Patrick Durbin, LUTCF, MHP, HIA, started his career like most advisors—selling life insurance as a captive agent. He made “kitchen table” visits, sold policies and called prospects during the evening. Like many advisors, however, he soon found that this wasn’t the type of business he could sustain for very long.
“I was banging my head against the wall,” Durbin says, as he looked back at those early years. “I was looking for a challenge and wanted to broaden my horizons, so I got into the health business.” Today, Durbin is president of Maryland AIFA and a benefits consultant making 70 percent of his revenue from employee-benefit sales.
“My career was meaningful and good to me. But I needed a challenge and variety—now each of my cases is very different.”
CLU, CFP, CDFA
Like Durbin, many advisors seem to reach a plateau after the first five or 10 years in the business, and a niche market can get their practice going again. However, finding a niche can be difficult. How do you select your area of expertise, where can you turn for education and what does it take to be successful in a niche, are all questions advisors face when trying to specialize.
In exploring niche markets, it is important to pick an area of expertise that has yet to be fully exploited in your market. For example, when Joel Weiner, CLU, CFP, CDFA, president of Professional Training Services, began looking for his niche, he found a neglected area in divorce planning.
Working with one-half of a divorcing couple, Weiner, who is a member of NAIFA-Chicago Region, analyzes current assets and the assets at stake in the divorce to ensure his client is covered financially once the separation is final. Although his practice is not based on financial planning per se—he covers immediate concerns rather than those in the future—he uses all of his financial-planning knowledge to address the accounting and tax issues his clients face. Weiner got into divorce planning because he saw it as a way of separating himself from the competition.
“It wasn’t a financial issue,” he says. “My career was meaningful and good to me. But I needed a challenge and variety—now each of my cases is very different. Plus there aren’t too many people in this business. There are only about 650 advisors certified to do this. So I saw it as a way to stand out from the crowd.”
Write what you know
Another way to find your niche is to focus on an area you are familiar with—in essence, to write what you know. This was the strategy Mick Maierle, CLU, ChFC, CFBS, used when he decided to focus on the business-succession market.
Maierle, president of Maierle Consultants Inc., and a 30-year agent in Bozeman, Mont., began working with small businesses after a 15-year career as a multiline agent selling mostly to ranchers and farmers. While a sustained downturn in the agriculture market helped push him toward small businesses, he credits his family history for his focus.
“I was naturally drawn to work with business owners,” he says, “because my father and a couple of uncles are successful business owners. So it was in my background.” Maierle, member of Mid-Montana ALU, adds that it is important for advisors working in rural areas to know that they can provide niche services, even though their prospect pool may not be as large as those in metropolitan areas.
Know your business
To be successful in a niche business, advisors must be knowledgeable about their area of expertise and keep up with industry trends and products so they can answer clients’ questions on the spot.
“You have to become a student of the business and really learn the products,” Durbin says. “Know the companies and belong to your professional association.”
Maierle stresses the importance of The American College, where he received his Certified Family Business Specialist designation. He also believes anyone seriously considering getting into a niche market should find a mentor. “It’s been a huge help for me to be mentored by people who have succeeded in this business,” he says, noting that membership in the Million Dollar Round Table has been a key to his success. “Advisors looking for a niche should seek out and align themselves with people who have been doing this at a very high level.”
While getting started in a niche market may seem like a daunting task for a younger agent, the upside to specialization cannot be overstated. By narrowing your focus, clients will view you as an expert in your field, you will encounter more professional challenges and, above all, you will become passionate about your business.