AAM Minute - Best Practices

Develop a Niche by Leveraging Survey Data

Mike Bowlan, Brown Smith Wallace


Brown Smith Wallace wanted to develop a new niche and felt the best way to achieve their goal was to create a survey to gauge market feasibility. The following is an account of their process.

The Problem

The first issue you may face is achieving partner buy-in when developing a new niche practice. We were fortunate enough to gain the support of our startup practice leader. She had already been active in the St. Louis startup community and had existing clients and relationships in this market. However, while other firms were promoting their expertise, our firm had never committed to deploying marketing resources to this area. When we met to develop a plan, I suggested building it around a survey. After initially agreeing to this concept, she hesitated and wanted to eliminate the survey element. Although it took additional convincing, I was able to communicate the importance of the survey to the overall plan, and we moved forward.

The Concept
The concept was simple; this initiative would enable us to:

  • Brand ourselves as a market leader by using the survey data for publicity and promotion; e-blasts, social media, and media placement
  • Define key issues for that niche and become part of the conversation on how to resolve those issues
  • Develop new relationships and enhance existing relationships using the survey as a reason to meet with people:
  • Before the survey – establish initial questions like ‘What are your concerns?’ or ‘What would you like to see in the survey?’
  • While developing the survey – have others take a look to get an outsider’s opinion; ask for their honest evaluation and allow them to help gauge whether there is anything missing
  • When presenting the survey results – make it an event and invite key clients, prospects, and influencers to be part of a panel discussion where the results are shared
  • Following the release of the survey – solicit feedback and determine missed opportunities for next year


The Results

Our first time effort brought about great success. Less than a year after we launched this initiative, we have achieved the following:

  • Grown the practice by more than 30 percent
  • Received referrals for work in specialty areas such as bookkeeping, state and local tax services, and business valuations
  • Presented at two key, local startup community venues
  • Enhanced relationships with existing clients
  • Developed new client relationships
  • Created new, third-party relationships with key influencers in the startup community
  • Had an article published in the local business journal
  • Won an Association for Accounting Marketing Achievement Award in the Client Service/Survey category

The Lessons

  • Leveraging a survey to develop a niche works. It is possible that with the right market assessment, you can use a survey to expand your presence and grow your market share.
  • Using the right tools and resources can help the concept succeed. Our effort included planning, research, public relations, networking, events, social media, sponsored content, and design. Plan every step but capitalize on opportunities as they occur.
  • Persistence and follow up are critical. It is important to have a great team in place to help follow up on activities and keep the plan on track.
  • There may be adjustments that need to be made. Additional marketing tactics may be used to help develop your new niche. These may include: 
    • Additional research methods
    • Integrated marketing content and calling campaigns
    • A series of events
    • Referral campaigns