What’s the difference between a financial advisor with a specialized field of expertise and one with a general practice?

“It’s the difference between building a business and building a book of business,” says Michelle Smith, chief executive of New York-based Source Financial Advisors. “If you’re a generalist, you have a hodge-podge of clients and are building a book with a commoditized skill set. If you’re a specialist you’re differentiating yourself and building a business as ... the go-to person for centers of influence in that field.”

If you have a medical problem and are doing a Google search for a doctor, odds are you’ll be looking for a specialist, not a generalist, Smith notes: “You want to be the advisor people can go to for a specific need.”

“You’re not going to get a referral because you’re good at asset allocation,” adds Smith, who will be discussing the advantages of specialization in detail at the upcoming Women’s Advisors Forum in Chicago on Oct. 21. “Everyone is good at asset allocation.”

Once you’ve helped clients with a specific need, “it becomes much, much easier to transition them to all your other services,” Smith adds. “You really have to screw it up not to be able to also take care of their planning and other financial needs.”

Specializing in divorce, Smith says, “changed my whole career. I became focused, I put together a business plan, I learned everything there was to know about the field.”

“If you’re in the middle of a divorce and you have to put together a net worth statement, the courts require a very specific procedure,” she adds. “If it’s me or a regular CFP for that business, I win. I know what can and can’t go on that marital balance sheet. This is my world.”

The Chicago forum brings Smith together with other experts for a day of networking and education.
Ursula Daley, Denise Izatt and Judy VanArsdale of Enrich Private Wealth Management in Deer Park, Ill., will discuss succession planning during a session titled, “What Happens When You Retire?” The lineup also includes marketing and branding tips from Leasha 

Flammio-Watson of Melbourne, Fla.-based Flammio Financial Group, as well as a session on “The SEC’s Cybersecurity Initiative — What It Means and How to Secure Your Compliance.”

The final afternoon session will feature Jennifer Williams-Bulkeley of Boston-based AOC Investment Advisors exploring the nuances of “Investing in Wine as an Alternative or Additional Strategy.”

Join the Women Advisors Forum group on LinkedIn to get more information on Women Advisors Forum conferences this year in Chicago and San Francisco, and to continue networking in person and online with other female advisors. FP

Charles Paikert is a senior editor of Financial Planning.

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