I like the saying by Joel Hawes: "Aim at the sun, and you may not reach it; but your arrow will fly far higher than if aimed at an object on a level with yourself."
That adage applies when defining your ideal client. When you consider all the hours you will work on behalf of a client, it's important that the relationship be a comfortable one and that your efforts are in sync versus working at cross purposes. When you respect a client, everything becomes easier. You return their calls and emails faster. You work harder to ensure you give them your best work. Your business grows faster because of your positive energy and the quality referrals they may send you. By identifying your ideal client before you start looking for new business opportunities, you will save a lot of energy and time, and your efforts will be more successful.
Regardless of whether your ideal client is an independent business owner or part of a large organization, the time you spend in choosing the rights clients will put you further ahead in the long run than settling for work from those who don't "fit" you business model or professional value system.
So, what constitutes an ideal client? Here are some questions to ask yourself.
Does your marketing plan reflect your business goals?
Clients should never dictate your business goals or model. They should reflect it. A clear marketing plan can give you a laser focus on delivering specific services to the clients who need them most and are most likely to purchase them.
Who is your typical client today?
Do these clients work well for you? Or do you want to move away from them? If your current client base does not reflect your business goals or expertise, consider some 1:1 test marketing. While this can be time consuming, asking prospects about their business, professional goals, beliefs, and preferences when dealing with businesses like yours, you will get insight into who you should be connecting with so you can network and prospect more efficiently to meet your goals.
Do you understand your target market?
You need to understand the industry-specific goals of your ideal client's business segment. Consider the demographics and psychographics that drive beliefs, lifestyle choices, and income levels. You should find many similarities between your idea client and your own business.
Do you understand the client's business model and industry?
There is always a learning curve to climb when you take on a new client but it is best if it is not a steep learning curve. For example, if you have experience working with lawyers or work apparel manufacturers, your chances of finding your ideal client in those industries increases.
Is your prospect a leader in their industry?
Your ideal clients will stand out among their competitors. When you are able to identify and understand these clients based on your experience and research, you will be better able to attract and retain them.
Do you share the same business and relationship-based values?
Do you trust your client's motivations and way of doing business while respecting their skill level? Would you refer them to a relative or close friend? Shared values form the foundation of long and mutually beneficial relationships. Trust your gut instincts while watching for inconsistencies in their behaviour and actions. More than three decades of experience has shown me that if they seem too good to be true, things likely won't work out as you intended.
Can the client see you as a collaborative, transparent business partner versus a purveyor of goods and services?
Even in transaction-based business relationships, when the client views you as a business partner, you have a better chance of success when working with them. For example, the practice of law is detail-oriented but relies on relationships based on trust to ensure fair and timely outcomes. Your ideal law client will probably be one who is motivated by ensuring a fair outcome for his or her clients than one whose intention is to drag out a case to bill the maximum number of hours on each file.
Will they commit to paying on time throughout your working relationship?
If they balk at written agreements detailing terms of payment and other important terms of your professional engagement, they may not be as ideal as you first thought. The ideal client will have the funds to pay you in a timely fashion and respect your request to do so.
Are they receptive to your carefully considered ideas?
Your clients pay you to generate and deploy strategies that will benefit their business. Your ideal client will value your input and will constructively question your ideas versus dismissing them or agreeing with them and then shelving them.
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