My name is Lois Weinblatt, and I’m excited to speak with all of you today about clarifying your vision and optimizing your niche. So let’s go ahead and dive right in. The vast majority of professionals I encounter are more like Swiss Army knives than switchblades. They have so many skills and so many ways they could be successful that they’re working with a wide range of clients and offering a wide range of products and services. Oftentimes, they’re doing all of it well but little or none of it exceptionally. As a financial advisor, you know the crucial difference that spending versus investing has long term. But what about spending your time casting a wide net versus investing your time with the right niche in terms of clients and products?
What impact can that have on your future? It has a major impact. So how can you be sure that you’re investing your time wisely? It all comes back to clarity because getting crystal clear on where we’re headed in the future helps us make better decisions today — decisions like where and how we want to specialize. And being able to make better decisions faster is even more important in today’s world, where “shiny object syndrome” is becoming an epidemic!
How do you diagnose shiny object syndrome? It’s so important to remember that as more opportunities come our way, more of them are actually distractions disguised as opportunities. If we don’t have a way to filter them out, we’ll end up going in lots of different directions, using a lot of time, energy and resources in the process, and making much less progress than if we channeled that effort with laser focus.
Think about a time when you used a lot of time, energy and resources pursuing a distracting prospect or client that originally seemed like a great opportunity.
So, if we all recognize how beneficial it is to have a filter that helps us sift out distractions from opportunities, why are so many advisors still operating without a helpful filter and continuing to spend versus invest their time? Many advisors, whether veterans in the field or newbies to the industry, find themselves in this position. Either they’re not focused on a niche at all, or they’re focused on one (or many), but the dynamic isn’t serving them as well as it could. Let’s dig a little deeper now and look at the Top 5 issues that hold people back from optimizing a niche.
- It’s important but not urgent. Many advisors want to home in on a niche, but that process still ends up at the bottom of their to-do list day after day and month after month. With so much on their plates and so many fires to put out, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s urgent. And with so many distractions in life, it often feels like we can’t order lunch without an interruption, let alone decide how we want to specialize. We get stuck in reactive mode, letting our career happen to us rather than being proactive and making it happen. And while it’s natural to keep putting it off and declare that we’ll think big picture when we finally have some time, we’ve got to remember that our future is created by what we do (or don’t do) today. The things that are important but not urgent are ultimately the things that have the biggest impact on our trajectory — which way we’re going and how fast we’re accelerating, or not.
- They’re afraid of being too specific. Many advisors never really commit to a niche because they’re coming from a perspective of lack. They feel like they need to keep all their options open, or there may not be enough for them. And if they specialize, they worry they’ll lose out on a whole range of potential clients. Plus, they don’t want to turn anyone away. But if they can shift their mindset to one of abundance, they’ll realize that there are more than enough clients to be had, and instead of losing out on anything, they’ll actually be gaining much more by specializing. And focusing on a certain niche doesn’t mean they have to turn away every person who doesn’t fit into it exactly. It just means that they can be more targeted in their marketing efforts and more selective about whom they bring on.
- What got them here won’t get them there. Many advisors reach a certain level of success and then get stuck in a rut. And while they would be OK just continuing to do what they’ve always done, it won’t get them to the next level. So, if you’ve never focused on a particular niche or have focused on the same one for a significant amount of time, what could the next chapter in your business look like if you made a bold move or even a slight but crucial shift? With lots of uncertainty out there, it can be comforting to stay in your comfort zone, but playing it safe will lead to incremental rather than exponential growth. Ultimately, the only way you can coast is downhill.
- Something is missing. So often, advisors are going through the motions, and even if they’re doing well for themselves, they still feel like something is missing. Often, it’s because they don’t feel like their day-to-day is connected to something greater, whether that’s their individual purpose or “why,” their own personal core values or a vision of the future they want to create. And, if that’s the case, it’s hard to put the most in and get the most out of what you’re doing, no matter how specific their niche may be.
- They chart the course without clarifying their destination. Let me ask you this: Would you ever hop into a boat with your loved ones and all of your belongings and start rowing if you didn’t know where you were going? Probably not! But the problem is that we do that in business all of the time. Why? Well, what does Nike tell us? “Just do it.” And, as go-getters, we just want to get out there and take action! But, oftentimes, advisors fail to optimize a niche because they mistake taking action for moving forward. The thing is, it doesn’t matter how hard we row if our boat is pointed in the wrong direction. If we don’t take the time to step back and get clear on where we are headed, we’ll end up wasting our time with what seems productive in the moment but doesn’t actually get us anywhere.
Which of these five issues resonates most with you, and why do you think it has been getting in your way?
So far, we’ve seen a common thread, and it goes back to the idea that the more clarity we have around where we’re headed in the future, the better decisions we can make today about the niche we want to focus on and how to optimize it.
Before we go into gaining more clarity on your long-term vision, let’s talk about what “vision” actually means. This word is thrown around all the time, but how do we really define it? When I say the word “vision,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Sometimes when I say the word “vision,” people think about a token one-sentence “vision statement” that is perfectly wordsmithed and sounds impressive but doesn’t translate into everyday decision-making, and some think of a fluffy idea that’s inspiring but, at the end of the day, is just a fantasy. But when I say the word “vision,” I mean something really different.
I mean a definition of success at a specific point in the future — a really specific definition of “success” at a really specific point in the future. And when I say a “specific definition of ‘success,’” I mean your definition of “success” — not anybody else’s. And when I say a “specific point in the future,” I mean a specific day of a specific month of a specific year. And the idea is that when you literally get to that day of that month of that year, you read the vision aloud, and it’s the reality you’ve created around you because of all the intentional steps you took along the way.
So I think of a vision like your “where,” your “when” and your “what” — where you’re going, when you’re going to get there and what it looks like along the way. Once you’re clear on that, you can figure out the “how” — how you’re going to get there.
Remember the fifth issue that holds people back from optimizing a niche? Charting the course without clarifying the destination? Well, visioning solves that issue because it’s all about doing the opposite — it’s about clarifying your destination before you chart the course.
Let’s talk about an example. If you take out your phone and want Google Maps to get you somewhere, what’s it going to ask you for? Right — your destination. So, the idea is that it’s really hard to plan your journey effectively or ask for directions if you can’t describe your destination. But let’s say we’re not really sure what our destination looks like, so we keep it vague.
Well, what happens when we type something vague into Google Maps? Let’s say you’re traveling in a new city, get hungry and type in “restaurant.” What’s Google going to give you? A list of options.
And how will that list be ranked? By the ones closest to you and the ones with the best rankings. So Google is deciding that your definition of “success” is proximity and what everyone else likes. And maybe the restaurant closest to you will be what you want, or maybe it won’t. Maybe the vibe won’t be what you expected, or they just ran out of what you were craving, or maybe all those 5-star ratings turn out just to be a bunch of hype. And that happens all the time in our businesses and our lives. If we leave our destination — our definition of “success” — vague, we leave it up to others to project their definition of “success” onto us. And when we take their directions, we’ll get somewhere (using a lot of time and energy in the process), but it may not ultimately be where we actually want to go.
Now, on the other hand, if we are able to describe our destination with crystal clarity, then we’ll still hit those bumps in the road and the unexpected detours, but just like driving, we won’t just give up and go home. Instead, with our destination defined, we’ll be confident that our navigational system will adjust accordingly and chart a new course, and even though it may take us on a different path than we originally thought we’d be on, ultimately, it’ll get us to where we want to go. We know that our path in our businesses and our lives will change many times, and that’s what keeps things exciting. The important thing is that while we will continue adjusting our path, and of course enjoying the journey and the exploration along the way, our destination remains the same.
Often, when I meet people who are feeling pulled in all different directions, it’s because their path is always changing, but their destination is always changing too, and if you think about it, that’s a pretty impossible situation to navigate.
Think about a time when you left your definition of success vague and were influenced by friends, family or colleagues who projected their ideas about success onto you.
And since we’re thinking about this driving analogy, a vision is such a powerful tool when we get to a crossroad. Have you been at a crossroad in your career or life in the past six months? In the past year?
Without a specific destination plugged into our GPS, we can end up in a really tough spot when we inevitably get to the next fork in the road. And, typically, when people have a hazy or vague vision, they find themselves in one of two situations when they get to that fork: Either they’re paralyzed by indecision and go absolutely nowhere, or they go a little bit down one road and get nervous, so they turn back. And then they go a little bit down the other road but can’t commit there either and come on back again.
But when squirrels are on the road, when do they get hit? Exactly — when they’re turning back! And we don’t want to be that squirrel. But how do we make sure we don’t turn into roadkill? Well, when you have your crystal clear vision — your specific destination — in place, then you can take a step back and remember that the real question isn’t “Which way do I go?” It’s “Where am I going?” When you have your specific destination plugged into your GPS, you don’t get tripped up when you get to a crossroad because it helps you decide quickly and effectively which path will get you to where you want to go.
And like we’ve talked about, in today’s fast-paced world, the ability to make better decisions faster is definitely a competitive advantage.
I’m going to have you put some words on paper about your own definition of “success,” either three or five years from today, but first we have another step. As we go into this next step, keep in mind that people have different definitions of “niche” — some think of it in terms of a niche market and as synonymous with a target market. Others think of your target market as the specific population you serve and your niche as the specific products or services you focus on offering. Today, we’ll be thinking about niche in terms of the population you’re focusing on because that will help us with when we get into talking about their decision-making process later. But we’re still covering the bases because determining the specific population you want to focus on moving forward will also help you determine which products and services you want to focus on offering them as well.
So now, write down all the niches you’ve focused on in the past, work with now or would like to work with in the future, even if they may feel a little out of your league right now. If you’re not currently working with any particular niche, brainstorm the ones you think would be a good fit. It may be helpful to think of a specific client you loved working with where everything just meshed — a client who was right in your sweet spot. You had great rapport, your products and services were an excellent fit, your communication and behavioral styles jived, etc. Once you’ve got them in mind, you can think about what niche they represent. If it would be helpful for you, you can also feel free to write down the specific products or services that are in your sweet spot for these different populations. Don’t overthink it; just get as many ideas down as you can in 60 seconds, and, remember, think beyond just whom you’ve worked with so far — think big!
Now put that list aside for the moment. Next, I’m going to have you pick a time frame for your vision — either three or five years from today. If five years feels incredibly far away, and you’re just trying to figure out what tomorrow looks like, I’d recommend picking three years. If, on the other hand, a longer horizon feels right, go ahead and pick five years. So now go ahead and write the corresponding year at the top of the page — either 2022 for a three-year vision or 2024 for a five-year vision.
In a little bit, you’ll be writing out your vision, and there are a few crucial things to keep in mind. The first is that you want to write your vision in the present tense like it has already happened. The second is that you want to go for greatness, whatever that means to you, so that your vision inspires you and still feels realistic, and I want you to go with your gut and write the vision you have for yourself, not the vision you think someone else wants you to have.
And now I want you to begin to brainstorm what your definition of “success” looks like — not today, but three or five years from today. And think about this beyond just your professional growth. Think about it in terms of your personal growth, financial growth, spiritual growth — whatever that means to you — and relational growth. Now we all know how powerful visualization can be, whether it’s for elite athletes or top businesspeople. Sit back, close your eyes and picture what you want your life to look like three or five years from now. What would be really inspiring and still realistic for you? What would it look like, sound like, smell like, feel like and taste like? After the visualization, you’ll open your eyes, and I’ll give you your first sentence, and then you can spend three minutes putting your vision down on paper.
Take a big, deep breath in, and as you exhale, just close your eyes. Take two more big, deep breaths, and then start to picture all the facets of your life in 2022 or 2024 — personal, professional, financial, spiritual and your relationships. And now, go from picturing them to being inside those images, and really feel yourself having those experiences. Notice how much you’ve grown personally and how much you’ve developed professionally. See yourself glancing through your own financial portfolio, and notice the numbers you see in front of you. Feel the impact of being more connected to something bigger than yourself. And feel the impact of being more connected to the people you love. Now take another big, deep breath in and as you exhale, open your eyes.
Now, at the top of the page, write, “It is June 11, (either 2022 or 2024), and I’m so proud of the life I’ve created.” You’ve got three minutes to write your vision.
OK, so now that you’ve gotten clearer about where you’re headed, turn back to your brainstormed list of niches, and circle the one you think will help you get where you want to go. Remember, this may mean you have to go outside your comfort zone or wait a little longer for the big wins, but it also means you won’t be going after short-term gains at the expense of your long-term vision.
What came up for you in these last two exercises as you wrote your vision down and circled your niche?
Now that you’ve gotten more clarity around your long-term vision and which niche will help you get there, we’re going to delve into your niche’s decision-making process because the better you understand that, the more effectively you can connect with and market to them. In order to understand the variables involved in that decision-making process, we’re going to look at a framework called the “formula for change.” This concept was developed decades ago by a gentleman named David Gleicher, and it gives us a way to understand all the variables at play when deciding to make a change.
Now, this equation may sound complicated, but it really just comes down to change versus resistance, because anytime people in your niche want to create a change, big or small, in any aspect of their life, they’re always going to come up against the natural resistance to that change. And that resistance isn’t good or bad, right or wrong; it just is. So what tips the scales in favor of making that change? The variables in the middle of this equation: D x V x F.
“D” stands for “dissatisfaction.” Do you think “dissatisfaction” sounds negative? If we get a customer feedback survey, it’s going to ask if we’re satisfied or dissatisfied. Is there a gap between where you are now and where you want to be? So while dissatisfaction may sound negative, in this context it really just represents a gap between where people in your niche are and where they want to be.
“V” stands for “vision,” and “F” stands for “first steps of action.” So what does this equation look like when we put it all together? The idea is that change can take hold when dissatisfaction, multiplied by vision, multiplied by first steps of action are all greater than resistance.
And if we think back to math class, these variables in the middle are multiplied together, so if any of them is a zero, what happens? They all zero out.
So, if one or more these variables is a zero for people in your niche, they’re not going to make a change, whether that change is to start working with you or to start taking advantage of more of your offerings if they’re already working with you.
Now let’s dive a little deeper into what each of these variables looks like for someone in your niche. Every person is different of course, but this will help you get an overall picture, and then you can apply these same concepts on a person-by-person basis.
Go back to the niche you circled and think of a specific client who represents this niche. Maybe it’s that sweet-spot client you identified earlier, or if the niche you circled is different than the one they fell into, you can think of another specific client you’ve had or an advisor you know has had, or you can use your creativity and make one up. Either way, as we go through the next steps, think about how that specific person would relate to each part of this equation.
We’ll start by going back to change and resistance.
Take a minute to write down, in just a sentence or two, the change this client wanted to create when he or she first started working with you. Next, write down any natural resistance this client had or may have had to starting to work with you. That could have been anything from an initial lack of rapport with you to a bad experience the client had with a particular advisor or product in the past to the location of your office to the fear of putting his or her assets into someone else’s hands.
Now let’s look at dissatisfaction. Write a few sentences to describe the gap between where this client was and where this client wanted to be when he or she started working with you. And, remember, that gap could have opened up due to a negative, like being unhappy with the client’s current advisor or uncertain about current investments or coverage, or a positive, like having some exciting financial goals, getting a big promotion or starting a family. Either way, note how big that gap was on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 represents no gap and being completely satisfied with how everything was before the client started working with you, and 10 representing a huge gap and being extremely dissatisfied with how everything was before the client started working with you.
Next, we’ll look at vision. Look back at what you wrote down about the overall change this client wanted to make. When it comes to the variable of vision, there’s the vision of what the client’s life would look like if he or she made that change and the vision of what the client’s life would look like if he or she didn’t make that change. Take a minute to write about these two sides of the vision coin for the client. For instance, if the change the client wanted to create was putting a realistic retirement plan in place, maybe the vision of what the client’s life would look like if he or she made that change was being able to enjoy the present more fully because the client wouldn’t always be worried about the future. And on the flip side, the vision of making no change might be dealing with the ongoing strain and stress in a marriage in the continued absence of a solid retirement plan. Notice how the vision of making that change, especially when compared with the vision of not making it, was really compelling for your client.
And, finally, let’s look at the first steps of action. Now think back to the way you brought your client on board. What were those first steps of action? If the client was grieving the loss of a spouse, did you take the time to help the client feel taken care of without overwhelming him or her with details? Or if the client were a serial entrepreneur, did you help the client gain confidence in your approach by talking about your past work with prominent business owners and in-depth knowledge of how the market impacts the client’s industry?
What does each part of this equation look like for your client? What similarities are there, and what differences? What takeaways do you have from thinking through how these variables came into play in the client’s decision-making process, or how do you think they would come into play for someone in a new niche you want to focus on moving forward? How do you think those takeaways may modify or improve how you market to and relate to clients in your niche moving forward?
So now that you’ve deepened your understanding of both the niche you want to focus on and how they make decisions, I want you to get clear about a significant short-term benchmark on the way to achieving your long-term vision. Ninety days from today, how will you know you’re on track to get to where you want to go in terms of your newly clarified niche? For instance, your 90-day benchmark could be, “I’ve asked all of my clients for referrals into that niche and followed up with each of them” or “I’ve expanded my knowledge in a certain area by doing X, Y and Z to better serve my niche.”
Now write down that one single thing you’ll be laser-focused on over the next 90 days. Think of this as your definition of “success” three months from now. And once you achieve it, what are you going to do to celebrate? I know what some of you are thinking: Why should I celebrate doing what I’m supposed to do? or I don’t have time for that or Hitting the benchmark is celebration enough for me. But here’s the thing. I work with these incredible visionaries who can do so much, and often the biggest challenge for them is celebrating themselves. So remember, first, you’re in good company if you’re skeptical about this whole “celebration thing” and, second, this is not about just celebrating to celebrate. It’s about taking the time to mark and reinforce the progress you’re making toward living your vision into existence and the personal power you have to keep that progress going.
Celebrating the small wins is what brings in the big ones, and when we mark these milestones, we don’t wake up five years from now and think, How did I get here? Instead, we can look back at all the progress we made along the way and the significance of what that path has meant for us as professionals and as people. And the celebration doesn’t have to be throwing a party for yourself. It could be a massage, a solo hike, taking a favorite client or a favorite person in your life out for a special meal, or anything else that resonates with you.
I’m excited for all of you to optimize your niche and live your vision into existence!
Lois Weinblatt is an international visioning expert and founder of True North Business Development. She has worked with visionary leaders and global organizations in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and India to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Weinblatt was a keynote speaker at BNI’s Global Convention and was asked to contribute her knowledge to BNI University, the organization’s online learning platform for their 240,000 members worldwide.