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Journey Strategic Wealth

How to Get Referrals Without Asking

Penny Phillips, co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth, recommends advisors take a more strategic, intentional approach to leveraging clients for new business.


I don’t believe advisors should ask clients for referrals in the traditional way they have been trained to do so in our industry. For years, advisors were encouraged (by consultants, coaches, and firm leaders) to use language, with clients, like:  

  • “The best compliment you could pay me is a referral.”
  • “Our firm gets paid in one of three ways …”
  • “Who do you know who could benefit from our services?”
  • “I saw you’re connected to John Smith on Facebook. Would you be open to introducing me to him?”

The truth is, for most people, this language is uncomfortable. It’s especially uncomfortable when it’s forcibly shared at the end of a client review or during a “random check-in” call to a client.

I’ve had many advisors, over the years, ask me if I think clients would be turned off by this language and I have always answered honestly: Yes, I do.

In our business, the client sits at the center of the relationship, and we should be wholly focused on them and what they need from us in each conversation. If you are meeting with a client for a review, or to discuss recent changes in their life, using the end of the meeting to discuss possible introductions for your practice suddenly makes the conversation about you and your needs, and not the client’s.

Also, not everyone is comfortable being “a connector.” Many people feel compelled to say “yes,” even when they do not want to commit to introducing you. Or worse, they don’t say yes or no, but suddenly become non-committal, vague and begin avoiding contact. Additionally, keep in mind that clients have shared very sensitive, sometimes embarrassing information with you; they may not want to introduce you to those close to them given how much private information you know about them.

Now, there are several exceptions to the above, which I will discuss below. Generally speaking though, rather than asking clients directly for names and contact information, I recommend advisors take a more strategic, intentional approach to leveraging clients for new business. Here are several ways in which you could obtain introductions without directly asking for them.

  1. Identify Those Who Are “Natural Referrers.”

Malcolm Gladwell describes these people as “connectors” in his book "The Tipping Point." These are people who have a natural ability to network, connect and influence. Not everyone possesses this innate ability, and thus being strategic about who you leverage for new business is critical.

Consider people in your own life, or in your book of business, who fit this description. They have probably already referred people—clients, COIs, other professionals they think you should know—to you, without being prompted. These are the type of people who are comfortable providing feedback and recommendations; they leave “Yelp” reviews and engage routinely on social media, posting (or arguing!) in Facebook groups or comment threads. Or they’re the type of people you might describe as “gregarious” and “a people’s person.” To put it simply, referrers LIKE to engage, make connections and add value to others.  

Identify the natural referrers in your book of business and let them know you have space to take on several more households this year via your best clients’ introductions and want them to be one of only a handful of clients to do so. This specific language will make them feel engaged and excited and will “tap” their innate connector qualities.

You might also consider a small handful of these folks to be part of a client advisory board that meets semiannually and counsels you on strategic decisions you’re making about the practice including marketing and growth.

  1. Share Your Vision for Your Business With Your Clients.

While I don’t recommend you share your business vision with a client in a client review, I do recommend you routinely talk about “what you are building” with clients, friends, COIs and people within your community. There are a number of ways you could this naturally:

  • In a monthly or quarterly newsletter to clients.
  • On social media via a weekly post about “problems you help clients solve.”
  • In a blog post shared to your website.
  • In a recorded video that you share with clients at a client advisory meeting.

Keep in mind, clients, especially next-gen clients, want to feel part of something bigger than themselves. And they want to have impact. Consider sending a note to your clients, mid-year, with some updates about your firm. Record a video as well and include the following:

  • A reminder that you’re in business … and growing!
  • The mission and vision of the business.
  • Information about how you plan to expand your team to better serve clients.
  • Initiatives that you plan on implementing to improve client care.
  • Upcoming events that will be open to clients and their family members.
  • A reminder of the value you add and services you deliver.
  1. Provide Clients With the Language and Information You Would Want Them to Share With Others.

Remember that people cannot advocate for you if they cannot clearly articulate what you do or the value you provide. This is why sharing authentic content on social media and digital channels is so important.

Rather than sharing canned language or industry jargon like “we deliver comprehensive wealth management services,” share content that is reflective of the questions clients come to you with, the challenges they have and the ways you help solve them. When content and information is easy to digest and resonates deeply, people are more likely to share it with others.

 In order to get into a rhythm of sharing what I call “referrable language,” do the following:

  • Make a list of the top 20 questions prospects and clients ask you and your team, while meeting or engaging with you. Examples might include, “How do I know I’m going to be OK?”
  • Write out simple answers to all of these questions, using the language you would use if you were speaking to someone in person.
  • Commit to posting once a day on the social channel visited most frequently by your prospective clients, with one of the questions and your answer.
  1. Deliver a Referable Experience.

If you ask the best in the business how they get referrals, they will likely tell you that they get referrals constantly without ever asking. These advisors have created referable businesses.

Having a referable business is about more than just being exceptional at client service. It’s about curating an experience for people that is memorable enough to make a deep impression, and impactful enough to share with others.

Here are some ways in which you could create referable experiences daily:

  • Have a 1-hour response policy. Even if you do not have an answer to something, or cannot get to a request, simply acknowledging receipt of an email or voicemail can go a long way in making someone feel heard and cared for.
  • Surprise clients with thoughtful gifts and recognize milestones and occasions. Each month choose five households to do something special for at random, or in recognition of a milestone. Here are two examples: send a handwritten card and cupcakes to a client who just hit a savings or net worth goal or send balloons and champagne to someone’s job on their last day of work before retirement.
  • Make life easier for clients. Ask clients how they want information organized. Perhaps it would be easier for someone to receive printed documents rather than digital copies. Make notes of your clients’ preferences in your CRM.
  • Train your team to always go the extra mile. For example, if a client is trying to transfer an account, have someone on your team facilitate the call with them and the other firm rather than sending them the customer service number. When tax season comes around, help clients get organized and get their information over to their accountant.

On a final note, if you have found referral language that really works for you, then continue to use it. You may be a natural influencer who is very comfortable weaving “sales language” into conversations. Or you may have simply developed a rapport with your clients over the years that is conducive to you asking for referrals on an annual basis. Rather than changing your process, see if you could leverage the additional best practices above for greater reach.

Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth. 

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