Be a Go-To Person

Article excerpt

The partners in Bill's CPA firm wanted to boost their earnings by developing several industry niches over five years. Their client base included 22 construction clients, 14 of which were Bill's. Several construction companies were located in the firm's market area and most were doing fairly well. The firm's decision seemed easy enough--it would develop its first niche marketing program in the construction business, building on its existing client base and Bill's industry knowledge. The firm then would pursue other niches based on its experience with the construction industry. Bill was asked to develop the business plan.

Bill was concerned about his assignment because the firm recently had lost two construction clients to a local competitor with a strong reputation in the construction industry--and furthermore, the firm had not won a new construction client in two years. But he had a plan.

To make himself better known in the industry, Bill joined the local chapter of the construction trade association and became its treasurer. Meanwhile, the firm developed a database of construction client prospects and added their names to a mailing list to receive the firm's quarterly construction newsletter. Bill told prospects and area bonding agents--who finance construction projects--that his firm was looking to expand its services to contractors. He published an article on multistate taxation and organized two seminars for bonding agents and construction company owners.

After two years, however, the firm did not see a major increase in its construction client base: The number of proposals had risen by approximately 40%, but Bill was able to add only five new construction clients--and the firm continued to lose bids and clients to the competition.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Bill had never been able to convince the industry that he was the niche champion--the one "go-to" guy for construction companies in his market area--because he had not successfully unseated the competition from that position. Being the go-to person is the key to success when you decide to concentrate your services on a special area of practice or a specific industry. Having a great deal of knowledge and experience in a niche certainly can help, but it's not enough if you want to make that niche your bread and butter. You need clients to consider you the one and only most knowledgeable expert in the field.

BECOMING FAMOUS FOR YOUR EXPERTISE

The road to such stardom is not easy. To start off, you need a broad knowledge of the industry--not just the technical compliance-related details--to help you communicate with industry decision makers. You need to talk their talk.

DEVELOP CREDENTIALS

If you want to succeed as a go-to person you have to develop industry-specific knowledge. Long-term on-the-job training may be all you need for certain industries; however, additional certification is always a plus. For example, if you are working with manufacturers, you may want to become certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) through the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS). Industry trade associations are a good source of information on what certifications are best. For service niches, additional certifications are a must. If you plan to help clients prepare for retirement, you should consider earning a personal financial specialist designation. Litigation support providers often become certified fraud examiners. There are many ways to build credentials for information technology niches. For example, you can get training and earn certificates for general network installation knowledge as well as for the knowledge of certain brands of software. The AICPA licenses members with the proper education and training to perform WebTrust engagements. Always look at what certificates your competition is touting.

RESEARCH YOUR INDUSTRY NICHE

To expand your niche practice, focus on an industry in which you already have a concentration of clients. …