Every firm wants to get new business — it’s a no-brainer. But guess what? It’s a terrible goal, according to marketing strategist Alicia Olesinski of New Angle Marketing. Olesinski facilitated a session here at the Association for Accounting Marketing Summit on niche development and said that type of goal is way too broad.

“We need to get specific,” Olesinski said. “We don’t need to pigeon hole yourself, it’s about being able to target your efforts in a more cost effective, efficient way. That’s why niche marketing is such a beautiful thing.”

Olesinski, who has been attending AAM conferences for 13 years, said niche marketing is strategic marketing. She defined a niche as an area of specialization that can be categorized and put in a bucket — it can be an industry sector such as real estate or health care, a practice area like litigation support, or a size/type of business such as small business or international.

“We are trying to position ourselves,” she said.

Olesinski said there are five strategic marketing goals that all firms can rally around: define and identify targets, acquire, retain long term, increase revenues and improve name recognition.

She advised the audience to offer specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals, such as communicating “three new attorney contacts by Oct. 31 2010 who can refer business valuation work.”

Olesinski said every firm should have a semblance of a mission statement and some type of positioning statement that illustrates what differentiates the firm. Each niche should have a different message that support the firm’s overall marketing message.

She noted that it’s important to target prospects, identify referral sources, craft a compelling message, select strategies, measure results and budget marketing dollars.

Creating a niche marketing plan can offer many benefits to the firm: higher profitability, cost efficiency, a higher-value service for clients, fewer geographical barriers, challenges, prestige, more year-round work, and an increased knowledge of the client base.

Firms should not target a niche only because they already have several clients in that particular industry. “You could be missing a really good opportunity simply because you don’t have it yet,” said Olesinski. “Ask what does my marketplace look like, where do the opportunities lie?

Using information from the firm’s time and billing system can help in analyzing the client base, such as looking at clients by size, industry, service and revenues. Olesinski recommended analyzing client revenues, calculating realization rates and determining the saturation in that market when deciding upon a niche.

“What percentage of your firm is made up of different sectors?” she asked, adding it’s important for partners do be involved in the niche discovery process. “Sometimes we are actually misled. We think we have a lot of health care [clients], but it turns out we have five doctors who are really profitable.”

After determining the saturation, Olesinski said to assess the potential niche’s growth potential and define the “ideal” client profile.

“Think size, think sector, think behaviors, think titles,” she said. “These are not things your partners will think of, so you want to ask them these questions and get as specific as possible.”

Olesinski said it is also crucial to analyze the service offerings. What are you being paid well for? What do you offer, but not provide? What services are needed by the niche?
“Niches often require specialized services and go beyond business consulting,” she said. “Think about what pain points or what services they are buying from someone else.”

In determining whether to pave out a niche, firms must also assess their talent and contacts. Ask if the proper team is in place. Qualify the marketplace and look at its growth potential.
“Do you want to go after pool designers when you live in a city?” she asked.

Once a firm has identified a potential niche, Olesinski recommends a written plan to move forward. Identify the ideal client profile, create a compelling message (which will be different for each niche), put together a qualified mailing list, and get the team members excited.

Niche-specific marketing materials are next on the to-do list. Olesinski said her favorite time to present a marketing plan is from May through October. She recommended setting specific and measureable goals and defining the metrics.

“The best plans all fall flat if the team is not doing their part” she said. “There must be some type of accountability.”

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