How to Identify Your Ideal Client – The Guide for Service-Based Businesses

Apr 2, 2024 | positioning, marketing

Whether you’re new to business or have been around for years, these seven questions will help you identify your ideal client so that you can understand how to best serve them.

The question I see time and time again is, “How do I get more ________?” Insert clients, readers, followers, engagement, likes, comments, purchases… anything that has to do with your business growth.

I could spew off a strategy-this and new-tool-that, but at the root of every marketing tip and trick is this: you have to speak to the right people. Trying to show up across every brand touch point, to every individual isn’t going to get you anywhere. You’re bound to get lost in the noise.

And because I’ve heard this way too many times, let’s just go ahead and address it right here, right now.

Zeroing in on your target audience and creating content specifically for them will NOT make you lose clients. In fact, and in my personal experience, deciding on who I want to work with and who I am a good fit for has only increased my revenue.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into all things ideal client and get you connecting with the right people so that you can bring more ease into showing up for your business.

What is an ideal client?

Your ideal client is the person that is a great fit for what you have to offer.

They value you and your brand. They get great results because they align with what you have to share. They identify with your brand’s message, values and purpose. They will become (if they haven’t already) your brand ambassadors and will eagerly advocate on your behalf. They are the person that you would clone over and over again, because working with them was so unbelievably joyful.

In a nutshell, it’s the perfect-for-you person that is aligned with the services that you’re selling.

What is an ideal client profile?

Your ideal client profile outlines the characteristics of that perfect-for-you person. It can cover everything from demographic information to what they’re currently struggling with to what they’re Googling in relation to your offering.

It’s the all-encompassing document that you can reference when you’re marketing, to ensure you’re consistently addressing the right audience and their specific needs.

Why ‘everyone’ isn’t an ideal client

It’s easy to roll your eyes when you hear the words ‘ideal client’ and think, “Sounds good, but I don’t have the luxury of being choosy on who I want to work with. I work with everyone.”

But here’s what I want to make sure is crystal clear – choosing an ideal client doesn’t mean you can only work with that type of person.

The purpose of honing in on an ideal client is so that your marketing will be targeted to a specific set of needs, thus leading to stronger relationships and more connection.

Said another way, ideal client clarity allows you to serve a specific type of person to the best of your ability.

For example, let’s say you’re a personal trainer and you decide that you want to work with everyone. The thought of niching down doesn’t make sense, so you decide it’s anyone who will pay.

Now, think about a potential client going to your website and checking you out on social media. Your website header statement says something generic like ‘Be Unstoppable With Personal Training’ and your social content is a variety of workouts for all different levels as well as nutritional plans that cover everything from vegetarian to keto. What type of experience would they have? How would they understand whether or not you’re a good fit for their specific needs? Would it even be clear what you can help them do?

Given the ambiguity, how quickly do you think you’ll connect with people willing to invest in your services?

Compare that to a personal trainer who is crystal clear on who they’re serving. Their website header statement says, “Helping postpartum mommas lose the baby weight and gain energy with custom personal training services.” Their social media content is a mixture of exercises and food ideas that are specific to new moms and the restrictions/requirements they any have after giving birth.

A little different experience for the visitor, right?

Here’s where some work comes in terms of perspective and mindset. Because yes, if a 50 year-old man goes to the trainer’s website, they will most likely be turned off and leave. And it can be a little unnerving to be that polarizing.

But what I hope you focus on is the other scenario; the one where a new mom lands on the personal trainer’s website and feels absolutely seen and heard, knowing within 0.5 seconds that they’re in the right place.

And THAT is the point of identifying your ideal client – so you clearly communicate who you are for and equally important, who you are not for.

I understand the hesitation. In fact, nearly every client I work with tells me that they want to work with Person A and then also Person B and they can’t forget about Person C, either.

But the problem with being for ‘everyone’ is that you end up muddying your marketing efforts. Your potential clients have to work harder to understand what you do and who you do it for. which oftentimes leads to confusion and ultimately, walking away entirely.

7 Questions to help you define your ideal client.

Have I sold you on the importance of having an ideal client yet? If you’re giving me all the praise hands, it’s time to dive into these seven questions that will help you identify that perfect-for-you ideal client.

01. What do you do?

This may seem like an obvious one to some business owners, but when I first started out, my business offerings were all over the place. It’s hard to nail down your target audience when you aren’t clear on what you’re actually providing, amiright? So, I pictured myself meeting someone new and what my response would be to the question, “What do you do?” If I couldn’t answer that with clarity, I reworked my response until I could say something without stuttering and stumbling.

This “elevator pitch” process also led me to simplifying my offering as much as possible and zeroing in on my specialty. My first answer to this question was something like, “I provide digital marketing, social media, brand design, and web design services for small business owners online and local small businesses.”

Fast-forward to now and I can clearly articulate what I do: “I’m a brand and web designer for service-based business owners.” Do I still provide digital marketing services? You betcha. But it’s not what I want to focus on and it’s not what I need to say in order to attract my ideal client.

02. What does their life look like before they start looking for you?

Now that you have a clear understanding of the services you provide and your area of expertise, it’s time to start thinking about your ideal client. What does their life and business look like right now, prior to doing business with you? What does a day-in-the-life look like?

The goal is to understand how they’re currently operating in their business and life so that you can eventually speak directly to their pain points and know what transformation you’re able to provide.

Remember, for this exercise, all you’re doing is thinking about what their current day-to-day looks like. Check out my example below to get the creative juices flowing! 🙂

Social media manager example: My ideal client wakes up early and gets in a great workout. After eating breakfast and having her first cup of coffee, she sits down, ready to start posting on her social media channels. Since she doesn’t have any ideas for that day, she starts scrolling through Facebook and before she knows it, an hour has passed. She decides to hop into her email and make sure she’s up-to-date and then goes on Pinterest to see if there’s any inspiration there. Two hours later and she goes back to her email. She follows up with a client and notices a product order has come through—yay! She realizes it’s time for lunch and promises to post to Instagram and Facebook after eating….

By understanding the typical day, you then also understand the specific struggles they face, as it relates to your service, leading perfectly to the next question.

03. What are their external problems?

Once you understand how they operate within their day-to-day, it’s a lot easier to understand their struggles and pain points.

Just like in life, there are two sides to every problem, and when it comes to your ideal audience, those sides are internal and external.

Let’s look at your ideal client’s external problems first. These are problems that others can see and are outwardly facing. For example, continuing on with the social media manager: their ideal client’s potential external problem could be an inconsistent Instagram feed that visually doesn’t look cohesive.

[[if you want to learn more about identifying internal and external problems, I highly recommend picking up Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller and/or listening to his podcast.]]

Another way to think about this is to work your way down the list of 3 senses: What are they hearing? What are they seeing? What are they saying?

04. What are their internal problems?

Now, on the flip side of external problems are internal ones. These are thoughts, emotions, and feelings related to a problem or pain point.

Going back to our social media manager’s ideal client: They’re probably embarrassed by their visual inconsistencies on their Instagram feed. Or maybe they’re worried about what others think of them because they don’t post consistently and their images aren’t high quality.

Donald Miller, the author I mentioned above, says it best: Companies tend to sell solutions to external problems, but customers buy solutions to internal problems.

Being able to identify and clearly articulate your ideal client’s internal problems is what will help you build a solid relationship with your audience and trust within your community. Yes, external problems are important to understand and solve because it’s what the world can see. But, solving internal problems is what builds connection and loyalty with your ideal client.

05. What are they FIRST looking for when they find you?

Okay, you’ve identified what they’re struggling with, but how about understanding what they’re searching for? More often than not, what your ideal client is looking for and what they need are two different things. As an expert in your space, you know the lingo, the verbiage, and correct terminology. However, your ideal client is not the expert, which means they probably aren’t using the same language as you.

For example, my ideal client is usually looking for a logo when they first come across my business. I know that they need more than just a logo to create a strong visual brand, but that’s not something that even enters their thought process.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because it’s not their job to know or understand—that’s on me, as the business owner.

06. Where (and how) does your ideal client spend their time?

I don’t know about you, but wasting time is not something I enjoy doing. One of the biggest time sucks for a digital business owner? Social media. And even more so if you’re spending time on a social channel that your ideal client doesn’t even like.

Since you’re now well versed in your client’s problems, it’s time to start actually talking to them. And that means showing up where they are. If you love Instagram but your ideal client doesn’t spend their time scrollin’ the ‘Gram, it’s time to focus your efforts elsewhere.

If you aren’t sure where to start, think about where your past clients came from. Clearly, that method was working, so why not focus your efforts there?

For all the brand new business owners, just start. Pick a channel and stick to it for six months. If it’s not doing anything for your business, switch it up. It’s okay to test things out… In fact, it’s HIGHLY encouraged! When you start thinking of your business as one big experiment, it takes the pressure off picking the wrong “thing” and puts you in the curiosity mindset. Which makes this whole experience a lot more enjoyable!

As a last reminder, it’s not the client’s responsibility to find you. When you do your job well, you will be where they spend their time and show up when they search for what they think they need.

07. What is their version of success as it relates to their main problem?

By understanding those internal and external problems, you can then look at the flip side – what do they want? What are they working towards? What are they hoping to receive as a solution to those internal and external problems?

Get clear on their version of success and remember to use their language. Because your knowledge of your industry/space/category is more than your ideal client, the words and phrases you use might not be the same as what they would say.

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Use your analytics to gain ideal client clarity

Fair warning, a lot of data mining ahead. But don’t worry, I promise it’ll be worth the effort and I’ll make it as pain-free as possible!

Google Analytics’ Audience Insights

This is the audience-insight Mecca. Pretty much anything you’d like to know about your audience can be found in the ‘Audience’ tab in your analytics. From the device they use to the way they reached your site to how long they’re staying – it’s all there. If you’re already getting overwhelmed, check out this video from Google, specifically for beginners. And if you’d like a more in-depth tutorial, check out Google Analytics Academy.

Popular Blog Post Content

Take a deep dive into your blog posts. Which ones are receiving the most shares and comments? What is the topic? What are the images like? What style of writing are you using? All these characteristics will help you further identify who your audience is and what they like.

Social Media Analytics

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter all provide a great overview of basic audience demographic information like age, gender and location. They also provide information on when your audience is most active on the platform, which is great for finding your optimal posting times. I would also pull which posts are receiving the most likes, comments, shares, DMs, etc. This will help you determine stylistically what your audience is drawn to as well as the writing style that resonates with them – is it question form, more motivational, simple statements, etc.?

Pinterest Analytics

By looking at the Pinterest analytics, you’ll be able to see what your audience is interested in. Check out your top 25 performing pins – what are the trends? This will help guide you in future content creation and also let you know what topics your audience finds valuable.

Newsletter Analytics

Take a look at the last six months of email newsletters you’ve sent out. Which subject lines had the highest open rates? Which blog posts spurred the most click-throughs? Your email subscribers are your VIPs, regardless of if they’ve made a purchase. They’ve given you access to the holy grail – their inbox. If you can narrow down what makes them happy, you can use that information to to attract more folks like them.

Client History

It seems like a no-brainer, but think about the previous clients you’ve had a chance to work with. Write down each clients’ top five characteristics; that could be company size, industry, personality type, business type or age (person or company). Find the common ground among those people and add it to your ideal client profile.

Creating the ideal client profile

By digging into the questions and data, you are well on your way to painting a clear picture of that perfect-for-you person.

To solidify the profile, compile all your answers into a single document that you can refer back to whenever you are creating content for your business. You’ll want to include information like:

  • Internal challenges – the intangible stories that play out internally
  • External challenges – the tangible struggles that can be seen and more clearly addressed
  • Values – the ideas that guide their decisions and what they find most important in life
  • Fears and desires – the before and after state they’re living within
  • Version of success – summarizes what they’re truly wanting, as it relates to the core challenges they’re facing and the work that your business provides

As you continue to show up for and work with clients, revisit this profile and audit it for accuracy. The longer you are in business and the more consistent you do the work, the more clarity you will have on who you want to serve. Think of this profile as a fluid document that, just like your overall brand, grows right alongside your business.

What if you have more than one ideal client?

If after going through the exercises, you may still find that you have more than one distinct audience.

This is common for those who offer done-for-you services as well as education for other service providers in their industry.

The goal is always to start with the minimum viable audience, so if you can focus your efforts on one persona, great. If not, create two distinct ideal client profiles so you are clear on the similarities and differences of each audience. Your focus is to be crystal clear in your marketing who you’re talking to and when. If you’re not clear, there is a high likelihood that the recipient doesn’t understand either.

And for more ideas on marketing to two different personas, read this blog post.

How do you change or update your ideal client profile?

A common misconception I hear often is that whoever you decide to serve right now is who you’re going to be serving forever.

Spoiler alert: you’re the business owner, which means you get to steer the ship.

That being said, changing your mind isn’t something that should be done every month.

So, how do you strategically update your ideal client persona?

I recommend three to six months of going all-in on that persona. And if after that, you realize something isn’t working, evaluate and pivot.

Note: Consistency is the name of the game here. Consistently show up for that perfect-for-you ideal client, consistently serve them to your best ability, consistently work with that type of person, consistently share content that’s aligned with what they need.

When you go all-in, it’s a hell of a lot easier to identify specifically what isn’t working for you and change to the next right fit with purpose.

Happy branding!

All my best,

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