The economic downturn has brought to light the growing debt load shouldered by many Americans. Norman Perlmutter wants to change that grim reality. After years working on the other side, assisting creditors as the owner of a collection agency and financial dispute mediator, Norm now helps individuals and businesses solve their credit, debt and tax related problems without resorting to bankruptcy. Although virtually unknown just a few years ago, Norm has established himself as a debt settlement expert due to publishing his book, How To Settle your Debts, a do-it-yourself manual for individuals, families, and businesses who find themselves sinking further and further into crippling debt. Norm is now frequently interviewed on talk radio and has appeared on more than 100 programs including ABC, CNN and the TV show Money Matters Today on the subject of “escaping from debt.” He is an outspoken critic of “conniving credit card lenders,” the new bankruptcy law, and is a sought after speaker on subjects concerning Financial Rehabilitation, Debt Collection and IRS Problem Resolution. This interview shows the power of writing a book to catapult your business to a higher level. Norm shares his experiences targeting a new niche while boosting his reputation as an expert through publishing. Can you provide a general overview about yourself and your business? I’ve branded myself as the “Get Out of Debt Coach” for individuals and businesses. My expertise comes from almost 30 years on both sides of the $2.5 trillion consumer debt debacle—first as a debt collection professional, then as a CPA, consumer debt advocate and debt relief consultant. I’m a frequent guest on radio talk shows, and the author of How To Settle Your Debts, now out in an updated second edition. These days I consult, write, and work on my new Web site and blog. What prompted you to target debt counseling as a niche? Debt counseling is just one of my roles as a Financial Rehabilitator and Debt Elimination Strategist. I evaluate and help turn around troubled financial situations for individuals and businesses, painlessly, seamlessly, and cost-effectively. I guess you can say my niche “just happened.” When I had enough of the collection business after 18 years, I decided to write a book to coach people in dealing with debt and credit problems. I thought there was a need for this book and had an insider’s perspective. I figured in a year or two I would get the book out, but it took six years, including self-publishing. What steps did you take to begin your niche marketing strategy? I believed I could use my book as a platform for establishing my expert status and then devote my CPA practice to consulting with people and business. At that time (late 1990s) I was clueless about the Internet and the opportunities it presented. In the last few years, though, I have become an Internet marketing junkie, built a first Web site that didn’t work well, and I am now building a new site with the help of several Internet marketing standouts and my own newly acquired expertise. The basic plan for my site and blog is to convince people that: (1) debt – no matter the circumstances – can almost always be overcome; (2) 99 percent of the methods people use to get out of debt are flawed; and (3) 99 percent of the “debt help opportunists” are scams or ineffective. And then, offer good information and hands-on assistance. How has your niche enabled you to tailor your services to your target market? For the most part, my debt counseling or debt rehab (as I refer to it) niche has been an uncertain, offline business. There is an inherent problem that is a consequence of the nature of the problem itself. Most people struggling with debt can’t afford my services and I feel guilty charging them. So, my business plan had to be altered. I decided to concentrate on: (1) targeting people at higher financial levels whose problems related more to money management than survival; (2) working with businesses on debt, money management, turnaround and financial survival issues; (3) returning to a niche I always loved as a practicing CPA in tax controversy and representing people and businesses before the I.R.S; (4) updating my book with a second edition when it sells out; and (5) creating a web site to offer consultation online for much less – which would allow me to go back to my original plan of offering my assistance to everyone. How has your book helped position you as a recognized expert in debt relief? Before the book, I was invisible. Especially since the new edition hit the bookstores, I am gaining celebrity status. I knew I had a special understanding of helping people deal with debt long before I published my book. But I was stuck in the proverbial “anonymity trap.” My book announced me as an expert to the world, gave me instant credibility, and became a living advertisement about who I am and what I can do. What is the role of your book in attracting new business? My book has created numerous business opportunities, including scores of consultations with individuals and businesses. The book has also led to several partnering opportunities with companies involved in both Internet and offline ventures. Why did you decide to self-publish versus pursue a traditional publisher? I spent a great deal of time trying to hook up with a publisher for my original book: learning the process, preparing a book proposal and a query letter. I contacted several publishers, then I queried several literary agents; a few advised me that my “nobody status” was a major deterrent to obtaining interest from a publisher. So, self-publishing became my only option. I also retain control of my book, very important for creating an online information business. Can you describe the process of conceiving and writing your book? How did you fit it into your overall schedule? Conceiving the book was easy and began long before I actually started writing. I had a unique combination of insights to help millions of people dealing with debt. Writing the book, however, was hard – one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever taken on. I could not devote full time effort to it and had no real writing experience. Finishing the book became an obsession and I drove myself to complete it. Books become successful when authors actively promote them. How did you promote your book pre/post publication? Promoting a book is essential, but can be enormously time-consuming and unproductive if you don’t understand what it takes. I learned that you have to concentrate on opportunities that provide the most potential exposure. My current plan includes obtaining pre- and post- publication reviews, radio interviews on high-traffic programs, and being quoted in and contributing to articles in major print media. When did you first realize that you had become Slightly Famous? My first clue was when a woman contacted me and said she’d found my book in her public library. The next was when a writer from Money Magazine asked for my input for an article she was doing. And, another was when Barnes & Noble ordered my new edition for their stores, which is unusual for a self-published book. Also, just the other day, I received an unsolicited request for an interview from a high-profile media person about “Getting Out Of Debt” for her column in a major publication. And, of course, another was when you requested to interview me for www.GetSlightlyFamous.com. Do you have any advice for those considering a niche marketing strategy? Make sure you’re an expert in what you do before you attempt to sell yourself as one, because if you’re not an expert, you will quickly be found out. Make sure you love it. Don’t set yourself up to spend the majority of your life working in a business you don’t like, even if it makes you a lot of money. Write a book. If you’re an expert in a topic you believe you can use to make money, but you’re an unknown — write a book – it’s not easy, but it works.