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Art & Commerce: Rich From a Niche

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There's an "expert" epidemic. You can't turn on the television, scan the radio dial or log onto a social network without finding an expert sharing what he or she knows with anyone and everyone who's willing to listen. You can't throw a dart, it seems, without hitting an expert on the way to the bull's-eye.

Why is this happening? What has motivated all of these people—financial planners and attorneys, floral designers and wedding planners, massage therapists and ear, nose and throat specialists—to brand themselves as an expert?

Becoming the expert in any market segment is one of the most efficient, effective ways to ensure professional and financial success. Experts who concentrate in carefully selected niche markets can rocket from obscurity to success in record time—and they'll be counting on you to help make it happen.

There are two ways for advertising professionals to consider the niche market phenomenon. The first, and most obvious, route takes into account what will be needed to position your clients as experts in their markets. The second is to become the expert yourself.

Well, how about it? Advertising is a fairly unique industry: After all, to quote the old saying, advertising agencies don't advertise.

This contributes to one of the overwhelming problems facing service professionals of every stripe: the problem of sameness. The marketplace is overflowing with highly skilled advertising professionals who offer top-quality services, yet the client would be hard pressed to tell one agency from the next.

Can your clients tell which of a dozen advertising executives has the insight to handle their account? Probably not, and this lack of differentiation among professionals is a real problem. The public not only views the insights and services offered as commodities, but the agencies are also well on the way to destruction, becoming commodities as well.

I don't know about you but, personally, the thought of becoming a commodity doesn't appeal to me. I don't view myself in those terms, and I'm guessing you don't either. I don't believe my expertise and my passion can be interchanged for that of any of my colleagues, and without anyone being the wiser. I especially don't want the label "commodity" when it means my livelihood would be subject to the whims of the financial marketplace.

The vast majority of advertising professionals are what I term generalists: They try to be all things to all people, designing campaigns for everyone from the high-end jewelry retailer to the industrial farm equipment manufacturer.

However, there is another way. By identifying a market segment in which to specialize, and then developing a reputation as the expert in that particular industry, you have the opportunity to become big in a small market: You'll be what I call a "nichepreneur."

Narrowing your focus can help you attract more business. Whenever possible, clients want the best. If you're the best in your niche, you'll attract the majority of that target audience. Because you're the segment leader, you can command higher prices for your services—the public is well accustomed to paying a premium for expertise—and enjoy a more profitable career.

Additionally, selecting a niche market allows you to refine your creative vision and delve deeper into your work to a greater degree. When you're a generalist, you have to maintain a wide yet shallow knowledge of many things. Embracing a niche strategy allows you to focus on one segment until you know that area of the market and the customer base better than anyone else does.

Sometimes it pays to be small. The trend toward selecting experts to fill every need is well established in the public sphere, and it is steadily entering the professional arena. Due to the unique position advertising professionals occupy, you have a dual opportunity to capitalize on the phenomenon. The advertising agencies that do the best job of positioning their clients as the go-to experts will reap the rewards, as will the advertising professionals who choose to step up and pursue the expert mantle for themselves.

Susan A. Friedmann is a Lake Placid, N.Y.-based executive coach and author of 'Riches in Niches: How to Make It Big in a Small Market.' She can be reached at susan@richesinniches.com.