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Finding Your Niche

Targeting women business owners will open a door to the affluent market.

By Donna Nearhood, J.D., CLU, ChFC

The women’s market has not been deeply penetrated despite the fact that almost every company has developed marketing campaigns targeted at women. Why the focus on women as a market? Obviously, women represent one half of the population. But what is more important to you, they control or influence 80 percent of all purchase decisions and 53 percent of all investment decisions, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Women are not only making investment decisions; 43 percent of people with assets of over $500,000 are women, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. This data confirms the belief that the women’s market has lots of potential. But how do you market to women, and why are so many companies missing the target?

First, women are a group too large to be considered a target market. The women’s market is not a uniform grouping of individuals with similar backgrounds, experiences and goals. Rather, it is a complex and diverse group of individuals with little in common. Marketers do not even agree on how to segment the market.

Women cross all age groups and geographical boundaries and represent a broad range of incomes and net worth. A narrower focus is necessary to successfully market to this group.

Finding a niche
Astute financial professionals agree that a successful marketing strategy is one focused on an identifiable group of individuals, large enough to be profitable, uniform enough to have common needs and open to the products and services that are being sold.

One identifiable and profitable group with uniform needs is women business owners. There are more than 9 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating $3.6 trillion in annual revenues. According to the U.S. Economic Census in 1997, new businesses are being formed at three times the rate they were formed 10 years ago, and the number of women-owned businesses is growing at twice the rate of those owned by men.

Women business owners
Business owners are a definite niche within the women’s market. Although women are well aware of the advantages of using a financial planner, financial planners are not reaching them by using old marketing techniques that were primarily product or numbers driven.

The keys to tapping into the female business owners’ market include:

  • Providing the highest quality products and services
  • Developing and maintaining quality, professional relationships
  • Offering needed business and personal solutions
  • Providing sources for information of value to their business on the Internet
Business succession planning is an important service for the business owner.

Quality is key
Every detail about your practice matters to women business owners—your honesty, integrity, ethical behavior and community involvement. Ordinary service will not win their business; they expect service over and beyond the everyday standard.

While trust and qualifications are important to both women and men in selecting a financial advisor, these qualities are more important to women, according to a recent study conducted by the Center for Women’s Business Research and underwritten by Goldman, Sachs & Co. The study is titled Active and Engaged: The Investment Goals and Strategies of High Net Worth Investors. In fact, 93 percent of the women surveyed said it is important for them to feel confident that their advisor is “acting in your best interest, not theirs.”

Research and information are vital for women to buy. They want to know why they need a particular product, product feature or service. They also want to know details about the company with which they will be doing business.

A company’s ratings and financial stability are important to them, but also critical are a company’s philanthropic activity, family or lifestyle-oriented information and support of environmental causes. A 2002 National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO) survey, Environmental Consumerism Among Women Business Owners, indicates that environmental friendliness is one of the top three factors for women business owners in making consumer purchasing decisions. It ranks just below quality and price.

Building relationships
You must find ways to connect with women in ways that are meaningful to them. When you are marketing to them, the most successful actions are those that involve an integrated marketing strategy that promotes a long-term relationship.

Women regularly consult with a wider variety of sources than men, according to the NFWBO survey. The sources they rely on for information include:

  • Accountants—56 percent
  • Business magazines—48 percent
  • Company boards—45 percent
  • Other business owners—36 percent

This research indicates that women place greater value on relationships and information than men do. They do not have a “good old boys” network to rely on for business and must rely on networking. As a result, relationships are important to them.

The financial professional who can assist them in networking with other business owners and professionals will bring real value to their business. Become a part of their network. Once you are a valued member of their network, you will have their loyalty.

Focusing on selling women a service that fits their profile has been shown to be an effective technique. Female entrepreneurs want to understand how financial services can cut their tax expenditures or how they can begin estate and succession planning. Women like to be educated, not sold. Women are concerned about retirement—both for themselves and their employees, according to the NFWBO surveys. They are looking for plans that offer both safety and alternative choices. They want benefits that will attract and retain quality employees.

Fewer than 30 percent of business owners, women or men, have an exit strategy for their business. Business succession planning is an important service for the business owner.

Research indicates that women place greater value on relationships and information than men do.

Providing value
Several marketing facts can be taken from a 2001 NFWBO survey, Entrepreneurial Vision in Action: Exploring Growth among Women- and Men-Owned Businesses. Women business owners are less likely than their male counterparts to have a mentor before they start a business. They are also less likely to have managerial or executive experience.

On the other hand, women are more apt to have a professional background, which may be one reason why they are more likely to consult with an accountant than male business owners. Women business owners are seeking managerial and operational information. Providing these “extras” will make you invaluable as an advisor.

Focusing your marketing campaign on women business owners will open a door for you to the affluent market. The impending transfer of wealth offers a wide variety of cross-selling opportunities, along with the chance to enhance an existing book of business by marketing to the millionaires of the future.

Donna Nearhood, J.D., CLU, ChFC, is the affluent markets consultant for Columbus Life Insurance Company in Cincinnati. You may reach her at 800-677-8383 or at


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