This time we hear from Evelyn Zohlen, president of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Inspired Financial. She recalls her choice to focus her practice on women in life transitions, and how one client confirmed she had made the right decision.
In my early years, when I was working as a relationship manager at the Vanguard Group, I saw many heartbreaking situations, including husbands forgetting to name their wives as their beneficiary on their 401(k) plans — something I encountered over and over again. These women would eventually get their benefits, but at the time there wasn’t anything I could do to speed up the process. I’d often think, if somebody had just gotten to this couple sooner, this widow would still be grieving, but at least she’d be at peace financially. These experiences became the basis of my aspiration to open a niche practice focused on women in the midst of life transitions.
It wasn’t until years later that I finally had the opportunity to focus on this goal. In early 2005, I bought a financial planning firm and it took me a few years before I had a chance to take a step back and evaluate the clients I had inherited. Two things came together at the time. I realized that trying to be everything for my broad client base meant I would end up being not much good to anyone. I also saw that, from a strict profit perspective, I needed to be sure that I was getting paid for the level of service I wanted to provide.
After this practical and personal evaluation, I took the leap and focused my business on women in transition. As a first step, I opted to raise the firm’s minimum to support my business goals.
Though I was passionate about serving the particular needs of this client group, I was also concerned that focusing on a niche might limit my opportunities. My team and I created an ideal client profile, but we also understood that exceptions to that ideal would always show up. At the same time, I knew I couldn’t take on just any client who walked into my office, because then my niche would fall apart. In fact during the first year, I turned away eight million dollars in business.
We continued to forge ahead, but I still sometimes questioned whether I had made the right decision. It wasn’t until I heard it directly from a client that I knew I was on the right track, and that all that business I had turned away ended up making me a stronger advisor for the clients I did end up working with.
I had been working with this particular client for a several years.
When she first came to us, her husband was still alive. Over time he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and began to lose his cognitive abilities. She had to learn how to handle their finances. We worked closely with her over many months, not only in providing our “normal” advice and guidance, but also empowering her to feel confident in her own financial decision-making. Our experience with this niche market meant we were able to anticipate many potential problems and be a real source of support during a very trying time.
When it came time to put her husband in a memory care facility, we helped her find the right place for him. The process was highly emotional for our client and involved a lot of technical financial work on our end. He died this past spring and at the end of all our work together, she told us that when she first came to our firm she was resistant because she had had a bad experience with another financial advisor. Then she told us, “I never would have guessed that someone like you existed to help somebody like me through all my trials and traumas.”
That’s when I realized that establishing a niche isn’t just about winning new clients; it’s also about cementing client loyalty.
This situation helped me realize that the time I’d put in to develop this niche was worth it. Her gratitude for our specialized knowledge affirmed to me that selecting a niche and really embracing it can be both personally and financially rewarding.