How Choosing A Niche Fueled Her College Consulting Business: ARTriculate

How Choosing A Niche Fueled Her College Consulting Business: ARTriculate

There are roughly 3,000 independent college admissions consultants in the United States. Guess how many focus on students applying to art school?

No more than five, depending on how you count.

Enter Florence Lehr, founder of ARTriculate.

“When I started my company in 2016,, people warned me I was crazy to go so niche in my business. But I knew I had the expertise to provide a really outstanding, highly customized service to art students, so I ignored the conventional wisdom.”

Today, ARTriculate has achieved the mythical “double-double” — she grew revenues by 100% in 2021, and then again in 2022. ARTriculate has also grown in this short time from just working with visual arts students in the DMV to working with students throughout the world in a wide range of creative fields: design, STEAM, creative writing, film, performing arts and music. She has hired three art coaches to advise students on their portfolios, while she oversees the company’s direction. She also coaches students on their college choices, brainstorms their essays, and manages the many requirements and deadlines of school applications.

In contrast, the vast majority of college consultants are solopreneurs who struggle each year to acquire an entirely new set of clients. They face off in a fierce battle for the few thousand affluent students who opt to hire a private consultant each year. When you offer the very same service as all your competitors, it’s not easy to differentiate yourself in the market.

Worse, since they are selling their own time, few have the bandwidth to take on more than 30 students. Students typically pay $5,000 to $10,000 for a college consultant, which means revenue for a solo college consultant caps at $200,000 to $300,000. Minus the expense of an office, software and travel expenses for frequent college visits, that leaves not much more than a low six-figure salary. Not bad, but certainly not the stuff of small business legend.

Quote from Florence Lehr of articulate on the value of a niche business for customers

There’s power in the niche

ARTriculate’s success validates a piece of unconventional wisdom that small business owners find very hard to accept: it’s easier to grow a niche business than a one-size-fits-all business.

Sure, it’s tempting to offer a broad range of services, or position yourself as the go-to generalist: the family dentist, the all-purpose contractor, the general practitioner lawyer. Novice small business owners look at Amazon, Goldman Sachs or Accenture and see massive businesses with global reach and dozens of service lines. But small businesses play by different rules than publicly-traded companies (all of which, incidentally, started with a single service line and diversified over decades; we forget Amazon started as an online bookseller).

In fact, research proves again and again the benefits of growing a niche service business. According to a study by McKinsey, niche players outperformed generalists in many industries. The study found that specialized service providers achieved higher revenue growth rates and profitability due to their focused offerings and deep understanding of customer needs. Furthermore, the rise of online platforms and search engines has made it easier for niche service businesses to reach their target audience, driving customer acquisition and market penetration.

So why do businesses like ARTriculate outperform their generalist competitors?

Why Niche Down?’ infographic showcasing five top benefits

Niche entrepreneurs and the abundance mindset

Being a successful niche entrepreneur means reframing your mindset. As business owners, we’re forged in the philosophy of the zero-sum game: if my competitor wins a client, that’s one client I didn’t win. Customers feel scarce, and so we say yes to every one who comes our way — even when their needs are not the right fit for our expertise.

But it’s a very wide world out there. Currently, there are more than 350 million would-be consumers in the United States. Most local service businesses need from a few dozen to a few hundred loyal, recurring customers to hit seven or even eight-figures.

In short, the math is in your favor. The real challenge is abandoning the scarcity mindset, embracing your ideal customer, and letting the rest go. That’s something that Lehr understood intuitively:

The college admissions market is huge. There are three million students who apply to college in the United States every year. To build a great business, I don’t need three million clients. I don’t even need 1% of that market. I knew I could speak directly to creative students, really focus on working with them and serving their needs, and still build a successful seven-figure business.

4 reasons to niche down

Still not convinced? Let’s look at why it’s easier and smarter to grow a niche service business rather than trying to compete with an undifferentiated brand.

Less Competition, More Opportunities

Choosing a niche allows you to target a specific customer with specific needs. By focusing on a specialized area, you can differentiate yourself from generic service providers and tap into a market with less competition. For example, instead of being a general home cleaning service, consider specializing in eco-friendly cleaning for eco-conscious homeowners. This niche positioning helps you attract customers who value sustainability and are willing to pay a premium for your unique offering.

Increased Customer Trust and Loyalty

Every customer believes their needs are specific, and they want to work with an expert. The more urgent, or life-changing the need, the more they value specialization. If a tree falls on my house (which happened!), I hire a tree service that knows how to tarp my roof and remove two-tons of tree from my backyard in a matter of hours. I don’t hire a lawn care business that might trim trees from time to time, and I don’t hire a handyman who dabbles in drywall.

Equally, in the high-stakes realm of college admissions, parents want to know their teens are in Lehr’s expert hands. “Applying to art school is unlike other college applications processes. Submitting a polished creative portfolio, with essays to complement your work, is make-or-break for students’ success. Standardized tests carry less weight, and scholarship opportunities are unique.” She adds that some families come to her after a disappointing experience with their school’s guidance counselor or another private admissions expert who simply isn’t well versed in art school admissions.

For ARTriculate, building a unique niche has helped them deeply connect with the goals, worries and obstacles that their parents and students face. By providing a tailored service, they deliver an exceptional customer experience, which builds long-term loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.

Higher Perceived Value and Pricing Power

Customers value specialized expertise. When you position yourself as an expert in your field, customers perceive your services as more valuable and are willing to pay a premium for your specialized knowledge and skills.

If I need to draft a straightforward will, I might go to a general practitioner, but I would expect a low price point in exchange for a generic product. Conversely, if I have significant assets or anticipate a contested will, then I would gladly pay a premium for an estate attorney.

Ironically, niche businesses command higher prices even as they need to spend less money and effort explaining or marketing their business.

Ultimately, that higher perceived value translates into increased profitability and revenue growth.

Efficient Marketing and Targeted Messaging

Marketing a niche service business is more focused and cost-effective. Instead of casting a wide net and targeting a broad audience, you can concentrate your efforts on reaching your target market. This allows you to craft specific and targeted marketing messages that resonate deeply with your ideal customers.

For example, a fitness studio specializing in prenatal and postnatal workouts can create marketing campaigns tailored to expectant and new mothers, addressing their unique fitness needs and concerns. By honing in on your niche, you attract the right audience and achieve higher conversion rates.

That’s never been more true than in the age of digital marketing. Thanks to sophisticated algorithms, social media ad platforms like Google and Facebook “learn” which customers are most likely to click on your ads. When your audience is very specific, the algorithm quickly targets your ideal customer with hyper-focused messaging, and your cost per click drops dramatically.

Alternatively, you may find, as ARTriculate has, that you don’t need to spend a cent on marketing. Lehr publishes a popular weekly blog and newsletter, which she faithfully sends out to students, parents and school guidance counselors. Her newsletter boasts an unheard-of 50% open rate, which means her audience really wants to hear what she has to say. She also participates actively in Facebook groups for parents of students interested in art school. She posts helpful content, answers questions, but never resorts to self-promotion. “Parents who value my expertise get in touch, we start a conversation, and often clients come naturally from the expertise they see that we bring.”

Streamline operations with a single, repeatable process

For generalists, profits get squeezed from both ends. On the one hand, they fight to outspend their rivals and get noticed in a crowded market. But, as soon as they make the sale, they need to reinvent processes for a client base with varied and unexpected needs.

Conversely, niche business owners enjoy the luxury of creating a single, repeatable process that they can perfect over time, while still tailoring the particulars to each individual client. Lehr has visited dozens of art schools, knows their admissions cycles, their decision makers and what it takes to gain entry. She offers her clients established timelines for reviewing and revising art portfolios, submitting drafts of admissions essays or going on college tours.

Building sound processes saves time, money and headaches for a small business owner. Plus, it gives the customer a predictable, reassuring process that feels stress-free and delivers results.

5 Steps to Build a Niche Brand’ visual guide

Are you ready to build a powerhouse niche business?

Building a successful niche business doesn’t mean forgoing your standard service offerings. Sometimes, it’s just a question of tweaking your brand, highlighting particular services on your website and social media, and getting some media attention for your expertise.

Like ARTriculate, RS Gonzales practices the philosophy of the niche business. We focus exclusively on local, service-based businesses in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. We live and work in the DMV; we know the mindset of customers in one neighborhood versus another; and we have deep connections to local events and media opportunities.

So, if you’re ready to niche down and power up your business, get in touchfor a free consultation.

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