By now, you have probably heard about the idea of defining your ideal client. It's a common exercise for identifying your customer base, for better marketing.
Understanding who you are targeting, what are their needs and why they would buy your products or services is important.
It gives you an image of what sort of visuals, colours and language to use in your branding. It helps you to build your service packages and make your products better. It gives you an idea on how to price your offerings. It works as a big part of your marketing.
Earlier the entrepreneurial folks and marketers talked mainly about target groups or customer profiles or similar businessy terms. In the era of visualisation and self employment and craft businesses, those terms have been often replaced by talking about ideal clients. It sounds more like vision board sort of stuff, and it often goes a bit deeper than target group or customer profile building.
How to create an ideal client profile and avatar
Basically, defining your ideal client is a creative project, where you build a customer of your dreams. You determine their age, gender, education, job and business, marital status, how many children they have, pets, location, hobbies, and other such demographics. You also define their interests, values, pain points, wishes, frustrations, dreams, beliefs and struggles. On top of that, you can decide where they shop and go for vacations, the brands they value, and additional lifestyle definitions.
To make your ideal client really live, you use a stock photo or something you found online to give them a face and maybe even name them. Create an ideal client avatar.
It's a fun exercise. I don't doubt that. And it can be very useful, if you are not sure who you are targeting and what your business is about. I do recommend you to do this exercise, where you imagine your perfect customer.
Then I urge you to realise it is a bit... Unicorny.
Real people are not ideal
I'm sorry to say this, but that avatar isn't real. Unless you are basing your ideal client profile to a real person or multiple real people, you are just creating a pure fantasy.
There's nothing wrong in fantasising. I do fantasise about the perfect people to work with. But I also know they don't really exist.
People aren't perfect. They are not ideal. They do things you don't want them to do. They say things that make you cringe (at least). They surprise you pleasantly and unpleasantly. Their life and work situations change, and they may not be who you think they are.
In case you are basing your ideal client to a real person or multiple real people, you can still create a unicorn. We all have ideas of other people. You think you know this other person, because you have known them for a while. You know what they are about, what they want, what they like. Or do you really? What if you are trying to force them into a certain image, something you want them to be?
Real people have all kinds of weird habits, strange beliefs, confusing ideas, secret dreams and needs that make your hair stand up. You can only start guessing what goes on with a person, no matter how well you believe you know them.
Most of all, you cannot create fantasy people out of thin air. Including ideal clients.
Then what to do with the ideal client avatar?
So why should you do that ideal client exercise? What's the point of doing it, if that person doesn't even exist?
I do recommend you to fantasise out your ideal client. For yourself. Don't hang religiously onto it and expect your clients to be that way. Especially do not use it as a checklist, and discard all the potential clients who don't quite fit the profile.
Use your ideal client to understand yourself and your business.
It gives you an insight on why you do what you do, what your values are, what you expect from other people, and beyond. It tells you why you didn't get along with that client, and why you do get along with this one. It tells you what you want from your business and offerings, and what you wish your brand to convey. Hey, it can help you to create your business manifesto.
After this the question is: If you use your ideal client mainly for understanding yourself and your business, how can you understand the people you want to be your clients?
From ideal client to customer research
I assume you'll still want to know who you are targeting. That's probably why you are here, reading this article. Understanding how to reach people who would like to work with you and vice versa. Finding those who would really enjoy your products, or figuring out what sort of products you should create in the first place.
What you need is customer research.
Is there a person like that out there? Is there someone you know or know of, who you would love to buy your products or services? Perhaps you already have been working with that person, or they already bought your products.
Take that person, just one person at the time, and study them. Look at what sort of stuff they share online, what sort of blog posts they write, what kinds of smaller or bigger glimpses to their beliefs and politics you can find. Talk to them, or ask if you could interview them. Ask them to fill a questionnaire or write a free form text about a subject.
Ask tons of questions, Don't judge, and most of all, don't force your wishes and wants and needs on them. Take them as they are, and not as you want them to be. Try not to guess as much as possible, and base your findings only in reality.
Create a profile of this person. Use their real photo, real name and real demographic details to build their "avatar". Add in all the facts you have found out about them. Include in quotes, things they have actually said or written.
You can add in your views and opinions about them, but only if you mark them as such.
This is a big project, so you might not want to do it with too many people at once. This is why you must remember that this one profile isn't exhaustive and doesn't give the full image of all the people you will work with or who will buy your products.
It does, however, give you an idea of what sort of people you are targeting. With your ideal client profile, you can have an idea of what sort of people to target. Just have an open mind and be ready to at least talk with people who don't readily fit this image.
Let people surprise you.