Your Ideal Client ? A Key Concept for Solo and Small Business Marketing

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."--Bill Cosby

Have you ever had clients that were more trouble than they were worth? Maybe they were always late to pay, or didn't do what they said they'd do. Maybe you just had a personality clash, or they expected more than you were able to offer. Whatever the situation, chances are you had an inkling when you first met that client...a tiny voice that you didn't listen to, that was probably overshadowed by the bigger voice that said, "Hey, it's business; I'll take it!"

Drawing The Line

Learn to say no to those clients, before they start draining your energy! The key to being able to do this is to understand Your Ideal Client. Once you know how to recognize who is ideal and who is not, you can practice turning down business from the latter. If you have trouble saying no, you'll need to learn this critical business skill, and what to do to get rid of problem clients you already have; see the resources at the bottom of this article. If you have a coach, ask them to help you complete the Ideal Client exercise, or to role-play those "saying no" conversations.

How to Discover YOUR Ideal Client

There are many ways to approach the Ideal Client/Customer Profile. You can sit down and imagine the best, most wonderful client you could have--whether that is an abstract entity, a celebrity (what writer wouldn't want Oprah as a customer, for example), or a specific demographic profile. If your customers are more likely to be companies, you could look at your current client list, and pick the company that gives you the most business, the most joy, the least heartburn.

The Ideal Client Profile

Whoever you pick, start a profile matrix with two columns: "My Ideal Client Is:" on the left; "My Ideal Client is Not:", on the right. In the column on the left, list all the characteristics of that type of person or company. Use the questions below as prompts to get you thinking about all the different aspects of each client.

Then, either think of the opposite of all those aspects, or pick the "client from hell" and fill in corresponding traits in the right-hand column. Be really honest with this exercise! If you'd rather only have clients who make over $500,000, put that down! Your clients who don't fit your Ideal characteristics, whether you write them down or not, will eventually know it. May as well get that over with early!

Prompts: Consider these aspects of your Ideal Customer or Client:

-- What career or business are they in?

-- What demographics do they fit? (age, sex, race, religion, income, marital status, etc.)

-- What do they think is important in business? In life?

-- What do they like most about you and your business, products and services?

-- What is the nature of their relationship with you? (transactional, long-time customer, acquaintance, friend, refers others to you, etc.)

-- How do they do business with you? (by phone, in person, on the Web; quick transactions, takes time to negotiate; pays early, on-time, at 30 days; etc.)

-- What personality characteristics do they have?

-- What do you get from them (besides payment)?

Now What?

Compare your current client list to the two columns in The Ideal Client Profile. How many have the characteristics of your Ideal Client? If the answer is "not many," you may need to work on firing some of your clients! Check out some resources below on how to do this.

Next, post your Ideal Client Profile somewhere you will see it often. Every time a new potential client comes along, start looking for those Ideal characteristics...and beware the non-ideal! If that little voice starts to tell you something might be wrong, check in with the non-ideal list--and be ready with some ways to turn away non-ideal clients. Offer them other options--refer them to someone else who is a better fit, and make two people happier!

Ideal Clients--For Life

There are many ways to leverage the work you have just done with the Ideal Client Profile. Here are some ideas:

-- Audit your marketing materials. Do your business cards, brochures, ads and website appeal to your Ideal Client? Are you sending the right message, to the right potential clients? Hone your materials, and start seeing better-qualified potential clients walk in the door.

-- Consider your marketing channels. Based on your Ideal Client profile, where would you expect to find these clients? Is that where your marketing efforts are focused? If not, figure out a way to get in front of them!

-- Review your contracts, policies, terms and conditions. Are they set up to be friendly to your Ideal Clients? Do they give you clear avenues for dealing with non-ideal clients? If not, update them, and you might see non-ideal clients take care of themselves.

Start attracting your Ideal Clients today!

Copyright 2004, Terri Zwierzynski - Accel Innovation, Inc.

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Terri Zwierzynski is a coach to small business owners and Solo Entrepreneurs. She is also the CEI (Conductor of Extraordinary Ideas) at Solo-E.com and the author of 136 Ways To Market Your Small Business. Terri is an MBA honors graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill. Terri has been coaching for over 10 years in a variety of settings, including 6 years as a senior-level coach and consultant for a Fortune 500 company. She opened her private coaching practice in 2001. You can reach Terri at http://www.TerriZ.com.

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