How to Seize a Profitable New Niche or Topic

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You're an entrepreneurial publisher looking for a new topic to set up shop in—a niche to put your stamp on?

Some go to their specialty. Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of Inside Mortgage, was covering the mortgage business for a newsletter company, when "customers would call up and ask where else they could get information on this? Those were the days when people would buy two or three publications on the same product. I was also being urged to go out on my own."

For others, especially those with more experience, it can be more topic-agnostic. Anne Holland, co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily, a division of Anne Holland Ventures Inc., looked at several options before landing on MBD.

"...We were looking at veterinary practices, medical, mergers and acquisitions—all different industries to decide who are we going to serve next. And who's hungry? The primary thing is, 'Who is unserved?' Who's hungry for what we're really good at doing? There was no financial information [in the marijuana industry], no legal or financial news service that was doing a good job. 'We can do that.' We can help these hungry people. If it was the blimp industry, that would be okay. We just like to help people and happened to luck out."

Still, for others, it can be a connection such as SIPA. David Foster acquired Business Valuation Resources from knowing the founder, Shannon Pratt, through SIPA.

"He was a consultant and wanted to launch a parallel publishing company in 1995," Foster told me a few years ago. "That was the center of my SIPA board time. He reached out to me for advice, and he sent some of his first employees to IOMA to learn from my staff. We mentored them. His health was failing though, so he returned the favor and asked if BNA wanted to buy it in 2004. I brought it to the Board there twice, and they rejected me twice. It was a small deal, fairly priced. So I bought it."

Norins Reveals the Clues and a Promising Topic

Lesley Norins, vice president of Medvostat, offered a prize at the end of his session on Finding and Seizing New Topics at last week's SIPA Annual 2017 Conference: a fruitful new topic. He even had a name for the newsletter: Police Video Update.

"You see news about crime or terrorist attacks everywhere," he said. "What's the first thing TV stations and detectives ask for? Security cameras. The topic could cover: acquisition of video—I've heard it costs $3000 or more per camera; aerial surveliilance; storage—how long do [videos] have to be kept?"

Norins said there are clues to new opportunities that you should look for:

  • new laws and regulations that may soon take effect;
  • spreading technology;
  • newly formed groups or associations;
  • new innovations;
  • people who already have a job getting more responsibility (such as a manager of tank car safety).

"Then you want to investigate the topic before your competitors," Norins said. "Is anybody covering this? Don't assume anything; check it out. In our field of 60 newsletters we rarely enter a field where someone's already there. And, of course, act quickly."

Norins said that even if you have an idea but no product, it's okay to sweeten the waters. "Subscribe now to Tank Car Manager. You''ll be put on a priority list." But then you need to move fast. For Norrins, that subject was medical coding. "Accurate coding is required for physicians to obtain payments," he said.

People need coding advice, he discovered. "So we made a decision to launch OBGYN Coding Alert." He needed a sample issue for sales and marketing, and to find expert coders to provide technical advice. "We wrote up the first newsletter and it went great. We did another and chose pediatric.

"We found coding experts in every specialty. It's also critical to have a doctor in every specialty we worked with. We found an old funeral home that we could move into, and it was all set. We took five people to the national convention for coding, listened, got to know the experts, and came away with a wonderful relationship with this organization. They were thrilled that we were augmenting what they were trying to do. They gave us their entire list."

For Foster, moving to valuation from his previous topics still held excitement because of the common thread of uniting and helping a certain segment of people.

"There are common elements that still get me turned on," Foster said. "I always felt like [the readers in these markets] expect a high level of editorial quality—and I have the language background. And I was always intellectually engaged and empathetic with the markets that I serve. Whether it was law firm administrators or accounts payable managers or business appraisers, there has been social value to bringing them together."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…