It was wonderful to sit chatting to a couple of new Accountants recently, when something interesting came up in conversation. “A marketing expert told me I should specialise, but I’m not really ready to yet“. They went on to ask me a common question “when should I specialise and create my niche“?

When should I specialise - When should you step up this ladder?

When should I specialise?

It was great to hear that niching and creating a specialism were on the agenda of the marketer they’d been talking to. The downside was they felt battered into pursuing a niche and not ready to do so. So, here’s the co-author of the The Go-To Expert saying that for some people it is not the right time to specialise. Context: one of them had started her practice 2 months earlier, the other a year ago. The answer to “when should I specialise” relates to your practice, experience and the sector your’re in; as well as the speed at which you make the transition.

Why would I specialise into a niche?

Being the The Go-To Expert for a sector makes you more memorable and credible, so marketing is easier. It also helps you be more in demand than generalist firms, which can help you charge higher fees and working with clients you prefer.

Even though you’ve committed to a niche, you’ll still get opportunities outside of it; you just don’t spend your time targeting them.

Why not specialise, yet

The question for any accountant, lawyer or consultant in practice is when to specialise, not if they should. If you do it too early (as these two were told)  you risk not making a good choice of which sector to choose and not building up the broad base of experience, contacts, clients and technical skills you need.

A broad base of technical skills is good – up to a point.

Your earlier success as a professional (whether accountant, lawyer or consultant) came from being able to pick up a wide range of jobs. Later your success comes from your expertise, i.e. being known for a particular specialist skill set.

When I talk about a specialist skill set, I mean being more than just ‘an employment lawyer’ or a ‘VAT specialist’. I am meaning choosing to go a level deeper than that. For example:

  • Employment lawyer specialising in the banking sector
  • VAT expert specialising in retail and e-commerce companies

So one question is yourself: Do you have the skills, contacts and credibility in the sector you’re considering to sustain your growth yet?

When is it the right time to start specialising?

When your firm is new, the focus is often on day to day and getting systems working. I’d also suggest starting to think about what is going to be your ‘thing’. Don’t try to make an instant transition. Sometimes it’s right to find out who or what makes you tick. What type of clients do you love the most, where do you have the most credibility, what have you become known for, and how do these areas compare with potential fees and size of niche.

Over time your ‘growing interest’ will become a ‘growing specialisation’, which will then become a ‘specialism in’, and then finally become ‘this is what I specialise in’. Where do you sit on that spectrum now?

If you’re getting busier and your charge-out rate starts to increase, you probably need to be able to justify this increase. Being known as ‘the specialist’ or the The Go-To Expert helps you to do this.

In summary

When should I specialise, how much you specialise and focus on a niche or two is really up to you. You can start taking steps towards it in the early days of your firm; but it might not be time to specialise until you are finding it harder to justify your fees, have a sustainable growth rate and enough credibility in your chosen sector. That being said, the sooner your name becomes associated with a specialism, the easier it will become to build your practice.

It varies by person, but doesn’t have to be straight away, or going immediately into only serving one niche. How will you make your transition?

Jon BakerWritten by Jon Baker The 5-50 Coach. I help professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably, profitably and still have fun. Networking is a key part of getting great results in small firms. If you want great networking tips sent to your desk once a month, click here and I will start sending them to you, so you can make a real difference to your referrals.