What is the one thing I would have shared with myself as a start-up business owner 36 years ago that I know today and didn’t then? This is the question posed for this month’s Word Carnival. It’s a good question isn’t it? Think about it for a while. What would you share with your younger start-up self?
It’s possible that as an exercise there is something our zestful start-up selves have to teach their older selves. The inherent belief that it will be exactly as we believe it will be. A passionate super-self confidence and a sense of driving purpose in spite of ourselves.
The first thought I had was to implore her to think through an exit strategy. But then I heard the response. “What? I’ve just started in business and you want me to think about when I exit it? That’s, like, 40 years away and I’ll be ancient by then”. Not really sweetheart, but as a resonating message right now, I get that won’t wash.
Numbers? You’re a right brain designer and numbers and you just don’t fit – I hear you, but you’ll regret it. So what might you not only listen to but be interested in?
To know know know [them], is to love love love [them] and I do, I do I do!
The Teddy Bears and latterly Amy Winehouse [Ed's note. Strange bedfellows!]
Your ideal client
Embracing the process by which you get to know your ideal client is just so much more than demographics; their age, gender and location. Yes, who are they but what do they most need, what are their problems, how would they solve them without you, how could you better solve them, how can you better serve them?
Fostering that attitude earlier would have been a great lesson for older me. Not that my business wasn’t successful, but riding on the coat tails of an era in which business owners needed my expertise more than I needed their business made the next era a difficult one to navigate.
The one in which business owners where equipped by rapidly advancing technology to do what I had done, even if they did it inexpertly, changed the value of what I offered. I now needed to prove my worth in a different way.
This was never going to be an overnight lesson and the going was tough. I remember the first time someone said, you should love your clients, you know. It was a revelation. Really?
Up until then, I’d been asked to do work, I’d done the work and been paid. When my client’s wanted more work, they came back, I didn’t seek them out.
Now we did business in a culture where to know your client, care for and nurture them had become the very essence of a successful business.
The trouble is it’s not innate. You can say ‘know your clients’, but what does that really mean? When I talk to most business owners, they have a generic picture of their clients. They can rarely describe their perfect client. They are vague about the value that a particular client represents in their business.
Even when they are clearer than that, they cannot readily articulate their problems past three or four obvious examples. Often those are not really well defined. They haven’t thought through the implications of the client not having those problems solved.
Purpose and your best client
Not many business owners can correlate their purpose, if they have one, to their ideal client. There is still a catch all mentality, that throws the net wide hoping to drag in one or two good ones along with the rest. If you start digging into it with them, it all gets a bit messy. Beyond a broad brush approach, corporates, or women, or people with health issues, or business owners, there’s almost a reticence to define it further. As if by doing so, they risk losing business opportunity.
Quite the opposite is the truth. The closer you get to knowing your perfect client, the more clearly you tailor your solution to be the exact fit to their needs. They win and so do you.
And yes, by knowing them in detail, caring enough about their problems to tailor an exact solution that sits within your purpose for being in business, you come to love these folk a lot. After all, who doesn’t feel a sense of fulfilment when you deliver the exact solution for someone’s needs and they’re thrilled with you because of it.
Here is what I would have helped my younger self with to help her learn how to come closer to those people she’d love to do business with and they’d love her for it.
1. You have a unique offer for your ideal client
You’ll become an accumulation of knowledge, expertise and experience, and in that growth will be your unique offer. Be aware of it. Document it, add to it, refine it. This accumulation is immensely valuable.
2. Who have you worked with who has bought you joy, both professionally and personally
Was there an instant synergy? You got them and they got you. They lit up when you presented your solution and were genuinely excited. You couldn’t help but go the extra mile for them, in fact, it was a pleasure. You looked forward to seeing them. You were truly delighted for them when their business benefitted by what you had done and they were equally delighted with you for it. A bit of mutual back slapping even. They never queried the value and you didn’t feel like you had to justify it.
3. What are the commonalities?
On review what did these people share in common? What type of businesses? How successful? What turnover bracket? Were they perfectionists or delegators? What were their personal attributes? Were they ambitious? Interested in making a difference? How did they treat you and your staff? Were they no nonsense people, laid back, or ambivalent? What mattered to them – timeliness, quality, money or all three? Were they humorous? Were they interested in you too? Were they interested in collaborating or did they just want you to get on with it once you were briefed? Were they vulnerable? Chart the commonalities. A pattern will emerge.
4. What mistakes have they commonly made?
I’m sure you’ll meet people professionally who tell you something that makes you bite your tongue because you know they’ve made the wrong decision and it’s going to cost them. People in business at all levels make costly mistakes, often. Sometimes with the best intent. Sometimes because they’re cutting corners, looking for the cheapest option or they’re just plain ignorant when they ought not to be. Research those mistakes, understand them and the reasons they are made and see where the intersection is between your purpose, offer and the mistake.
5. What are their problems in business?
What are the implications of not having those problems solved? Often even the most savvy operator won’t be aware that they have a problem when it will be clear to you that they do. Understanding the mistake they are about to make will help you provide them with an insight into why they do indeed have a problem. Don’t assume their problems though. If they tell you they aren’t getting enough business, it might be that what they’re really telling you is that they hate what they do. Different problem, different solution.
6. How can you better serve them?
If you could identify this ideal client what more could you do to serve them? Can you visualise another solution that you don’t yet have in your armoury that might further benefit them? Keep learning, looking, exploring.
You’ll be in awe one day at what you can do for your perfect client that you’re not able to do right now. Get a PhD in your perfect customer and you’ll equip yourself with so much more to serve them and yourself better, as you transit your business life. I wish you the greatest success!
And on your behalf :), I offer the first five people who respond, the opportunity to spend an hour with me exploring their perfect client. Just use the contact form and I will get back to you.
This is a contribution to another awesome Word Carnival: If you could go back in time to your first day in business and give newbie-entrepreneur-you ONE piece of advice, what would it be? Be sure to catch up on the collected wisdom.