Widen Your Competitive Advantage By Narrowing Your Niche

By John L. Evans Jr., Ed.D.

Shaking off complacency takes courage and creativity, often with the rewards seeming like more effort than they’re worth. As you take stock of your client base, it’s easy to focus on quantity rather than quality. For example, I coach an advisor who for the better part of a year had been stuck on one challenge. Every time we had a conversation, he would tell me that while his business was in fine shape, overall he felt ambivalent toward a larger number of his clients than he would like.

“They’re fine, and I do care about them,” he explained. “But the thing I enjoy most about my job is sharing the nitty-gritty math behind my investments, and lately I’ve realized that not everyone loves that approach.” He had started his practice with a small group of clients who swore by his unique brand of number crunching, which made for energetic meetings and satisfying relationships. However, after spending the last few years successfully focusing on growth, he found himself missing the spark that comes from making genuine connections with like-minded individuals.

This advisor got me thinking about a common belief regarding the clients we serve. Namely, that the ones who are a less-than-ideal fit are still clients, right?

If you’re still laboring under that misconception, you haven’t discovered this essential fact: not all clients are created equal. Focusing on clients you enjoy helping can lead to greater rewards, both personally and financially. To that end, Janus Henderson’s Knowledge Labs has defined tried-and-true techniques to help hone your focus and reap those rewards. We often talk about establishing habits, but what about putting unconventional rituals in place to build your dream business? What does it look like in five years?

The first step is establishing your Unique Business Tranche (UBT). Distinct from niche marketing, your UBT is more akin to a super-niche that narrowly defines with whom you work, as well as their specific needs. By getting small, and then smaller, you gain a competitive advantage within that group.

Use a Microscope, Not a Yardstick

When I say small, I mean small. Shrinking your potential client pool seems counterintuitive and, frankly, scary, which can hold you back from finding your UBT. To serve one group exceptionally well, you have to make the decision to exclude other groups. Anxiety about this exclusion may lead to missing your UBT target. “Small business owners” is not a UBT. Neither is “travel enthusiasts.” Keep zeroing in until you get to “owners of businesses with fewer than 10 employees who love to take cycling vacations.”

When I suggested a UBT-based client strategy to the advisor mentioned earlier, I could almost see the light bulb brightening above his head. After a brief silence, he smiled. “I’m already making a list in my head.”

Tips for Purposeful Prospecting

  • Kick off the process by listing the clients who lead to increased positive energy and joy. Now take a moment and evaluate why. What are the common themes? What are the personalities within that niche that get you fired up?
  • Explore ways to induce the introducible moment. If you’re someone who strongly identifies with your native (or adopted) home, you can take advantage of your personal knowledge of the region and its inhabitants. In Colorado or Oregon, for example, you’ll be ahead of the pack if your ideal UBT is “outdoor industry entrepreneurs who hike and own shelter dogs.”
  • Put in the time and do your homework. The best way to attract members of your tribe is to become a one-person UBT. Read the latest literature on topics relevant to your super-niche, and if possible, join organizations or societies that might also count potential clients as members. It’s key to be recognized as the subject matter expert in this space by those you’re focused on targeting.

Ask for Advice, Not Referrals

Once you’ve established your UBT, or super-niche, develop a systematic model to cultivate acquisition from existing clients by referrals. Rule number one is to never ask for a referral; instead, ask for their advice. You can identify clients who are ready to be your “advisor” when they have already sent friends your way. Approach clients who involve you in aspects of their personal lives, as well as those characterized by mutual trust and concern. Ask for their advice on how you can meet others like themselves because you genuinely enjoy working with them. The mass affluent are sick of the “referral shakedown,” but are not sick of being asked for their advice.

Once you’re on your way, attempt to seek advice from one client per week over the next eight weeks. Continue to focus on those you have determined fire you up most and see what they give you. You may be pleasantly surprised how many are flattered that you respect their opinion, and this simple action demonstrates your respect for your clients.

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