By Eric Layer

It’s been said that a brand is best defined not by the customers it accepts, but by those it turns away.

That’s probably as true in financial planning and advising as anywhere. We can all name firms who will only take clients whose assets under management run into the seven-figures (or eight). To be able to turn up your nose at a client who can’t afford you is a mark of prestige, of having made it. For the rest of us, it can feel like a constant struggle each time a HENRY walks into our office…are we playing the long game, or acting out of desperation? I had a client call me just last week and mention that one of his peers lists his minimum AUM figures on all of his advertising. “It sure would be nice to have people self-select if they’re not a fit,” he told me wistfully, thinking of all the time he could save.

Lest you’ve wrestled with those same dilemmas, there is hope. Because a focused client base doesn’t have to be about dollar amounts any more than wise financial management starts when you’re making six figures. In fact, the best brands define their target apart from demographics altogether. Walmart defines their target audience demographically: as people who live paycheck-to-paycheck. But Target uses a psychographic measure: people who think of shopping as an experience. Picture the quintessential Target shopper and you know what I’m talking about.

Mountain Dew is a classic example. Once upon a time, it was just one soda among many. Then it decided to target “Dew Dudes” – high-energy 20-something males who do sports that require elbow pads. Almost overnight, the brand rocketed from 30th to 4th in market share – paradoxically, by narrowing its target audience. It’s the same concept as shifting from a floodlight to a laser: you won’t light a whole room, but there’s no comparison in terms of intensity. Aim at everybody and you might get nobody. Aim at somebody specific, and you make them yours for life.

Looking to build and exploit niches is a fantastic opportunity for your brand to grow, and the opportunities are limited only by your own creativity. I know one firm that built a wing of their business catering to retirement planning for airline pilots. Other firms have built a business around managing the wealth of professional athletes. In my own business, I happen to know of at least four firms who specialize in marketing services for funeral homes, and if that sounds niche, I’d tell you that none of them are truly competitors: one focuses on SEO specifically, another on research and strategy, and the others pride themselves on their full-service menus. There are niches within niches, and the better you define yours, the more you’ll be able to build a clientele who not only likes you but adores you – because they see you as the only place in the world where they can buy what you’re selling.

One way to do this is to first establish your objective and pick a target who will help you get there. If you want to increase your AUM to a certain level, you’re going to need a target with pockets deep enough to hit that number. If you want to dominate market share in your city, you might start making a list of your top regional employers, or the who’s who of the community. If you got into this business because you care about improving financial literacy, you might focus on a younger or less sophisticated target.

Another approach is to think about what you’re uniquely positioned to do better than anyone else in the world. Often that will correlate with someone you can serve better than anyone else can. Sometimes this is by accident: you might have stumbled into serving a particular company and as a result, learned a lot about its employees’ career structures. Or you might happen to be an expert on a particular financial situation you’ve repeatedly navigated for your clients.

Own it. Go after it. Write about it. Advertise your skills, and invest in honing them further. The world has plenty of financial advisors. Be the one who, for your client’s unique situation, is irreplaceable. Not only does that make you “stickier” for fickle clients, it makes you more valuable. And value is billable.

Somewhere, there’s someone who loves you. The trick is to figure out who it is, and then go find more of them.

Eric Layer

Partner and author, Eric specializes in building things faster and better than mere mortals. Call Eric when you have an impossible mountain to climb. He’ll get you to the top.

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