If I asked you what kind of toppings you like on your pizza, you would probably be able to answer pretty easily.
For me, chicken, BBQ sauce, and banana peppers, or some variation of that. My second choice is the traditional “deluxe” pizza. Good stuff.
This question is easy to answer because I’ve given a lot of thought to what I like on my pizza.
But what if I ask you to tell me who your business serves?
Who is that ideal client, the client that NEEDS the specific services that you provide?
I mean, if I could wave a magic wand, and your dream client would appear just like that, exactly as described, what would you say?
Would you give any of these typical responses?:
“Anyone that needs graphic design work.”
“Clients that want high quality work at a reasonable price.”
“Small to medium sized businesses who want a website.”
That’s hardly descriptive - almost any business under the sun can fit the above descriptions! Who doesn’t want high quality at a reasonable price? What percentage of businesses aren’t small-to-medium sized?
This insanely broad targeting is actually making it harder to find clients, and to grow your business!
This is what we call weak positioning. By attempting to serve a very general client-base you end up:
- Making it extremely difficult to differentiate yourself from everyone else.
- Taking on any clients, rather than focusing narrowly on the ones that will help your business grow and allow you to do the work that you enjoy.
- Losing valuable time to sales that are unlikely to close.
Yet when I ask someone who they are targeting their services to, the above are very real and typical answers (the last one was actually mine for years!)
If these are the answers that you've been giving, talk about a waste of that magic wand… you may as well just use it to make that perfect pizza appear.
To find and sell to your ideal client, you have to be able to go DEEP and really articulate who NEEDS the services that you are offering.
We’re talking about the clients that are the perfect fit. They will pay the rates that you deserve, for the work that you are excited to do, and will be the foundation that allows you to grow your business.
Defining the Perfect Client
We can get much more specific with our definition of the ideal client. Remember, you are building your services around serving this particular client, so when they come along, you should be a perfect fit.
You can define this perfect client over all sorts of dimensions (examples of perfect client definitions are below). But there are several essential criteria:
1) The underlying problem that the client is trying to solve matches what you specialize in solving.
This isn’t as obvious as it sounds. You need to dig deep to understand the underlying problem that you want to focus on solving. For example, “needing a website” isn’t a problem, it’s a solution for something deeper.
Here are just some of the common reasons that prospects get in touch asking about a new website. I have italicized the ones that my web agency focuses on solving:
- Need to turn website visitors into leads.
- Marketing staff needs to be able to edit website content.
- Disappointed with existing search rankings
- Need some sort of online presence quickly.
- Need to sell their product online.
- Need a “brochure website”
- Need customers to be able to view inventory.
Notice how these are not at all the same target market. Yes, all of the above may need a website, but the type of website, the budget available, the functionality expectations, and the types of language the client will use to talk about their problem, are all radically different.
Clearly define the problem that YOUR SPECIFIC services and approach are best suited to solve.
2) Who is the client?
If you have an idea of what your clients are trying to solve, you are on the right track. But it’s still too broad! Continuing the website example, let’s say that they need to “sell their product online”. Are we talking about a start-up business selling on product? A Fortune 500 selling software? Office supply delivery? Each of these represent a dramatically different type of project.
To narrow it down further, it’s time to identify the common ground between your ideal clients. This may include:
- Industry (eg. you have unique experience in healthcare industry)
- Project budget (eg. projects $20,000-$75,000 in size)
- Revenue (eg. companies selling over $1,000,000 in sales)
- Growth stage (eg. start-ups)
- What is being sold (eg. enterprise software)
- Positioning in the market (eg. high-end option, budget option, etc).
You aren't required to use all these criteria, and there may be others that are important to your business that aren’t mentioned here. Pick the criteria that makes sense.
My web agency works best with clients whose brands are positioned as a premium/high quality option in their market (because it fits our story telling approach). Project size and minimum revenue are also important, but we are less concerned with specific industry or growth stage.
3) How do the client’s expectations fit in with yours?
This dimension gets missed a lot, and leads to many bad client-provider relationships. The expectations of the client need to match with what you deliver and how you deliver it. Your ideal client has expectations that you can meet and exceed.
For example if you deliver very fast turnaround times, you may specifically be looking for clients that are willing to pay a premium for this capability. Or if you don't, then you may specifically be looking for clients who have longer timelines in mind.
Considerations that may be important to you:
- Expected quality.
- Speed of turnaround time.
- Type of communication (email vs phone vs face-to-face).
- Working locally (or even at client’s location) vs remotely.
- Length of relationship: one-off project vs expecting on-going work on retainer basis.
Again, each of these becomes a competitive advantage if you can meet it, or it may be something that you specifically avoid in an ideal client.
Putting it all together: sample ideal client profiles
To bring it all home, here are a few sample client profiles for different services. But remember that each is just one possible example; you want to target the clients who you are best fit to service!
As you read these, also consider all the types of clients that the businesses below would NOT take on thanks to their positioning:
Software consultancy: Targeting enterprise clients who require custom ERP integration and on-going support. Minimum project size of $75,000 and $5,000/month support.
[Notice the focus on larger projects and the requirement for on-going support. This company recognizes the challenge of selling to and onboarding a new customer, and chooses to focus exclusively on larger accounts that mean long-term business.]
Freelance Writer: Sales letter copywriting for high-end information products sold online. Minimum $5,000 engagement.
[This writer has built a niche and experience surrounding selling information products online and is positioning themselves as an expert in this niche. This writer may still have the skills write pretty good copy for an online retail store or other businesses, but they have chosen to focus on what they excel at and have a proven track record in.]
Transcriber: Targeting podcast authors with one or two hosts who are looking for a quick transcription turn-around, reasonable cost, plan on having each episode transcribed, and are OK with the transcription being 95+% accurate.
[This business is a highly productized offering being offered at a very affordable price. It’s very important for all of their customers to have the same clearly understood needs, so as to be able to scale to high volume.]
Marketing Agency: Designing and implementing contest promotions for North American consumer brands sold primarily through retail stores, with annual sales of at least $10,000,000.
[This marketing agency has carved out a very specific niche of running promotions for consumer products primarily for big brands. This hyperfocus has allowed them to become experts in their space, and they likely have even been able to invest in developing unique contest technologies.]
Website developer: Targeting existing online stores selling consumer products with at least $1,000,000 in sales, who have a lot to gain financially from a sales increase, and are open to rebuilding their store to increase sales.
[Notice that this web developer is targeting clients that clearly have a lot of potential financial gain from utilizing these services. Why wouldn’t this developer target new stores or stores with sales lower than $1,000,000?]
Now then, aren't these much clearer than “any business that needs graphic design work?
Now it’s your turn.
When you achieve this level of clarity about who your ideal clients are, you are equipped to:
- Know what prospective clients to take on.
- Where to find prospective clients.
- How to position your services so that they resonate with your prospects.
Now you try it, who does your business target? Feel free to post your answer in the comments.
PS. it’s very possible to build a highly focused and profitable business that has just one type of ideal client defined, but it is also acceptable to have several types of ideal clients that you target.