Top 5 experts you need in your network

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Much as we like to think that we're good at a lot of things, we aren't, in reality. Successful small biz benefits advisors regularly rely on other experts and work in teams to benefit their clients.

Wendy Giuffre learned this the easy way. The owner of Calgary-based Wendy Ellen Inc. is a group-benefits broker with a human-resources background—a rare combination. She works with more than 50 companies, most of them with fewer than 100 employees. About a year ago, another group-benefits broker included her in a meeting with a client because the client had been asking very specific HR questions.

"A lot of brokers get HR questions," says Giuffre. "They know the basics but not the details, and HR can get complicated. I helped the broker a lot, and we still work together, attending joint meetings with clients and helping with their HR questions." Giuffre has run an HR-consulting firm, as well as a small-group benefits business, for eight years, offering both kinds of advice.

Mike McClenahan, CEO of Benefits By Design, based in BC, has a similar approach but on a larger scale. "We work with about 750 independent advisors across the country," he says. "Advisors who specialize in one area need to know people who specialize in others," he says. When his advisors have clients who need a type of insurance that the advisor doesn't handle, for example, he's in a position to recommend a trusted expert with complementary insurance expertise.

In addition to an HR expert—assuming you're not one yourself—who are the people you need in your network to be a better benefits advisor? Consider adding these four.

Retirement/pension expert

Besides HR questions, the second most popular type of question is likely related to group-retirement benefits and plans. Giuffre refers her clients to a retirement-planning expert, and he, in turn, refers clients to her if they have benefits or HR queries. "It's all informal," she says, "and it's based on trust."

McClenahan says that many advisors who focus on life/health don't know the details about employer group-retirement programs and RRSPs, so knowing a trusted expert in advance is important.

Accountant

Advisors are always asking each other about taxes and accounting. Ensure that your accountant-expert is experienced in small business and the sectors that you focus on. It's eye-opening, for example, how few accountants know the details about tax forms and rules related to contract and outsourced work.

Financial planner

High-net-worth or not, if clients are considering legacy planning, complex financial plans or simply need business plans, you'll likely a financial planner with the right skill set. Clients will appreciate a referral to a reputable financial planner.

Lawyer

Ditto for benefits lawyers. Advisors don't often need lawyers for small groups, but knowing a couple of specialized ones will make your life easier. Also, their advice or advisories are valuable with changed laws or guidelines, such as a privacy act or a new rule about pharmceuticals.

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