How to know your ideal client. It’s so much more than demographics.

Advice-on-the-ideal-clientWhat 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.


  1. says

    First off, Sandy, I love the photo you created for this post — Perfect!! :)

    These words really jumped off the page:
    ” 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.” It’s as if what they’re NOT saying is far more important than what they are saying. And after forty-one years of working with the public, I can also tell you “body language” speaks volumes! Sometimes people don’t have to say a word and yet you know precisely what they’re thinking. Of course, when you’re communicating and getting acquainted “virtually”, you don’t have the advantage of eye to eye contact or watching for someone’s body language signs or signals … unless you’re conducting a video chat. Even then, people are normally seated or you’re just seeing a head shot of the other person.

    My biggest takeaway here is the more details you can gather about your target market, the better for you and the better for the people you serve. :)

    The message in your post is truly valuable. Actually, it’s PRICELESS to newbie entrepreneurs. Thank you for a wonderful read!
    Melanie Kissell recently posted…What Do a House Painter, an Author, and a Musician Have In Common?My Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Melanie, thank you so much for your insightful comments. Truly when you have spent many decades in business, you do learn stuff that you can’t help but wish your younger self had known. So if anything I or the rest of the Carnie folk can say to inspire, advise, put a hook in the hearts of newbie folk, then that is a job truly well done. You know the cliche, if I had a dollar for the times I have thought, I just wish I had known that before . . . I would be a richer person!
      SandyMc recently posted…How to know your ideal client. It’s so much more than demographics.My Profile

  2. says

    Sandy, I love little-you! How cute!

    I also love how you started off, by actually stepping into the mind of your younger self. It’s funny, but all this “I would have told myself…” stuff is only as good as the person willing to listen. We have this inherent invulnerability and know-it-all-ism when we’re younger, don’t we? It takes a lot of living to realize we know a lot less 20 years later than we thought we did then.

    So maybe it’s a good thing we can’t go back. We might not even get along with ourselves :)

    The point that stuck out most to me was when you asked: who is the client who brings you the most joy? It’s easy to get caught up in just doing the work and even doing it well, but the idea of bringing joy into business and relationships is so important. I look back at clients who never had any money and didn’t do much for my bottom line (call it a loss, really) but they were fun and I looked forward to working with them, more than just “the project”. What a great way to think about your ideal client!
    Carol Lynn recently posted…Want To Succeed In Business? Do Something.My Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Hi Carol Lynn, thank you – it was such an interesting exercise stepping back into the mind of that very young girl. But it also sharpened for me the most valuable thing I could have taught her and how much I might have saved her too. Not just in dollars, but in angst and even despair on occasions. If we don’t know who to say no to, we most often create difficulty for ourselves. I have the joy of working with a client right now who is relishing our coaching. It is truly such fun and I am so excited by the progress and the moments of clarity. Really, one would only ever want to work this way.

  3. says

    This is where it all flows from, isn’t it, Sandy? And yet, it seems like such a difficult thing to figure out — even for those of us who do this sort of thing for a living. But oh, what a difference it makes once you’ve hunkered down and done the work (not that it’s ever done — just getting the bulk of it under our belts is HUGE). Thanks for the reminder! It’s definitely a message we all need to hear on a regular basis.
    Tea Silvestre recently posted…What I Wish I’d Known Then…My Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Thanks Tea. Yes! I might just have failed to mention how much hard work it is. But I guess if is part of a quest to lead a good business life doing right by both you and your clients, then it is not so much work as practise. We just get better at it over time. You are so right though, it is where it all flows from.

  4. says

    Sandy, what I love about this post is the simple yet profound sentence — work with those who bring you joy! What a wonderful way to see and find your ideal client. I agree with you we need to solve their problems and I would also add that we need to know their wants and desires too. Go beyond problem solving to fulfilling dreams. Page 2 of 5 Easy Pages really focuses on this one. Thanks for your insights.
    Clare Price recently posted…Finding Your WHYMy Profile

    • SandyMc says

      That is so true Clare, re understanding their wants and desires. Anticipating them as well as their problems and the mistakes they might make, spending time thinking through the implications for them should they not achieve their desires or make a mistake is part of your full and honest solution to best serve them.

  5. says

    Hi Sandy. Excellent article! I had never thought about my younger self in business and definitely hadn’t thought about how that ‘younger’ attitude and incite could possible help me as a new business owner. I’m going to go have a talk with that person right now! Thanks for sharing this invaluable information!

    • SandyMc says

      Hi Linda, lovely to have you visit. So hope your talk with that younger you will provide you some valuable insights. Let me know how it goes.

      • says

        My ‘insight’ was changed to ‘incite!’ I’ve been recharged and on the fast track once again with my business…Java Raiz! Of course, I think having a few coffee raisins helped during the incite adventure! Ha!

        • SandyMc says

          Well if there has been a bit of ‘inciting’ going on too, well and good. The coffee raisins sound excellent!

    • SandyMc says

      Mine too Sharon! Thank you for your kind words. I reckon the tweaking keeps on keeping on as long as we are in business and learning about life at large. Some of my greatest learnings have come as a result of being part of the Carnival!

  6. says

    Sandy I’ve heard that argument so many times I can’t count that narrowing your focus works against you. I even used to say it when I first started my business. I didn’t believe everyone with a pulse wanted to hire me, but I thought every small business owner should. Words to live by, “The closer you get to knowing your perfect client, the more clearly you tailor your solution to be the exact fit to their needs. ”
    Nicole Fende recently posted…Timeless Marketing Tips from a Slow Learner To Boost Your Bottom LineMy Profile

  7. says

    Man do I love, love, love this post. Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a total nazi about target market and the importance of intimately knowing and understanding them (oh and caring about them). You post so eloquently lays it out.

    Just adore this and am adding it to my ‘client reference materials’, that I send to new clients to read and learn from
    Laura Petrolino recently posted…How a great bra can save your businessMy Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Laura that is awesome. I am humbled by the idea that you might include this in your client reference materials, but I am also in awe of such a simple yet brilliant idea. Genius my friend. When I think of the incredible material I have been privileged to read, I just love the idea of collating it into a reference file specifically for my clients, beyond Pinterest and Pearltrees. Oh my there is so much to do. Thank you for inspiring another great activity!

  8. SandyMc says

    Good point, can you shoot the breeze with your client or can’t you? If I reflect on those I love to work with, without question we have lots and lots to talk about. Simple matrix. Thanks Ashley.

  9. says

    Oh my god… #4.

    “I’m going with XYZ platform because it’s cheaper/fits our needs for now/we can grow out of it” – especially when it comes to website design or graphic design. What on earth would ever possess someone to do that?

    That’s sort of like, “Someday we’ll outgrow my mobster cousin Vinnie doing our taxes, but for now – we can pay him in cannolis!”

    No. Spend the money. Trust your experts. Vet your experts appropriately by educating yourself. It sounds hard because it IS. If you can’t educate yourself (for whatever reason) find someone who you can trust and CAN educate themselves if not you as the business owner.

    Great post Sandy!
    Nick Armstrong recently posted…Leave the Past in the Past: A Lesson from Star TrekMy Profile

    • SandyMc says

      Thanks Nick, I thought that one might resonate with you as we are both so much on the same page here. Finally, it really has to be about being a mutual relationship of respect and doing good by each other. Every now and again have to re-watch that video of the robot graphic designer and his client to release a bit of frustration on that front :)
      SandyMc recently posted…How to know your ideal client. It’s so much more than demographics.My Profile


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