How To Grow a Center of Influence

Farms lead to Finance
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If you look back across human history, one of our greatest leaps forward for civilization was not the computer, nor the wheel.  It was  the discovery of farming.

Farming creates Culture

The ability to plan ahead, plant when appropriate, and patiently await results while cultivating the crops created a fundamental shift from the hunter/gatherer mentality, allowing us to put down roots and form larger groups that led to writing, laws, and culture.  Eventually it would lead to government, trade, specialization of crafts, and technological innovation.  Because we could plan on having food instead of hoping for a good hunt.

Unfortunately, many people who enter sales professions (real estate, financial services, coaching, etc) never evolve past the hunting/gathering stage and as such stunt their growth or starve out of the business.  Because they did not build an Introduction Based Business and embrace the planting/nurturing/harvesting cycle, whether out of fear or shortsightedness.   To become truly civilized as a professional, you need to embrace trade and develop Centers.

Trade centers have always become centers of economics and culture throughout human history.  As these locations grew from hundreds of people to millions (like NYC, Shanghai, London, Rome, etc), the diversification of trades exploded as did the wealth of the center and its participants.  As Adam Smith explored in Wealth of Nations, specialization of skills in population dense areas led to  massive increases in productivity and finances.

So what does ancient economic history have to do with building an Introduction Based business?  Everything.

Those ancient farmers knew they needed to plant seeds to harvest crops over time.

Adam Smith knew that people needed to freely exchange goods and services with other specialists.

Farmers would trade crops for tools, made by tool making experts, that would then be used to more efficiently raise more crops, increasing their production.  This was true in ancient Sumeria, 18th century Scotland, and today wherever you are.  The question is, are you in free exchange with others that can benefit you?

As we explored in the blog The Economics of Capitalism for Financial Advisors, the free exchange of goods and/or services for a profit is the core idea of capitalism, and the reason why we are in business.  Yet have you established relationships for the exchange of value, trading partners as it were, to increase your production?

Establish Centers of Influence (COIs) for your business.

And don’t fall into the twin traps of expecting everything or getting nothing from your Centers.

Centers of Influence are exchanges for ideas and Introductions.  Remember that you earn the right for Introductions by providing value.  This value for your Center could be you providing them with Introductions (i.e. if you are a Real Estate Agent, sending business to the roofer, plumber, and painters) or it could be you giving them ideas (like a Financial Advisor bringing the idea of a springing value trust to the attorney or CPA, so they have an additional planning tool to serve their clients and generate additional revenue).  Do not expect the COI to hand you value if you are not creating value for them and their clients.  Too many people expect to be given things without giving first.  Remember: free EXCHANGE of goods and services.  It must go both ways or else it is not a profitable relationship and the Center will collapse.

The opposing dilemma is giving without ever receiving.  If you hand a Center five, eight or ten Introductions with nothing coming back there is a problem.  If you give your Center ideas that they use with their clients and generate tens of thousands of dollars in fees and you get no Introductions or business back, it is an issue.  If you bring them their biggest new client and don’t get the opportunity to meet new potential clients from them, you are being screwed.  Call them out on it.

Tell them straight up “I have handed you X.  Capitalism is the free exchange of goods and services, and there are other professionals that provide your service that would love to work with my clients and will reciprocate with introductions to help me grow my business.”  Alpha up and have that conversation.  If they don’t start sending you Introductions/work then replace them.  Unrequited love in business hurts as much as in other relationships.

As Ben Franklin did with his development of his junta in Pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia, give benefit to others that can professionally benefit you and build your business.  Franklin became one of the wealthiest Americans of his time because he developed Centers of Influence that helped drive his printing business.  He planted seeds, helped others and gathered the fruits of those labors over time.  The idea of planting and growing and trading that was the key to the earliest civilizations, that financed one of our greatest Founding Fathers, can and should be applied in your business today.

Sit down with a piece of paper.  Write down five people that could dramatically impact your production by providing you a stream of business.  Is it the priest that does the pre-Cana for couples about to be married?  The Career Counsellor?  The tech lead in that company, or the HR manager?  How about the coach, or the VC?  Who are the five that could create the constant stream of new Introductions?

Now, how can you help THEM?  What value can you bring to them, to enhance their business or career?  What ideas, what Introductions, what can you do for them to make them better and EARN the seeds to plant for future harvests?

Get out and start becoming a civilized professional.  Start building an Introduction Based Business by planting some seeds.

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