Marketing professionals are quick to suggest that the best way to find success as a financial advisor is niche marketing. I second this advice. So, what is niche marketing and why should you care?

Niche: A position particularly well suited to the person who occupies it.

Niche Market: A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for focused attention.

Niche Marketing: Can refer to both marketing and business choice. It hinges on:

1.   Finding a segment of the general market for a service or product line

2.   Developing a solution for the needs of that segment

3.   Developing special expertise in order to artfully serve that segment

4.   Marketing to that segment to get the word out

5.   Positioning oneself as the best and only choice for that market segment

Let’s take a look at a couple examples of advisors who have clearly found their niche.

POP CULTURE / EXECUTIVE KNOW-HOW

"Coke is it" for James Heard, a CFP®, NAPFA member, and principal with Windham Brannon Financial Group who works with a number of current and former Coca-Cola senior executives. Heard, whose company is in Atlanta where Coke is headquartered, took advantage of Coke's presence there through its community connections. (Roughly 25% of its clients are Coke personnel.)

The firm also brought in principal Amy Merrill from a regional bank that had close ties to Coke. She had developed great relationships with several key people at Coke, says Heard. "When she came to the firm, we made an effort to explain the benefits of our wealth management approach to some of the Coke executives that she knew well. They became clients in time and have been incredibly proactive in referring us to their Coke associates."

What makes Coke executives special? "They have a strong corporate culture and you find similar values among key executives," Heard explains. They face common challenges such as stock options, deferred comp, 401(k), incentive compensation, defined benefit plans and restricted stock.

"The purpose of these benefits is to provide the executives with long-term financial security. They are extremely bright and capable, but don't have experience in developing a financial plan that successfully incorporates these benefits. Developing a plan that increases their chances of achieving all that is important to them is what we do."

THE ATHLETES’ CHOICE

Wilson Hoyle, AIF, managing partner for Captrust Financial Advisors in Raleigh, N.C., never intended to become a niche master. As a football player at Wake Forest University, he and his roommate, Ricky Proehl, had big dreams about becoming sports stars. After setting numerous records at Wake Forest, Proehl was selected in the 1990 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He has enjoyed a long and successful career in the NFL.

While Hoyle set scoring records at Wake Forest, his football fortunes were not so great. He tried out for several pro teams, including the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers, and played a season in the World League. But the talented place kicker never made it to the NFL. Instead, armed with an economics degree, he went on to become a financial advisor. Proehl became a client and Hoyle began to mine the football field.

Today, as a principal with Captrust, he serves dozens of NFL first-round draft picks—a real feat, according to NFL Players Association executive, Dana Hammonds, given how hard it is to gain access to players and earn their trust.

While Captrust also maintains an impressive roster of wealth management and corporate retirement plan clients, their professional athlete division serves more than 75 current and retired athletes in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and NASCAR. Referrals from clients and allied professionals, coupled with a strong networking strategy, have driven the firm's success. Interestingly, Hoyle shied away from approaching sports agents, preferring to establish relationships directly. NFL relationships spilled over into other sports —metaphorically, they all hang out in the same gym.

While Hoyle was once the primary rainmaker, he has added staff and business partners over the years. For instance, he hired former Chicago Bear John Mangum to support business development efforts. Mangum's job is focused on turning first-round athletes into clients. Mangum's educational background in finance and firsthand knowledge of the pressures in pro sports has made him an excellent advocate for rookies and veterans.

While many advisors might envy Captrust's success, Hoyle is quick to point out that his is not a nine-to-five job. Working with athletes can be rewarding, but it's tough. Players can be naive about money and may go off on wild spending sprees, ignoring their financial plans. They often expect special treatment, including late night calls or meetings in distant cities. Despite these challenges, Captrust has risen to the top. Score one for niche marketing.

LEARNING FROM THE PROS

Finding a niche makes sense regardless of the niche you choose. For big advisory companies, these market segments are often too small to serve profitably, but for small or mid-size companies, serving unique markets can be quite profitable. While breaking into a niche may be difficult, once you're established as the go-to expert for that particular group, personal recommendations will go a long way toward supplementing more traditional marketing activities such as ads, prospect dinners, participation at charitable events, focused networking and PR tactics.

Advisors looking to work with football players, for example, should get involved with the Financial Advisors Program sponsored by the NFL-PA, says Dana Hammonds, director of the NFL Players' Association program for financial advisors. The program, the first of its kind in professional sports, gives NFL players access to a diverse group of qualified, preselected advisors. Planners who attend the association's conferences learn how to approach players, agents, coaches and team managers. The association also offers financial literacy programs for players in an attempt to steer them away from classic mistakes such as investing in bad business deals.

Hoyle joined the organization a few years ago to better position himself and boost his firm's stature in the eyes of players. Being accepted as an approved advisor gives NFL players and other sports professionals an added level of confidence. "They want to know that we're part of the program," he says.

For James Heard and Amy Merrill, there was no “Coke Association” to join. But they earned membership in the club, so to speak, by bringing inside knowledge about the firm and Coke’s executive comp plan. Because they are known throughout the executive community and do a great job for their clients, word-of-mouth and referrals are a given.  Add a little social networking to the mix and you’ve got a winning formula.

FPA TWITTER LIVE – NEW VIDEO CLIP UP NOW

I’ve just posted a new two-minute video clip on the FPA Twitter Live blog. This week: John Brackett, one of the largest Regional Directors with Financial Network Investment Corporation who along with a couple partners runs BAR Financial LLC, urges advisors to move past a simple “clients first” mantra and “do the right thing.” View it at www.FPATwitterLive.blogspot.com.