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What is the Value of an Ideal Client Profile in 2019?

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

How to identify your ideal client and use this profile to more effectively sell your products and services.

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According to common logic, effective marketing starts with the creation of a type of avatar known as an “ideal client profile” or description. I actually agree with this in theory… but I have a problem with how the logic is applied in typical entrepreneurial situations.

We’re told that the key to our success is getting intimately familiar with our ideal client so we can get inside her head and predict her buying behavior. We’re told that if we know what our ideal client likes to do in his down time, we’ll be able to better engage him in the marketplace.

That’s true… to a point. But there’s a big missing element. Context.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the age, gender, and hair color of your ideal client. You might enjoy thinking about what she reads on the weekend or the shoes he likes to wear on the basketball court. You can imagine how many children she has and where she would like to retire someday.

It’s fun to play make-believe… and you can entertain yourself in this way as much as you want. I’m not going to criticize you one bit, as long as you realize that a game like this is just that- a game. It’s not focused, strategic work on your business… no matter what someone else tells you.

You see, the hobbies and coffee-drinking habits of your ideal client are only relevant if you’re in the business of selling coffee or supporting personal hobbies.

Your business- the products and services you provide and the way you provide them- provide the context for an effective ideal client profile. The only details that matter are the ones within the context of how you provide value in the marketplace.

Details like…

  • buying behavior & motivation
  • felt need & perceived problem
  • urgency & budget
  • perceived value & desired outcome

Understanding these factors gives you the insight you need to market effectively. Not the flavor of a favorite latte, the number of hours spent each week in the gym, or a preference for a brand of cell phone or laptop.

What is the value of an ideal client profile?

An ideal client profile narrows the field of potential clients for your products and services. This might feel counterintuitive, but it’s actually incredibly valuable. When you understand who you wish to attract, it’s much easier to create impactful marketing messaging that actually converts.

Your ideal client profile draws a circle around your work… defining who is inside your group of potential customers and who is on the outside looking in. This is an incredibly good thing, although it can initially feel limiting. The inconvenient truth is that unless we are selling something tied to a basic human need (like fresh water in the desert), our products and services are not meant for everyone.

  • Web design services are best for those who want to be present online. My elderly father doesn’t need a website.
  • Dog grooming services are best for those who have a breed of dog that thrives when its coat and nails are regularly maintained. Those services are wasted on my short haired chihuahua. My neighbor’s cat would be appalled.
  • My friends who live in apartments or condos are not likely to feel the same need for lawn maintenance services as my friends with a large, manicured yard.

Context matters. When you have a well-defined ideal client profile, you know who to talk to about your products and services. You understand which factors are important to your clients and which can be completely disregarded or ignored. You can get inside the client’s head… and speak a language that resonates and sparks action.

How does this profile impact my red rope policy?

Once you draw your circle, you can clearly see who is welcome inside it and who is not. The decisions become easier to make and your internal systems become easier to refine.

Let me illustrate…

Have you ever had a potential client ask you for a service you don’t provide? Maybe you’re on a project inquiry call (or initial free consultation) and things are going well. You feel a connection and you’re starting to get excited about the project. If you’re like me, you’re thinking about the proposal you plan to create and gather information about budget, timeline, and project goals.

But then it happens… the client asks you for a related service you don’t typically provide. Now things get a bit complicated, don’t they?

This is a type of subtle danger. In my copywriting work with clients, I’m not worried about requests for design assistance. I know I’m not a designer. I’m aware I have absolutely NO EYE for design… and I believe strongly that anyone who hires me for design-related tasks is nuts. It’s easy for me to decline this type of request. No need for a red rope.

Things change, though, when a client asks for closely related services I don’t usually provide. Things like product descriptions or social media advertising text. Services like these are inside the realm of possibility for me, but outside my zone of genius. While I can provide them, I probably shouldn’t, because the outcome will likely be mediocre, at best.

See the danger? We tack on an additional set of services to a project and suddenly we’ve added an element of risk. Can we deliver on our promises? Will we create excellence here? Or will mediocrity damage our client’s perception of our expertise and the value of our work?

Your ideal client profile helps you clarify how you work best.

This profile makes it easy to set boundaries (your red rope) that protect your best work to help you provide maximum value in the marketplace.

What factors are important to consider?

Defining your ideal client is a little like preparing to buy a home. (I went through this process recently, so I’m familiar with it.) Before searching listings or talking to realtors, it’s a good idea to make a list of features you find important. Sure, the list likely starts with number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but those are actually just constraints… not indications of preference. As you add features like a family room, garage, and fireplace, your ideal home profile becomes more defined.

Ideal client profiles are like this, as well. Begin with the constraints that help narrow the circle of potential customers. Things like demographics, industry, location, and so on. Got it? Okay… time to create a more prioritized profile that includes considerations such as:

  • Pace – Do you prefer working with clients who take a measured, thoughtful approach to the work you do together? Or do you find a rapid working process more interesting?
  • Urgency – Some clients seem to thrive on a crisis or propose projects with tight deadlines. Others plan ahead and work accordingly. Which do you prefer?
  • Communication Style – Your ideal client might share openly and honestly or might hold back and wait for questions. Your client might be super responsive and expect rapid responses in return, or take a more measured approach.
  • Collaboration Style – How do you do your best work? I prefer multiple collaboration points with clients and ample feedback. Others would rather engage with the client early, then step away to work independently in advance of a big reveal.
  • Business Stage – My work is ideally suited for clients who have worked in their business or profession for a time and have experienced many situations and challenges. The start-up phase isn’t where I do my best work. What about you?
  • Motivating Factors – Consider your mission; the reason why you do what you do. Your ideal client will be motivated similarly and will share at least a part of the passion that drive you.

Challenge yourself to think on a deep level about the clients you’ve served in the past. Which of these factors stand out to you? Which are must have factors? Which are optional?

How can I use my ideal client profile to sell effectively?

Once you’ve prepared an ideal client profile that includes factors like the ones I shared above, you have amazing insight into the minds of the people who best fit your work. Alignment with this profile is actually quite predictive of a positive outcome for both you and the client. So, use it as an avatar for your marketing material.

Yes, I just recommended creating an avatar… but not one of those silly, cartoonish characterizations we talked about at the beginning of this article.

Using your ideal client profile as a starting point, think about situations where you might find this type of person. Think about the challenges someone like this might face. Consider how a person with these motivating factors would interact online or engage in the market.

I know, this feels like an imaginary game. Stick with me here, and I’ll illustrate…

My ideal client is an established creative business owner. She might be a web designer or an artist. He might be an analyst with a creative approach to problem solving and a desire to impact his audience with new ideas. The industry and demographics are just the beginning.

My ideal client works with some urgency, but not in crisis mode. She’s an action-taker who is goal-driven and excited by new opportunity. He communicates openly and enjoys collaboration, but expects me to use my expertise to guide our efforts.

Here are some scenarios where I can find my ideal client…

  • He’s considering a shift in his business and knows his marketing must shift as well, but he isn’t clear on what is required or how to take the next step.
  • She’s challenged by the same issues time after time in her work with clients. She wonders if the problem is her business model or the type of clients she attracts.
  • He’s ready to take his successful location-based business online, and he’s excited about offering virtual services to clients who are thousands of miles from his area.
  • She’s feeling bored and frustrated in her business, and can’t seem to bust through her current revenue plateau. She’s looking for insight to clarify her next steps.

With the clarity of my ideal client profile to back me up, I’m able to confidently market to these scenarios. I can speak to these situations with clear, compelling language and create offers that resonate with these individuals. Marketing is easier, my message is more consistent, and the leads I generate are better aligned with the work I do best.

Align your marketing with how you work best.

A thoughtful, carefully crafted ideal client profile allows you to align your marketing with the client factors that allow you to do your best work. As you attract and serve more clients who are perfectly aligned to the value you provide, your reputation and your revenue will grow!

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