived as being in a sales role for you. You may even want to role-play the conversation.

  • Always follow up with your clients so they know the status of your introductions. In addition to thanking them, you will also alert them that the person they introduced you to might be calling them. This way they can be prepared to reinforce the prospect's wisdom in wanting to see you or to move forward with you. Whenever you can, refer business back to your clients.

  • If you don't already know, ask your clients who their other trusted advisors are and contact them. You instantly have something in common—and they, successful professionals as well—are often eager for networking opportunities.

People do business with people they know. No advertising or public relations activity can accelerate the process of getting to know you as quickly as personal introductions.

By mentoring clients who want to help but don't know how, you create a win-win-win scenario: for them, yourself and your prospects who need your valuable services.

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Marc J. Lewyn ( is a financial advisor and Vice-President of GV Financial Advisors, a registered investment advisor.