Advisers have two choices when it comes to marketing: pick a niche or be a generalist.

When they go for the niche approach, advisers must use a variety of approaches to reach their target market. Content is written around specific planning needs, investment approaches can be designed with that market’s specific life and career stages in mind, and the adviser’s language may change to include some of the target audience’s native vernacular.

But in being a generalist, marketing creation and dissemination becomes a shotgun approach. Material is applicable to almost everyone.

The message and content of the adviser are distributed everywhere in hopes that they stick somewhere. The message can be appealing to a wider audience, but the adviser looks like every other adviser trying the same approach.

Still, a niche approach may not always be the best option, either.

What happens when that niche doesn’t respond or they respond, but the conversion of prospects into paying clients doesn’t provide a reasonable return on investment? Should you keep going or move on to another market?

I have faced this problem in my practice over the past 12 months. I have been marketing to K-12 educators in Illinois for the past four years.

Although I have reached many in my target market and they are aware of who I am, the conversion of these leads into paying clients hasn’t resulted in the business that I need.

IS IT THE TARGET MARKET?

In my situation, I think that the problems come from a mixture of both the target market and my own practice management. I am trying to reach a market whose members on the whole -- and I don’t want to generalize -- don’t think that they have a problem.

Teachers in Illinois have been told that, as their pension has been manhandled by state government, all problems in their financial future are a result of this and they have no control of the outcome.

But when certain Illinois teachers can earn more than six figures by their early 40s, they have a lot more control over their situation than they realize. Some have recognized this and reached out for guidance, but many choose to rely on their 403(b) agent.

I have also contributed to my lack of business success. As an introvert and someone who generally avoids awkward social situations, I find it difficult to go out and meet teachers that I don’t know.

Writing and content generation are my forte, and this does attract some potential clients, but I feel my efforts could yield better results with more face-to-face situations. I know this hurdle won’t disappear with a different niche market, but having one whose members understand that they need guidance may make things easier.

For advisers in this situation, if they didn’t do adequate market analysis on the niche before figuring out the target market, now is the time to do it.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Does the niche have specific needs and enough to build a continued marketing campaign around?
  • Will this niche understand how you can solve their issues better than anyone else?
  • Is the adviser marketplace for this demographic saturated already (e.g., doctors), or is it being underserved?
  • Will the pricing structure be affordable or even suitable for them? (For example, if it is a pension-heavy crowd, having an assets under management model may not be ideal.)

If an adviser happened to build a campaign around a market that doesn’t need financial advice or at least thinks that they don’t need it, that may have been some poor planning. If it is a market that needs specialized advice but the adviser’s content and brand haven’t reached them, maybe the adviser needs to examine the tactics being used and change strategies.

TO PIVOT OR ABANDON?

An important question that must be addressed is whether an adviser should abandon a target market completely and go in another direction or reduce the amount of marketing to that market in order to focus on new activities in a new market.

I wrestled with this decision for less than a minute.

I love working with teachers. Other advisers in the same market say the same thing.

Teachers can make the best clients and they have so much trust in the relationship that to abandon this market segment would be penalizing myself as well as them.

Knowing this, I chose to turn my registered investment adviser website, which also hosted my blog and bookstore, into just the blog and store. My RIA would move over to another site with a different branding message, but I would continue my efforts in educating and attracting teachers as clients.

But what if an adviser decides to abandon a target market in favor of another or to become a generalist? Giving up previous marketing efforts and gained knowledge of a particular market segment shouldn’t be taken lightly.

First, examine what has led to this decision. Is it lack of business or a reduced passion for the demographic?

If business isn’t converting, how many tactics have been tried, has it been long enough to see results and should other marketing options be explored before throwing in the towel? Only by understanding the metrics behind an adviser’s methods so far will he or she know if there are more avenues to explore.

If the passion has disappeared, it is wise to let this niche go and pursue another one. Clients won’t want to work with an adviser who doesn’t truly care about them and their issues and is just looking to add to the bottom line.

RUN TO A SOLUTION

Often, job seekers are coached to not leave a job without having another one lined up.

The same can be said for advisers looking to change their marketing focus. Leaving one niche behind is foolish if there isn’t one waiting to be tackled.

I am putting aside the focused world of K-12 teachers in Illinois. My new focus will be on a topic that every client that have worked with has faced but also has a large emotional angle to it: retirement planning.

My aim is to open up my client base to those who want impactful discussions on this topic and who are interested in looking at the numbers associated with fruitful retirement planning. While still being a fee-only adviser using an hourly, retainer and robo adviser fee model, I think that I will be able to appeal to a larger segment of the market without leaving my first-loved clients behind.

One thing I realized as I was working with such a specific niche is that, though I was valuable to those people, my hyper-focused RIA name (Finance for Teachers) was pushing some qualified clients away. As the only NAPFA adviser within a 10-mile radius of my location, I was losing location-specific business as I had niched down.

For a new RIA where income is the main goal, that seemed to be counterintuitive to making it long term as a business owner.

Advisers who are wrestling with changing their marketing focus shouldn’t make the jump just yet. Seek to understand what the next approach will be, and learn from the experience just gone through.

Take some time to understand why this approach didn’t work and what can be taken into another campaign. These advisers should aim to understand the kind of clients they now want.

For those who are moving from one niche to another, there should be a compelling story to sell why the change was made.

NOTHING IS GUARANTEED

There is no guarantee that making this change will solve marketing and client-acquisition problems. I am aware that, even with a complete rebrand of my RIA, I could still be looking for a job in another 12 to 24 months.

However, that is what we sign up for as business owners. We aren’t guaranteed success, and many will experience failure.

But for advisers who make sure that they are always moving forward while also staying true to themselves, the journey is never a wasted one.

I am looking forward to exploring a niche and marketing approach that is different from the one I have labored in for the past four years. It has taken a while to not see this change as failure but as a learning experience.

I am sure that I will look back fondly on this change as my career progresses.

Advisers looking to follow the same path should know that others have done it before and many will do so again. Advisers should choose a new niche that means as much to them as the previous one and put as much gusto into providing value to these new clients as past ones.

This pivot could be the defining moment of a career.

Dave Grant is a CFP, a Financial Planning columnist and the founder of Retirement Matters in Barrington, Ill.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on transitions. It was originally published on June 16.

Dave Grant

Dave Grant

Dave Grant is a Financial Planning columnist and founder of Retirement Matters.