Building your practice around a defined niche isn’t a new concept, but it is one that many firm leaders have yet to adopt. And that’s why it’s important to continue the conversation on the niche model—educating bookkeepers and accountants on proven strategies to help identify the right niche to serve and achieve career fulfillment.
Here to help us do that is Questian Telka, EA and Owner and Principal of ReQoncile Financials. Like many others, she struggled for years to identify her core niche. However, the process to get there helped her develop a clear methodology and easy-to-follow roadmap for others seeking to build a niche-based practice.
Read on to learn more about the three R’s and how they can lead you to discover your ideal vertical and achieve long-term success and true career satisfaction.
Building your foundation
Accountants and bookkeepers who build their business on a defined niche position themselves as an expert in that vertical. This allows them to take on more clients with fewer resources because they no longer have to master multiple verticals. It also enables them to build out proactive compliance and advisory services that can be duplicated across clients. And when you emerge as the go-to firm in a given niche, it also makes it far easier to attract and retain your ideal clients.
Quoting Mary Bernitt, a well-known brand and growth consultant, Telka suggests thinking of your career as a house: “If your career is a house, your niche isn’t your ceiling. It’s your foundation.”
While focusing on a core niche is Telka’s advice, she adds that there are no predetermined rules for building a niche practice. You decide the clients you want to serve. In her case, 90% of her practice is made up of nonprofit clients while the remaining 10% are real estate investors.
“The only rules around your niche are the ones you create for yourself,” says Telka. “When I define what success looks like to me, it includes work that is in line with my values, making me feel happy and fulfilled.”
Getting your R’s in order
Defining your core values will help inform decisions as you move forward with building a niche-based practice. Your values should lead you to identify the type of client you want to serve and, overall, how you can ensure career fulfillment.
“Core values are our fundamental beliefs and principles that define what’s important to us,” explains Telka. “Once we know, we can use them to guide our path, make decisions, and set goals that are aligned with our values—such as determining our niche.”
“Niche” means different things to different people. You can build your niche based on a broad vertical (“Horizontal”) and further specialize based on “Vertical” markets.
Understanding that it all starts by identifying core values, let’s jump into the three R’s.
To help define your core values, Telka offers a series of questions that you’ll need to answer honestly. These questions are meant to prompt deeper analysis at both a personal and professional level.
How would you describe who you are? This question serves to uncover your true identity. Do you value work-life balance? Do you enjoy serving one niche over others? Do you strive for a healthy work culture?
Think about a time professionally when you felt fulfilled…what made you feel fulfilled? Do you have certain clients that you love to work with…that your team loves to work with? When has your niche expertise fueled a client’s success? Answering such questions further informs what you value in your work.
Think about a time professionally when you felt unfulfilled…what led to the feelings of unfulfillment? Are there clients you serve who don’t bring you joy? Are there services you offer that simply don’t align with who you are? Do certain clients cause frustration with your team?
The information gathered here is designed to get you closer to your core values.
“Answering these questions should give us more detail about what we value,” explains Telka. “Recognizing sources of unhappiness or lack of joy is a really powerful tool to decide what is important to us in our work.”
Once you’ve defined your core values, it’s time to start mapping out areas of interest. This is where you’ll conduct deeper research to determine what niches align with your newly defined core values.
Telka offers the following advice to get the brainstorming/research stage moving in the right direction:
Identify gaps: What gaps do you see in the market that you can help fill? For example, are nonprofits underserved in your area? Do you have niche expertise on your team that can elevate services within a certain vertical?
Telka adds: “What gaps can you fill that will also fulfill you?”
Talk to colleagues: To gain more insight, conduct pointed conversations with peers who work in the niche you’re interested in. “Networking with colleagues and business owners in your potential niche is a great way to learn about those niches,” says Telka.
Network: Networking takes you beyond one-on-one conversations with peers. This requires you to go all-in by attending conferences (e.g., Scaling New Heights, QuickBooks Connect), joining professional associations (e.g., AICPA, National Association of Tax Professionals), following niche-specific social media channels, and attending local market-specific events.
“Putting yourself out there and approaching people at events can be intimidating but conferences have been where I’ve had some of my most valuable professional experiences,” says Telka. “There are so many people with varying backgrounds and niche experiences that they [events] are a wonderful place to network.”
Once you’ve decided on the niche to pursue, there’s still some work to do. At this point, it’s time to realign your business model to support your newly defined core values and goals.
“Realigning our choices and actions to align with our core values will allow us to live authentically and embrace who we are,” says Telka.
Telka also advises that you follow a structured action plan. It’s not enough to simply identify a new niche; you must have a sound plan in place to support a successful transition. The following are a few ideas to help you get started with your realignment action plan:
Strategic partnerships: Consider aligning with partners who already have a wealth of knowledge in your potential niche. Look for opportunities where you can share the workload to gain more experience.
“When I started working with nonprofits, I worked with a colleague who has worked with nonprofits basically his entire career. We worked together on projects that allowed him to be more hands-off, share the workload, and allowed me to benefit from his knowledge,” Telka explains.
Take a training course or webinar series: Education-based events help to further inform you on a specific vertical. Make sure you’re attending events that are led by a highly knowledgeable, experienced facilitator.
Telka adds: “This is also a great way to learn about the tools [and technologies] that other bookkeepers and accountants are using to support their niche clients.”
Start slow; take on a simple client: Start with a less-complex client as you grow your niche knowledge. This allows you to “practice” before jumping into the complexities of your vertical. If you determine that you can’t support the client early on, you can go back to your strategic partner for guidance.
Get ready to go…niche!
While value and growth are key to business success, so is finding joy in your work. The niche model solves many issues for accountants and bookkeepers. It enables you to build expertise in a specific vertical, corner a market, create recurring revenue streams and repeatable services, and work with clients you actually enjoy serving.
Selecting a niche doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The three R’s offer a ready-made roadmap to help you define your core values and select the niche that best fits your growth and career fulfillment goals.
According to Telka, the accounting profession is expected to grow by 6% over the next decade (US Bureau of Labor and Statistics), and that means there’s never been a better time to make the move to the niche model. “While it can be intimidating, we have to remember that a comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there…don’t let your fear prevent you from making changes and doing great things.”
Ready to redefine your value? Follow our Redefining Value series to hear from today’s industry thought leaders who share their expertise on timely, relevant, and helpful topics—all geared to help you achieve the life you want.
About Questian Telka, EA
Owner and Principal, ReQoncile Financials
Questian Telka EA, CPB
Questian is an Enrolled Agent and Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor with 15 years of experience providing bookkeeping and accounting services and solutions. As a self-described "non-profit loving accounting nerd", her passion is working with nonprofits by giving them the financial tools they need to successfully fulfill their missions. Having previously been the Director of Finance and Administration at a non-profit she has insight into the unique challenges nonprofits face.
Based in North Carolina, she currently owns her own firm ReQoncile Financials.
This webinar is part of our Redefining Value webinar series. View the other virtual events and learn more about this series.