niche /niCH,nēSH/ noun, a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service.
There has been an increasing trend for accountants and bookkeepers to dive deep into a client niche. In having a niche, the goal is to focus on serving clients in a specific industry or specialty and being known for that specialized skill set. The benefits of this are enhancing your customer relationships, gaining trust and credibility, and of course, growing your practice.
I didn’t create the wine industry niche in which I (somehow, fortunately) currently get to work and live. I fell into the perfect CPA firm team and opportunity in 2007 (Brotemarkle, Davis and Co LLP) and have had the pleasure of working here ever since. The winery niche was created by the firm founder, Dave Brotemarkle, and has been perpetuated by my mentor and his successor, Craig Underhill.
Our firm is located in the heart of the Napa Valley, home to more than 500 wineries and growing daily, so it was an obvious choice for firm leaders to focus on wineries. But it wasn’t always easy to maintain focus and to shift the firm from more traditional services that met the needs of these wineries, to a firm that went deeper and helped them create the kinds of successful businesses that could survive for generations. The expansion of services to include advisory services took deep commitment and true dedication. It involved first defining our firm’s WHY and then bringing it to life.
During my 15 years at this firm so far, I have gained lots of insight into the value of focus and the gift of diving deeply into the unique challenges of a single industry. In 2014, I co-founded a bookkeeping business, again focused on wineries, so we could address the increasing demand for those services. That gave me an even greater understanding of the business and operational challenges, not to mention the uncontrollable influence of Mother Nature on all aspects of the business. I love the people who work in this industry, who seek first to welcome visitors of all kinds, and then to share their bounty (despite the fire, smoke, earthquake, flood, or even drought).
I am no expert on finding or creating a niche. I am just very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in one. But here’s what I know about building a business that you love (I have been very fortunate to have done that multiple times over the years).
- Find your Why. Your personal Why is the first place to start. How will that connect to your potential clients?
Here’s mine: I believe there is magic in the numbers. I exist to unlock the magic in the numbers so people can apply them in creating the life of their dreams.
- Find the aspects of whatever work you are currently doing that you most enjoy.
I love applying technology to solve business problems. This business has so many incredible elements – farming, manufacturing/production, wholesale and retail sales, all in a very complex regulatory environment. It is an ideal opportunity for automation and process improvement. (Do you see why I love being at this firm?)
- Don’t limit yourself to a single industry. There might be aspects of the work you do that you really enjoy. It might be complex inventory management, unique cash-flow considerations, revenue recognition challenges, diverse sales channels, or specialized services. What would you love to learn more about each day? You don’t have to be the expert on their business. Although I arrived straight off the turnip truck from Atlanta, GA with no knowledge of fine wine or the industry, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t my job to be the expert in the wine business. My job as an advisor in this industry was to ask different questions. To help them document the answers these business owners already intuitively had but often didn’t trust or didn’t share with their teams. We know accounting, we know numbers, we love Excel. Those skills have value to our clients in every industry.
- Look for patterns in your current client list. Which clients do you most enjoy? Which ones appreciate you the most? Our firm works with businesses serving the wine industry. Our work extends beyond wineries to non-profits who support and empower vintners, to organizations that support workers, to training and education partners, to bankers, software vendors, and more. With focus comes not only a deep appreciation for the work that these organizations do but also more opportunities to have an impact.
- Consider how you can apply technology on behalf of that industry. Where might you leverage tools and processes to best make a difference for those clients. We work with vendors of all kinds in a constant quest to make life better for those who work in our industry. But you must also take the time to understand your client’s processes. It’s how we found our way to Veem to solve the global payments challenges our winery clients often face.
- Be of service. Be known. Speak out. Our firm owners were committed to education for our current and future clients. The aim is to elevate the industry and we bring that to life through free education, book mailings, Why gatherings, plain english content creation, and speaking at industry events. Our team volunteers for local wine industry activities, sponsors non-profit organizations, and teams up with Junior Achievement to teach finance to future industry leaders in our area.
While I can’t take credit for creating our firm’s niche, I have had a small role in helping expand the reach of our firm in our community. But it took time. Firm leaders were willing to make the multi-year investment it took to establish ourselves as finance experts in the wine industry. The payoff for our team, our clients, and hopefully their workers and families has been priceless. And let’s not forget the incredible wine!
Veem is there for you in your journey to finding your niche. Talk to Veem about how they can support your firm with tools to help your clients achieve their goals. I highly suggest you consider joining the Accountant Partner Program offered by Veem. All you need to do to get started is to book a demo with their Accounting Specialists today.
About the Author:
Geni Whitehouse, CPA is a part-time consulting member of a CPA firm serving wineries and a co-founder of a bookkeeping business. She is a speaker and author and is always in search of solutions that free accountants (both inside and outside companies) to add more value.
A Veem user herself, Geni has seen the challenge of selling products and services across borders and really appreciates the ability to manage it easily in Veem.