Throughout my 20-odd year career, I’ve never for a moment considered becoming a sole-practitioner. Maybe I’m simply not entrepreneurial enough, but I also imagine it to be a bit of a lonely existence.
As a species, we humans thrive on interaction with others, whether it’s a drink down the pub with our mates, or a team meeting over Zoom (I know which one I would choose!). The reality is of course that very few professionals act in a solo capacity, because no-one can possibly know enough about everything their client needs. So for Ashcroft our collaborative approach is not only because we are a friendly and sociable bunch, it is a key driver in the quality of our client service.
We work hard to nurture relationships with clients, but also with other advisers, so that our network of fellow professionals feels like an extension to our own team. From lawyers to land agents, from investments managers to trustees, I rarely spend a day working without speaking to or emailing a fellow adviser to one of my clients.
So how do we do it? The starting point is having a reason to work together, and that relies on us being trusted by our clients to advise them on wide-ranging matters. Once you have a variety of advisory work to deliver, here are my tips on building a strong professional network to ensure the client gets the best outcome:-
- Know your strengths AND your weaknesses
If you recognise there might be a certain aspect of the advice that is not your area of expertise, find someone to help. This might be a colleague, but often you will need to look further afield to find the expertise required. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to do it all if that will be at the detriment of the overall quality of advice the client receives.
- Get to know who is good at what
Ask for referrals from existing contacts and draw on experiences within your team. The aim is to have at least three or four choices for each specialist area, whether it’s corporate law, property valuations or investment advice. The likelihood is that may of them will be local, but in many circumstances it won’t matter where they are based geographically.
- Find the best fit for your client
Think of it as setting up a blind date, and try to match up key aspects of the relationship to what might suit your client best. Consider price, location, complexity vs experience etc. But the success of an introduction of a fellow professional to a client will often be down to personalities more than anything else, so you should favour other professionals who are like-minded and personable.
- Play nicely
Once your client has accepted the introduction and the relationship is established, get their permission to share your knowledge where appropriate, enabling a joined-up approach from the outset. There may be a temptation to use the opportunity to ‘point-score’ over the fellow professional in an attempt to prove your superiority to your client, but no-one will benefit from such tactics in the long-run. The chances are you will simply undermine your own professionalism in the eyes of your client, and end up costing them more in fees.
- Reinforce relationships
Networking events are viewed with dread by some, perhaps because so many are so similar, and arguably quite dull. Find (or, better still, organise) some events that are a little more fun and give you the opportunity to broaden your network whilst getting to know existing contacts a little better.
- Keep at it
Don’t expect to build a strong network overnight! We at Ashcroft have been doing all these things for many years, and it’s only recently with the ‘pause’ on physical networking opportunities that we have noticed how strong our existing network has become. It’s also important to recognise when a relationship is failing. You might lose trust in someone’s expertise, or decide they are taking a little too long to deliver their part of a project. Your first priority should be your client and the service they receive, no matter how well you get on with your professional peers.
- Finally, make the most of your network
Don’t be too shy or proud to ask for referrals from your network if you think they have some interesting clients you would like to work for and you have the skills and capacity to do it.
As I said at the start, interaction with others should come naturally, but with a bit of extra effort these interactions can reap fantastic rewards for both our clients and our business.