Should I … Fo­cus on a Niche?

If you are versed in a gen­uine spe­cialty, it can be a great way to stand out from the rest of the pack. But it also nar­rows your po­ten­tial client uni­verse.

Financial Planning - - CONTENT - By In­grid Case

If you are versed in a gen­uine spe­cialty, it can be a great way to stand out, but in a smaller client uni­verse.

CRE­AT­ING A NICHE MAR­KET FOR YOUR PLAN­NING ser­vices can be an op­por­tu­nity to stand out in a crowded field of ad­vi­sors.

When In­di­vid­ual As­set Man­age­ment founder Tom Zachys­tal turned his fo­cus more in­ter­na­tion­ally, he found his tar­get au­di­ence. At his plan­ning firm in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia, 90% of the clients have some­thing big in com­mon: they are ei­ther Amer­i­cans liv­ing abroad or for­eign cit­i­zens liv­ing in the United States.

“We spe­cial­ize in cross-bor­der is­sues, which is kind of un­usual, so clients seek us out,” Zachys­tal says.

They of­ten find him while look­ing for so­lu­tions to prob­lems that flow from United States tax laws. “U.S. cit­i­zens who live over­seas have a U.S. tax-re­port­ing burden, and then their bro­ker­age firms do as well, so both lo­cal and U.S. bro­ker­age firms shy away from them,” Zachys­tal says.

Ex­pats of­ten have tax quan­daries as well as prob­lems with es­tate plan­ning, mov­ing money among nations, get­ting bank ac­counts and debit cards and wiring funds.

He solves the prob­lem by us­ing cus­to­dial firms to hold client ac­counts and find­ing dis­count bro­ker­age firms that will ac­cept their busi­ness.

“The key is to have a net­work of pro­fes­sion­als in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and ar­eas of ex­per­tise,” he says, be­cause a plan­ner can’t pos­si­bly be an ex­pert on ev­ery coun­try’s cross-bor­der poli­cies.

A niche prac­tice might be right for you, too, if you can de­velop a gen­uine spe­cialty.

“Is there any­thing re­ally dif­fer­ent about help­ing den­tists, as op­posed to help­ing physi­cians?” Zachys­tal asks. “Not re­ally. You should bring some kind of spe­cific qual­i­fi­ca­tions or knowl­edge. That’s what’s valu­able.”

SLOW AND STEADY

A word of warn­ing is in or­der: A prac­tice that is de­signed to serve a par­tic­u­lar niche from the very begin­ning may take awhile to get off the ground.

“It was dif­fi­cult to get the prac­tice go­ing,” Zachys­tal says. “I can’t meet most of my clients in per­son, so they can’t see our of­fices. There are many weird things go­ing on in un­reg­u­lated fi­nan­cial mar­kets, so ex­pats of many years tend to be cau­tious. It took 10 years for my name to re­ally get around the ex­pat com­mu­nity.”

Con­vert­ing a general prac­tice over to niche is of­ten eas­ier, ac­cord­ing to those who have done it. Melissa El­lis, founder of Sap­phire Wealth Plan­ning in Over­land Park, Kansas, made the con­ver­sion grad­u­ally.

“My client base was mostly women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and col­lege plan­ning and di­vorce were the is­sues they were deal­ing with,” she says.

“I was di­vorced my­self at the time and had kids in high school and col­lege, and as I learned about my own sit­u­a­tion, I re­al­ized that there are a lot of is­sues around col­lege plan­ning when the par­ents are di­vorced.”

Bit by bit, El­lis be­gan to spe­cial­ize in work­ing with di­vorced women who are faced with col­lege plan­ning needs for their chil­dren. She main­tains general clients, but new ad­di­tions tend to seek her out for her spe­cialty. Of course, some dis­miss her as a po­ten­tial plan­ner be­cause of her spe­cialty, and El­lis accepts that.

“I don’t want to be all things to all peo­ple,” she ex­plains. “Some peo­ple will look at my web­site and say, ‘That’s not me.’ But I also at­tract the peo­ple who are right for me.”

DRIVEN BY CHAR­ITY

Per­sonal in­ter­ests also got Pa­trick Renn into a niche prac­tice. The founder and pres­i­dent of Renn Wealth Man­age­ment, based in At­lanta, he be­came involved with the Spe­cial Olympics and over time gained board mem­bers and donors as clients.

That grew into a spe­cial­iza­tion in pros­per­ous clients who are in­ter­ested in and involved with sub­stan­tial char­i­ta­ble giv­ing.

“A lot of plan­ners don’t reg­u­larly talk with their clients about sig­nif­i­cant char­i­ta­ble giv­ing,” Renn says. “Ei­ther they’re not fa­mil­iar with the con­cepts or they aren’t fa­mil­iar with dis­cussing it, be­cause they don’t feel ex­pert enough. But clients want to talk about it.”

Renn points out a great ben­e­fit in de­vel­op­ing a niche as a plan­ner. “In the pub­lic’s eyes, there’s a great same­ness among ad­vi­sors. Once you fig­ure out what you can re­ally get ex­cited about, it’s very free­ing,” he says. “You can fo­cus on be­com­ing the go-to per­son in that niche” — a pow­er­ful po­si­tion for any plan­ner.

Is help­ing den­tists dif­fer­ent from help­ing physi­cians? Not re­ally. “You should bring some kind of spe­cific qual­i­fi­ca­tions or knowl­edge. That’s what’s valu­able.”

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