RIA Organic Growth Series, Part 2: How Adam Cmejla Went Narrow to Go Big

RIA Organic Growth Series, Part 2

Advisors hate turning a potential client away, so a lot of them cringe at the idea of niche marketing. They think, “Why alienate 99% of the market just to chase after some tiny demographic? But I spoke to one business owner who sees things differently. He says going narrow can open a huge blue ocean of organic growth opportunity. And he’s got the numbers to prove it. 

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to Adam Cmejla, founder of Integrated Planning & Wealth Management and host of the “20/20 Money” podcast. Adam has built an amazingly successful business on top of an incredibly narrow target segment. His firm serves only owners of optometry practices with more than $850,000 in annual revenue—and no one else. That may seem like an awfully small demographic to build a business on if you want to grow. But Adam already tried it the other way. He spent 10 years serving pretty much anybody who came along without getting the growth he wanted. It’s only when he rebooted as a niche business 5 years ago that organic growth really took off. 

You don’t have to copy Adam’s strategy to take away some incredibly powerful lessons about organic growth. That’s why I’m so excited to share his story with you. 

Write everything down. 

Adam believes writing and journaling are the most impactful things he has ever done for himself. He says his turnaround began when he wrote down a 16-page manifesto of everything he had done wrong up until that point. He remembers journaling that he was essentially a nomad, wandering through a desert.  

His first step in kick-starting his business was becoming more intentional. He defined a focused clientele who shared a common set of problems that he could understand, solve, and charge appropriately for. It was the only way he could show up as the best version of himself and deliver the value clients were looking for. 

Writing can clarify everything—the story of how you got here, your ideal target market, your strategy, and your benchmark for success. You can’t see your happy ending until you write your story first. 

Make your target as narrow as possible. 

Adam used to say yes to every potential client—becoming a “master of the ones” with a 24-year-old schoolteacher here, a 75-year-old retired engineer there. That strategy got him past his first couple of years. But a decade into his career, he still hadn’t crested $250K in revenue. He lacked clarity on the value he was delivering, and couldn’t define who he wanted to do his best work for.   

Adam knew he needed more focus. Still, he hesitated to fully commit to a niche. His first iteration was the broader category of “white coats”—optometrists, dentists, pharmacists, and physicians—because it still felt uncomfortable to say no.  

But Adam was launching a podcast that forced him to face some hard choices. If he released an episode for pharmacists on restricted stock plans at CVS, optometrist and physician listeners would all scratch their heads in confusion. If he discussed physician contracts, every doctor would rush into the comments to proclaim he got it wrong. He couldn’t be a credible expert in four different medical professions. So he chose one. 

If there’s one thing Adam really wants to impress on other advisors, it’s this: the narrower you take your market, the easier everything in your business becomes. Because now you are speaking to somebody specific. You are targeting a message to your ideal client avatar, and solving their specific problem. If you get comfortable alienating 99 .993 % of the general population, you’ll realize the remaining .007 % will come to find you. Amazing results can happen. He says most advisors are stuck in the scarcity mindset: saying yes to a client is good, saying no is bad. Adam flipped that script and saw his “blue ocean” of opportunity open up. 

Just do the math. 

At first, Adam worried about targeting such a tiny fraction of the market. He wasn’t sure he could capture enough optometry practice owners to be worth his time. Then he did the math. His goal back then was only 70 households. There are 30,000 optometrists in the United States, including 11,000 practice owners. Assuming he built an infrastructure to serve clients nationally, did he believe he could win 70 clients out of those 11,000? Put in those terms, the answer was obviously yes. That’s why he loves math. It’s unemotional, and it doesn’t lie. 

Don’t worry about clients abandoning you.

Advisors considering Adam’s path might look at their books and say, “I’ve got 200 clients, and only 3% are optometrists with $850K in revenue. If I publicly state I’m taking my firm in that direction, everyone else will leave.”

That isn’t necessarily true. As Adam points out, your clients want you to succeed and continue delivering the value you promised them. If they know you’ll still be there for them, they’re fine with your growth. In fact, Adam only lost a single client when he made the switch.

It’s important to remember a targeted strategy is forward-looking. It sets the direction for your future marketing efforts. It doesn’t stop you from serving the clients you already have. Adam describes his service model as a wedding cake. All his clients receive the same baseline financial planning services. The optometry segment receives extra customization and support on top of that.

Avoid creating imaginary obstacles.

Advisors affiliated with large organizations might listen to Adam and think, “That’s nice, but I’m not free to narrow down my target any way I want. I have to fit into the ethos of my organization.”

Is it true, though? Adam feels if you’re passionate about your business, it’s worth ruffling a few feathers to grow it. Plus, you may not even encounter the pushback you expect. After all, a business exists to turn a profit. If you present a plan, a pro forma, and supporting evidence like success stories from other advisors, why would your leadership turn it down? You might help them incubate a new model inside the organization.

The same is true of potential acquirers. Adam used to worry his strategy would be a limiting factor on the enterprise value of his firm. But he’s since been approached by multiple multi-billion-dollar RIAs asking about acquisition. They don’t care that he’s a niche firm. They’re interested in buying future cash flow and leveraging his niche success across the organization.

Do one thing extremely well.

In all your content and engagement strategies, what works best is to show up as your best self for your ideal target and ignore everyone else.

Adam started his podcast back in 2018 (his single best decision pertaining to organic growth, according to him.). He knew others already had huge audiences. But his goal was to produce qualified leads to feed his funnel, not just random downloads. He kept his ideal client profile in mind, and made his content relevant, specific, and credible to that person alone, and to no one else. The podcast originally launched with a different title and much less focus. Once he rebranded to “20/20 Money,” it took five months to get the first qualified prospect call from his target demographic. From there, his downloads—and his business—took off.

Looking back, Adam sees that the podcast transformed his whole business. To develop better content, he had to learn more about his niche, which made him a better advisor, which helped him create better content. And the cycle goes on.

See big opportunities in small spaces.

Adam used to worry that a niche practice would shrink his world. Instead, it opened up (in his words), “a blue ocean of opportunities,” including:

  • New relationships with clients and spheres of influence
  • Speaking engagements and writing opportunities
  • Inquiries from potential acquirers
  • The potential to leverage his expertise in other ways, possibly building an optometry advisor network
  • Opportunities to work with wealth management platforms who want to replicate his success

And it’s all because Adam made a name for himself as the best of what he does, and stopped trying to be all things to all people in a mediocre way.

Give these ideas a chance—even if your strategy is completely different.

Adam was so generous and open about his journey from being a nomad and a “master of the ones” to becoming a passionate advocate for doing one thing well. Not every advisor needs to specialize in a profession or a demographic. But most advisors could benefit from defining their target more clearly, more narrowly, and in writing, accompanied by actual metrics that will help them refine their strategy over time.

If you’re excited by some of Adam’s ideas but don’t necessarily want to duplicate his entire strategy, shoot me an email to talk about how you can apply his insights to your own business. I think his point of view can benefit all advisors.

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