Strategies

Choosing an area of specialization should be a long-term commitment

By Dwarka Lakhan |

Developing a reputation as an expert in a particular area can give you a competitive edge. You can become the go-to person that members of a particular market turn to for expert advice. But becoming an expert doesn't happen overnight; you have to choose a niche that appeals to you and take the time to develop your knowledge.  

"To become an expert, you must pick an area in which you are very comfortable and stick with it," says Nadira Lawrence-Selan, marketing and communications consultant with Hathleigh Consulting in Woodbridge, Ont. "Sticking to a niche can be hard for some advisors because it could mean turning away business that does not fall within the area in which they choose to specialize."

Once you have chosen an area of expertise and a market segment, says Joanne Ferguson, president of Advisor Pathways Inc. in Toronto, you have to know your niche and be able to "speak their language."

Ferguson says a financial advisor choosing a niche is similar to a doctor choosing an area of specialization — such cardiology or pediatrics. It is a long-term commitment. "You must stick to your area of expertise," she says.

Here are five tips for building your reputation in a niche:

1. Don't be all things to all people
Many advisors have a broad mandate, such as "creating wealth for clients" or "servicing the needs high net-worth clients."

But, asks Lawrence-Selan, "Have you ever heard of a high net-worth expert?"

It is therefore necessary to choose a more defined area, such as retirement planning or disability planning, in order to build your reputation as an expert.

"You can't be generic," she says, "but rather should stay focused in the area in which you want to promote yourself."

2. Know your niche inside out
As an expert, you should develop a deep understanding of your niche, Ferguson says. You should be aware of the unique challenges your clients face and be able to provide solutions for varying scenarios.

You must demonstrate that you are the expert, Ferguson says, so that people will recognize that they can come to you for advice in their particular area.

"Over time," says Lawrence-Selan, "your understanding of the complexities of your niche will improve."

3. Do not waver
Maintain a sharp focus on your niche.

"It is easy to get distracted," Lawrence-Selan says, "especially because your narrow focus would restrict the size of your client base [at first].

"But stick to your guns and build your reputation in that space, even if it means losing some potential clients. The more you are recognized as an expert, the greater your chances of attracting more clients you want to serve."

4. Promote your expertise
To promote yourself as an expert, Ferguson says, write newspaper articles, speak at conferences and hold seminars.

Adds Lawrence-Selan: "Have a unique perspective on your niche and don't be afraid to introduce fresh concepts, ideas  and solutions. If you say the same things everybody else says, you will not have meaningful impact as a perceived expert."

5. Uphold your reputation
Your reputation should precede you, Lawrence-Selan says. Stay abreast with developments in your niche so that you can tell clients about them before they ask you.

Most important, she says: "Practice what you preach, deliver on your promises and never lose the trust of your clients."