Journal of Financial Planning: July 2018
Few people could match Jack’s knowledge and experience as a financial planner. He believed that a good planner could help anyone at any time with any challenge, and he was energized by the variety of challenges he faced as a financial planner.
Determine an optimal income distribution strategy? Got it. Weigh the pros and cons of various education savings options? Glad to help. Dig into the nuances of selecting the best retirement plan? No problem!
Jack truly believed he could be all things to all clients.
During a recent review meeting with one of his favorite clients, he was surprised to learn that his client was trying to find help for a friend who wanted to sort through the implications of selling his business. After interjecting that he would be more than willing to assist, Jack was floored when he heard his client say, “Oh, I didn’t know you did that.”
After years of trying to be all things to all people, Jack suddenly realized that he wasn’t known for anything.
Why Have a Niche?
Financial planners often ask if it would be better to position themselves as someone who does financial planning as a generalist or as someone who specializes in a specific area of financial planning.
Many new planners begin their career as generalists, later developing areas of specialization based on the clients they tend to attract or their own background or area of interest.
There are three key reasons for developing a niche market:
It provides you with a clear focus for your marketing efforts. Rather than having a broad message that appeals to everyone, you can specifically target the individuals within your niche.
It gives you a sense of identity as a recognized expert in a specific area. For new financial planners, developing that niche or specialty can provide an extra measure of stature and confidence.
Perhaps most importantly, a well-established niche helps facilitate referrals. “You should speak to Diane; she specializes in helping multi-generational families deal with life transitions” is much more compelling than, “You should speak to my financial planner; his name is Tim.”
Characteristics of a Good Niche
If developing a niche is a good idea, what makes for a good one?
First, consider whether the people in that niche have a common set of characteristics and comparable goals, objectives, and challenges. Are they similar enough in their experience, perspective, and even culture that they are easily recognizable as a distinct group? And do they know one another such that they would be likely to talk amongst themselves and become advocates for the service provider who truly understands and serves them well?
Second, evaluate your prospective niche in terms of its potential. Are there sufficient numbers of people in your community that would make it worth the time, effort, and money that you might invest in seeking and serving that niche?
Finally, is it a group with whom you have an affinity, interest, or understanding of their language, culture, or other shared experience? In other words, would they see you as “one of them,” so that their natural inclination would be to seek out your services?
How to Pick a Niche
There are three commonly used ways to select a niche:
Consider your own background, culture, and interests. Think of experiences from your life (prior career, philanthropic or social organization, or unique life experience), your culture (ethnic, language, religion, age, or philosophical orientation), or the knowledge you’ve gained from targeted educational or certification programs.
Look at your existing clients for groups of people with whom you get along well and over time have developed a strong understanding of their needs, concerns, and challenges. Be thorough in your review. Some planners find that they have a “hidden” niche—a common thread across clients that may not be readily apparent. For example, you may find that a large percentage of your clients are dual-income professionals or have a strong interest in charitable giving.
Think about some other opportunity in your geographical area that you could develop into your area of specialization. It might be related to the presence of a specific employer, educational institution, or industry. Or your part of the country could be a retirement destination or a sports, recreation, or cultural center that could be developed into a niche market.
Niche Market Ideas
Here are some ideas to help get you started. As you review the list, consider the three previous points to determine what might be a good fit for you:
- Business executives with complicated corporate benefit plans
- Families with special needs children or other family members
- Multi-generational families looking for transition planning assistance
- High-net-worth individuals and families concerned about preparing their children to manage their expected inheritance
- Women who have recently lost a spouse through death or divorce
- Individuals who have received a substantial sum of unexpected money
- Small business owners looking for succession planning assistance
- Farmers, ranchers, and others with large real estate holdings
Establishing Your Niche
Once you’ve determined your best opportunity for establishing your niche market, there are three things you should do to own that market:
Expand your knowledge and expertise in serving the needs of your niche. Your goal is to know more about the needs and challenges of this group (including solutions or strategies to meet those needs) than anyone else.
Enroll in relevant educational or certification programs. Whether your niche market is special needs planning or understanding the nuances of dividing assets prior to a divorce, educational opportunities exist that will help you expand on what you already know.
Read everything you can find. Scour the internet for relevant articles. Use tools such as OneNote, Evernote, and other software that will help you collect information and organize your reference library.
Demonstrate to your clients and others that you are the local expert in everything relating to this group of people. Design a niche-specific financial planning process to make sure you ask the right questions and provide strategies and solutions appropriate to the unique needs of your niche.
Gather—or even better—create your own resources that are useful to your niche. Examples include a checklist for what teens need to know about finances before college; a family meeting agenda and discussion questions; a template to help clients design their vision for their ideal retirement; or a workbook to help families prepare for generational transitions.
Finally, get the word out by developing specific messaging and strategies to communicate your expertise in your community. Marketing your ability to serve your niche is the fun part.
Niche Market Messaging
Begin your messaging by creating a connection with people in your niche market. Describe them in a way that communicates that you understand who they are, you know what they want and need, you understand their concerns and challenges, and you are able to help them in ways that other financial planners are not likely to understand or do.
Use questions that sound like the ones swirling around in their heads, the ones they know they need answers to, and the ones they hadn’t thought about to this point.
Describe your approach to helping people just like them so that they can clearly imagine what it would be like to be your client. Be sure to point out what differentiates you from other planners they might meet.
Finally, explain what they should do next to connect with you and what to expect in your first meeting together.
Niche Marketing Strategies
Your niche-specific messaging can be delivered many ways to the people who need to hear it.
- Communicate your ability to serve your niche market on your website, your LinkedIn profile summary, your Facebook page, and Twitter account.
- Create and publish blog articles and white papers that speak to the specific issues confronting your niche market.
- Write niche-specific articles for publications whose audiences include your niche market.
- Develop relationships with professionals and centers of influence that also serve your niche market, and seek opportunities to collaborate.
- Create your own niche-specific interest group with niche members, their family, allied professionals, and others.
After her husband died, Hazel found herself surrounded by close friends who were eager to help in any way they could. She heard the same question repeatedly: “Have you spoken to Tony yet?” As she quickly learned, Tony was the financial planner who had helped many of her friends take care of whatever needed to be done after their loss of a loved one.
When she searched for Tony online, Hazel found a helpful article that he had written for the local paper on the grieving process. His website told the story of how his father had died when Tony was young, leaving his mom and three small children, and how he was committed to helping others in a similar time of need.
When Hazel asked her friend about Tony, the friend smiled, reached into her purse, and handed her a booklet titled, When a Loved One Passes Away. “Tony gave this to me,” she said. “You should talk to him.”
Meeting Tony for the first time, Hazel observed that his focus was entirely on her, her memories of her husband, and her concerns about her future. He gave her the same booklet that Grace had shown her and explained how he would guide her through every step. By the end of their meeting, Hazel knew she had found her financial planner, the one she could count on for the months and years ahead.
What about you? Are you energized by the challenges of being a generalist like Jack, or do you see yourself more like Tony, who specializes in a specific area?
If it’s the latter, invest your time in becoming a true expert, and then share your story with the people who need to hear it.
Adam Kornegay, RCC™, is a partner at Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. With a background in marketing and business analytics, together with his experience as a financial adviser, Adam coaches a broad array of clients, from relatively new advisers to experienced planners, focusing on all aspects of marketing and business development.
Susan Kornegay, CFP®, is a partner at Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. After more than 30 years as a financial adviser, branch manager, and practice management consultant, Susan enjoys helping financial planners define a comprehensive and consistent client experience and then market that experience in clear, client-friendly language.