If you’re still searching for a tried and true market niche on which to build a successful practice, consider one for which there is huge pent-up demand: helping financially strapped boomer parents fund the ever rising cost of their kids’ college education.

So urged Brian Kay, Executive Director of Leads 4 Insurance, Port Washington, N.Y., during a November 9 teleseminar devoted to the topic. The one-hour event explored key advantages of a college funding practice, including an ability to charge a fee for services, generate referrals and repeat business, and satisfy clients’ immediate financial needs.

“The biggest mistake that advisors make is selling future needs instead of immediate needs,” said Kay. “That can mean the difference between earning a modest living for the rest of your career and becoming a 6- or 7-figure income producer.”

Such areas as disability income insurance, retirement income, estate planning and life insurance, Kay added, all bear on future needs and are a tough sell. To the extent that agents focus on these solutions in initial conversations, they create a fall sense of urgency.

A second mistake of agents, said Kay, is that they try to be all things to all people by acquiring a string of educational designations–CLU, ChFC, CFP, among others–that, while building on their professional development, are less critical to their practices than generating a steady flow of referrals and prospects. And the latter requires developing a market niche.

Producers also err, said Kay, by not charging fees for their services in addition to a commission on product sales. The result can be valuable time wasted consulting with prospects who ultimately don’t buy a recommended solution. One reason agents opt not to charge fees is that they are under the mistaken impression that doing so will bring them into violation with NASD or in-house compliance rules. But, Kay observed, such violations only apply to producers who charge fees for investment advice and are not registered investment advisors.

Kay dubbed a fourth mistake as “trying to bag the white elephant,” or being overly focused on building a high-net-worth clientele. While affluent boomers and seniors should be pursued, Kay said the first priority of new producers should be in building a steady business of smaller deals that “pay the bills.”

The fourth mistake leads to a fifth: failure to find and sell to a “starving market”–middle market clients, especially boomers who are raising children, who have an immediate need for the agent’s products and services.

To differentiate their practices, he said, agents have to establish a “magnetic client attraction system” that will satisfy boomer clients’ near-term financial objectives. Enter college funding.

“By building a specialized practice focused on helping parents to fund their children’s college education, producers can more easily generate a relationship with prospects that opens the doors to long-term planning opportunities,” Kay said. “This is how you can correct these mistakes and add an extra $5,000 to $25,000 per month to your existing business with no cold-calling.”

Creating a practice focused on college funding, he added, involves 4 phases, including the development of: (1) an urgency-based marketing system; (2) a fee-based selling system; (3) a “door-opener” to insurance and financial services; and (4) an “exponential growth system,” or a way to generate consistent referrals and renewals of existing business.

The target audience of an urgency-based marketing system comprises the 5 million-plus boomer parents who annually have to determine how to fund a college-bound child’s higher education, including the cost of tuition, fees, books, room and board and other living expenses.

“[Boomers parents] are desperate for help and they’re willing to pay a fair fee for advice on paying for these costs,” said Kay. “They’re also extremely easy to target because there are specific lists of college-bound students and their parents.”

The fees charged for such advice can be substantial. Several producers who joined Kay on the teleconference–Tim Austin of the National Association of College Funding Advisors, Larry Misenko of the LKM Group and Chris Mediate of Mediate Financial Services–cited fees ranging from $695 to $2,000-plus, though Kay noted that most advisors charge between $695 and $995.

Advisors who are otherwise barred from charging fees for other insurance and financial advisory services may still do so in the area of college funding by establishing–with their broker-dealer’s approval–an independent firm dedicated to this area of their practice.

Advisory services offered via one-on-one meetings and college funding workshops, said Kay, can act as a “door-opener” to other insurance and financial services. By solving the client’s educational funding objectives first, he noted, the producer becomes a trusted advisor, thus easing the client’s receptivity to long-term planning solutions that otherwise might be more difficult to sell.

They’ll also be more willing to provide referrals.

“It’s extremely easy to get these people to invite friends who might also benefit from a college funding workshop, a free report on college funding or other referral strategies,” said Kay. “Also, given that most parents have from 2 to 3 children, potentially you’ll have them as clients for 12 years or more.

“[A college funding practice] has built-in urgency, referrability and renewability,” he added. “These 3 things make the selling and marketing process hundreds of times easier. Without them, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.”