Forget Target Market: You Need an Ideal Client

Forget Target Market: You NEED an Ideal Client

Fundamentals come to mind when I think of what’s missing in most small business marketing. It’s too easy to get caught up in what’s new and sexy.

But it’s the basics that create strong, lasting small businesses. And the one that I see overlooked most often is having clearly defined target market criteria.

Target Market: A Four Letter Word for Small Businesses?

Yes, Kitty, our Grammatical Activist and editor supreme, I know target market has more than four letters. But for most small businesses, it is a dirty word. Mostly because it sounds technical and like something the big guys need to worry about, not me

Let’s make this easy. You don’t need a target market.

Because you’re right, when looking at the usual approach, it’s not relevant to small businesses. The process is too complicated to fit our busy schedules and provides a result we don’t need.

You NEED ideal clients.

Tomato or “tomahto,” what’s the difference between a target market and ideal client? It’s subtle but epic. Target market focuses on a group, a set of demographics, numbers of a page. Ideal client focuses on people.

The ability to create relationships with customers is a small businesses’ number one advantage. Our businesses are run by real people serving real people. And we’re able to do it far better than any large company.

Embracing the idea of going small to  be big can create a lot of fear and doubt. I’m often asked:

How Small is Too Small?

“But I’ll never get enough business” is the number one objection I hear when I mention selecting and focusing on an ideal client. It’s OK to be skeptical and a little fearful. The ideal client concept feels very counter intuitive. When thinking of success, we think more is always better—more money, more freedom, and of course more clients and customers.

Focusing on an ideal client doesn’t mean you say no to everyone else, though; it means you’re giving yourself permission to say no to some people. By being deliberate and focused, you’ll make more money, have more freedom and with fewer customers and less work.

Gyms are the perfect example.

Recently, I’ve been working on being more active and paying a lot of attention to fitness options available near me. While my choices for regular gyms are slim, I have my pick of Crossfit gyms, ballet bars, or martial arts studios. There seems to be at least one in every strip mall.

Why are these specialty gyms flourishing while regular gyms are struggling? It’s simple: they specialize.

Regular gyms are expensive. They require a lot of space, equipment and staff. You need a lot of loyal members just to keep the lights on. Specialty gyms are much smaller, require less equipment and often offer limited hours, requiring a much smaller payroll.

Regular gyms are struggling because they are trying to attract weight lifters, basketball players, swimmers, yogis, and cyclists. They’re trying to offer something for everyone, which basically amounts to a lot of expense without much payoff. Smaller specialty gyms are growing because they are offering a targeted product to their sports’ enthusiasts—their ideal client.

Are You Sure There’s Enough?

Let’s focus on an ideal client from another point of view—yours. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about you. I’m joking (mostly), but there are some major wins for you in embracing specialization.

When you focus on the people that you most want to work with, you tailor your offering to their needs. It positions you as their hero and THE go-to expert. You’ve shown that you not only understand their needs and challenges, but have created a solution just for them. It benefits you because:

  • You don’t have to compete. Sure, there are lots of other people who do what you do. But because they don’t have your expert status, they aren’t viewed at the same level as your business. You’re no longer fighting to be noticed because you’re standing apart.
  • You don’t have to spend time learning related skills or teaching your team something they’ll do only once or twice. When you tailor your products or services to meet the needs of your ideal clients and everything else falls away. Focus on what you do well and forget the rest.
  • You don’t have to spend 10 hours a day networking or thousands on advertising, trying to find enough new customers to keep the doors open. Knowing your customer inside and out simplifies everything in your business—especially marketing. Everything thing you do to attract new customers is done with with your ideal client criteria in mind. If they don’t read the magazine, visit the website or attend the event, you don’t need to either.
  • You don’t have to work with people you don’t like. Yes, there will always be challenging clients and customers, but you can have fewer of them. Part of choosing an ideal client means picking the people who you work really well with because they share your values, personality traits or simply get the benefit of what you do. You get to do the work you love for raving fans.

To get there, you do have to know your ideal client so well that they’re like family. You must know where they work, what they do in their spare time, what they value, what causes pain, and how you can help.

Finding Your Ideal Client

So how do you find that seemingly hard to find ideal client? It’s easier than you think. Start by creating an ideal client profile. Download our Ideal Client Workbook to start the process using the steps below. Or use the link above to walk through the process in my ideal client webinar.

Full disclosure, we can’t take all the credit for developing this process. We borrowed from the folks at Hatchbuck. One of the reasons we became an Agency Partner with Hatchbuck is because they made the ideal client profile process easy.

Step 1: Look at your business.

  • Who do you absolutely love working with?
  • What type of work would you like to have more of?
  • Who purchases from you most often?
  • What type of customer makes the biggest purchases?
  • Who are the biggest drain on your resources?
  • What type of client terminates service or returns products most often?

Using your answers, look for common themes. When thinking about the customers you love working with or want more of, how would you describe them? These characteristics are your ideal client criteria and the basis for creating Buyer Profiles.

Step 2: Craft an identity.

Buyer profiles turns ideal client criteria into real people. When preparing your profiles, give them a backstory. Ask questions like:

  • What is their name?
  • What is their age or stage in life?
  • Where do they live? What is their home life like?
  • Where do they work? What type of work do they do?
  • What is their level of education?
  • How does a typical day look?

Step 3: Discover challenges.

Think about the difficulties your profile faces and use insights about the daily wins, struggles and processes to uncover what motivates them.

  • What problems does your persona have?
  • Where do their obstacles intersect with your expertise?
  • What specific challenges can you help them overcome?

Step 4: Validate with market research.

Now that you have a rough draft of your buyer profile, revise with real-life data.

  • Meet with and interview clients or customers in person.
  • Send out an email survey. SurveyMonkey is easy to use and reasonably priced. The free version is all you need in most cases.
  • Make use of market research tools — refer to the list below.

SizeUp LBI

The Town of Gilbert offers SizeUp for Local Business Intelligence. Size Up is a free online tool designed to help businesses grow by making smarter decisions through data analysis. It provides highly specific data on revenues, salaries, health insurance costs, suppliers, competitor information, and much more.


InfoUSA helps businesses find prospective customers. It’s a tool to create lists (drawn from their database), using criteria like age, income, home value, ethnicity and geography. This is a paid service and the cost is determined by the size of your list.

You can get access to it for free through many public libraries. All you need is an active library card, making InfoUSA an awesome resource for small businesses.

Think with Google Planning Tool

Google’s free Think with Google Planning tool is the ultimate resource for digital target marketing. It allows you to see what people are searching for on Google, check out what is being watched on YouTube, what devices consumers are using to search for the products and services they want, and how they are using those devices, as well as many other cool market research options.

You Can’t Eat Just One …

Or can you? For many small businesses, a single ideal client or buyer profile is all you need. But depending on your vision, goals and nature of your business, you may have as many as 2 or 3.

When making this decision, you may need to do some market research. You need to know if there are enough of your ideal clients to meet your goals. If not, you add another profile or two to broaden your prospect pool.

Ready to Take Your Business to the Next Level, but Don’t Know Where to Start?

Start with our free website audit to find out where your site has it right and where it needs some work. The audit is a good jumping off point for leveling up your digital marketing.

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