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Building a Niche Business

(April 23, 2004) - Over the years, we've urged our readers to watch the work at TaxTalent, the niche job board. While Job Boards spring into existence faster than their founders can be laid off from their former jobs, there are a few niche operations that set real standards in the industry. TaxTalent, realizing that it would be constantly ahead of the market, has pioneered its own technology, created a viable community, built the independent content that keeps visitors coming back, and generally demonstrated how to build a profitable niche business.

All of this, while surviving the same downturn as the rest of us. Persistent and determined, the team at TaxTalent has deployed a job board that shows what it takes to really maximize profitability in the niche business. They've built and executed the model.

Unexpectedly, the TaxTalent team discovered a powerful principle as they developed the job board business: the same customers and candidates can be reconfigured in a variety of ways to support a variety of businesses. Properly executed, a job board is a business development platform as well as an end in itself. While the traditional classified advertising media are simply trying to figure out how to sell in the new market, entrepreneurs are building defensible niche businesses that are effective at each level of platform execution.

TaxTalent's first new product launch involved a contingency staffing arm. As you'd guess, the Tax profession is a pretty conservative environment. The whole notion of "temporary help," well defined in most other professional niches, is a new idea in the Tax World. Typically, "consulting help" is a product available from the Big 4 accounting firms. Until TaxTalent launched its initiative, there were no firms specializing in peak loading and contingency placements in the tax arena.

The business of extending a product line into uncharted territory looks a lot like starting a business from scratch ... lots of missionary work and momentum that builds one customer at a time. The nice thing about taking additional products to the same customers is that much of the core research is already done. But, the missionary work remains.

We talked with Ben Gaddy, TaxTalent's head of the new contingency workforce operation. For about six months, Ben has been plowing the ground, one customer at a time, as the contingency business builds momentum. Ben sees the bulk of his work as "educating the market."

Often, customers mistake temp services for low-level concerns. Since there is little precedent for tax pros with temporary assignment, Ben's job involved lots of persuasion. He's used the TaxTalent Brand (through the website) to build some inbound traffic, but in the final analysis it boils down to lots of focused marketing by hand.

Over time, he learned to harness the power of the brand in conversation, while studiously avoiding the word "temp." To effectively persuade potential customers, he began the long process of learning to speak their language and make the translation. He now discusses the use of "a contractor in a specific specialty," ie., transfer pricing, focusing on the immediate availability of high-level expertise.

Contingent workforce management is the key sales point: utilizing seasoned players is possible at a fraction of the Big 4 costs. Ben's stable of available contractors includes a number of high-powered players, who have recently retired. By carefully showcasing the types of available talent, he is able to show his customers that they can have high-end help with no investment.

Getting the light bulb to go off one at a time is the essence of missionary work. Over the months, Ben has carefully experimented with Branding, message, tone, response times, follow-up processes, and product material in the search for a repeatable formula. Progress takes a while. Getting the momentum going means grooming customers in a variety of stages, while learning what those stages are. One success leads to two.

Ben is excited about the "echo chamber" in the niche "Reference accounts are critical. The tightness of the niche creates an interesting phenomenon: people talk."

It takes time, focus, commitment, and resources. Surviving the dot com crash required more than just having a board. The job board serves the community with highly relevant content. Far more important than the depth of the resources is the consistency applied. While the economy floundered, TaxTalent continued to apply resources in a level way, growing and improving the core website and building a platform for expansion.

Now, the Tax market is heating up. From Ben's perspective, "It's been like getting a surfboard in place to ride the wave. The missionary work is in full swing and the momentum is building."

Take a look at TaxTalent. They've been on this road for a long time now and really are perfecting the methods and tools for niche-based Human Capital intermediaries.

John Sumser

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