How do you build alliances with other businesses to attract new customers? Do you need formal written agreements or contracts? Should you charge some kind of commission or pay finder’s fees to people who send business your way? All of those things are possible — and make perfect sense to some agency owners — but they complicate what could be a very simple process.

Instead, creating these alliances can be an informal effort that builds upon the relationships you already have with those other professionals. Even if you’re not close friends, you’re probably familiar with them through Chamber of Commerce meetings, local service groups, or your house of worship. To turn that relationship into an alliance, start with a simple conversation.

For example, if you want to build connections with a financial planner you know, invite her out to breakfast or for a cup of coffee. When you do, simply explain that you know that she has good solid roster of clients, and that the people in the community have a very positive opinion of the way she does business. You know that her clients have insurance needs that can be a bit more complex than average people, and you know from her reputation that those clients are accustomed to a certain level of service. You would appreciate the opportunity to provide that same level of service when it comes to their insurance needs.

What you propose is not a merger, a consolidation, or some kind of formal agreement. Instead, both of you would engage in informal promotion of each other’s practices. You may not send a letter to every client suggesting that they use the planner’s services, but when you’re in conversations with your clients, you may ask them if they have a financial plan, and whether they’re you happy with their current financial adviser. Then, you might add, “The reason I ask is that I’ve been doing some work with Jane Smith down the street and I’m very impressed with the work that she does for her clients. If you ever have a need for financial planning advice, you might want to give Jane a call.” She can do the same when it comes to her clients’ insurance needs.

Monitor success

Be sure to pay attention to the impact these alliances have upon your business, as well as what youre doing for the others. You want to make sure that the arrangement is mutually beneficial, and that one side is not profiting unnecessarily. For example if you’ve referred 22 of your clients to the CPA down the street in the past three months, and he’s only sent one client your way, that’s not exactly a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you’re not seeing the give-and-take you expect, don’t abandon the alliance. First, evaluate the nature of your relationship with the other professional. If it isn’t strong, or you don’t particularly care for the other person, there’s no need to continue making those referrals.

On the other hand, if you want to strengthen that relationship, it might be time for another cup of coffee. Without being rude, you can say something like, “I’ve noticed that you’re now serving nearly two dozen of my clients and they’re telling me good things. Is there anything I can do to help you send more clients my way?” Unless the other professional is completely clueless, he or she will get the unspoken message and step up the flow of referrals. After all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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