Don Snyder embodies the creed that it pays to take a chance on something you’re passionate about. Snyder, a partner at the accounting and business advisory firm Green Hasson Janks, decided to focus a significant portion of his practice in a specific industry when it was anything but clear that he would succeed. In persevering, Snyder grew relationships, built his firm’s business, and now, as the practice leader for food and beverage, he is well known for his expertise in both the accounting and food industries.
Snyder sat down with Sharon Berman, principal at Berbay Marketing & PR, for a discussion about his decision to focus on a niche.
Sharon Berman: Having a reputation as an expert in a specialized area differentiates you and the firm when talking with potential clients. How has that worked for you?
Don Snyder: When we do proposals, I can’t tell you the number of times I get questions by clients or prospects saying, “Okay, how does your firm differ from others? Aren’t you all the same? Anybody could do my tax return. Anybody could do an audit. What differentiates your firm from others?” To get on somebody’s short list, you’ve got to be able to niche and specialize. Then others start to associate you with an industry and recommend you. I think that’s extremely important when you’re looking to differentiate yourself from others.
SB: You started concentrating on the food industry eight years ago as a way of expanding beyond your firm’s existing portfolio of real estate, non-profits and environmental services. Why did you choose food?
DS: I saw that the industry was exploding in California. There was no shortage of food companies. It’s a tremendously growing field and I just liked the area and thought it was different. I liked dealing with the food industry clients we already had. Food habits are always changing. People are always looking for the next best thing, whether it’s to cater to the Hispanic demographic, which is approaching 50 percent of the population in California, or the influx of Asian food, or if it’s dealing with health-and-wellness type foods. Or grab-and-go, which is growing now. You always have to be on the cutting edge of new stuff in the food industry.
SB: How did you start?
DS: I arranged to meet with a local attorney who had already established himself in the food industry. I wanted to see how he was branding himself and how effectively he did it. Then I joined some industry associations and attended a couple of conferences. A CPA had never showed up at these gatherings before, and no one was really interested in talking to me. I knew that I had to get my name out on a mass scale and so I developed the ‘Food Digest,’ which was a quarterly newsletter.
SB: That sounds smart. How did it go?
DS: It was an interesting project because I had just acquired a database. I thought that a database meant that it included e-mails, but databases often don’t include e-mails. So I had to figure out how to send out a hard copy mailing. I had to design the newsletter using a standard template. It was the first newsletter that our firm had ever done. Looking back at it now, I cringe, but I just sent it out. Slowly but surely, the more conferences I attended, the more I got my name out, and the more familiar I became to those in this market.
SB: Then you created some networking events that were a little more sophisticated.
DS: I would bring groups of people together for dinner, a few at a time: mid-level service providers and, separately, C-level executives. I would invite a couple of people and they would bring a guest and you would learn a lot about them and the food industry in a very intimate setting. There are always hot topics being discussed, such as what’s the hot button in the food industry this year? And there was always an introduction or several introductions at the end of every meal. The participants perceived value in these dinners from the topics that were presented, and occasionally they were able to generate business with each other. One key is to never let them go over two hours.
SB: A lot of professionals are wary of specializing in a niche because they don’t want to be known only for that industry. They worry that they won’t get business in other areas. What has been your experience?
DS: I don’t put all my eggs in one basket. I definitely get referrals outside of food. In marketing meetings and in networking, I say that I concentrate on food, but the firm does other things as well, and we get those referrals, too.
SB: You’ve built your brand in the food industry. What are you doing to move the business forward at this point?
DS: After a while, you reach a plateau. Now what we’re doing is focusing on our prospects. It’s not that I’ve lost sight of branding, but now I am targeting a little more narrowly. We know our list of prospects, so we have to secure X number of prospects on our Top 20 list. That’s who we concentrate on.
SB: It sounds like you are happy with your decision to specialize in the food industry eight years ago.
DS: You’re always second-guessing what you’re going to do with your career and whether you made the right choices. This was an area that I really had a passion for, and I wanted this to be part of what we call the firm’s vision. It became natural for me to pursue that area. You can’t pick something that you don’t want to do or have no interest in. You should find an industry that you are truly passionate about.