The Ideal Customer, or How To Stay Sane, Focused And On Budget

Did anybody ever ask you, who your target customer is, and your first thought was, "What now? I don't care who my customers are, I can do x, y, z for anybody."? Let's think about who that mythical "target customer" is and if they matter all that much.
10 min read

Each one of us is someone's target customer. And it's a tough gig we didn't sign up for, especially in cut-throat industries where the offer outweighs the demand. As target customers, we are hounded through funnels of ads, social media, landing pages, and the whole marketing and advertising works. Which is fine: that's how business works. At least, that's how it's always been. The main difference is that now we have the wonders of technology presenting us the opportunities that were unthinkable even 10 years ago. And this machine is getting faster, louder, and more intrusive. Both as a business owner and a target customer, you have to keep up because what is the alternative?

As much as we'd like to believe that we don't need all that noise, that the right people will find us (or we will find what we need without it being shoved in our face ten times a day), we are not in a Hallmark feelgood rom-com. 

As a business owner, you understand that simply existing is not enough. And it's not enough just to figure out your whys, whats and hows. It's great that you have all these amazing things and services to offer; that you are clear about what kind of business you are, what you want to achieve, why you care and why the others should, too. You understand that if no one knows you exist, how will they find you? And as someone's customer yourself, how are you going to find something you don't know exists or that that's the thing you've been missing your whole life? 

So, what do you do? 

You reach out to people. Now, how you decide to do that and what will work in your particular case, that's for marketing experts to comment on (which we are clearly not). Instead, let's zoom in on who these 'people' are, and on whether it matters that much who you reach out to.

Anyone is nobody

Let's start with the easy one. Of course, it matters who you focus your efforts, time, and resources on. Even if you're selling toilet paper, not everyone is your potential customer. Because not everybody needs it (bidet is a thing); because not everybody needs or wants your toilet paper. On top of that, not everybody can afford it. Or it's too cheap ergo of poor quality. We could continue talking about toilet paper for hours but we already see that the potential customer pool is getting smaller and smaller by the sentence. 

So, when we think 'anyone' is our potential customer, we throw the widest net out there, hoping to catch somebody, anybody. That means that 

  • all our resources (time, money, manpower) will be spread wide but thinner than Luke Skywalker's patience. The return of the investment on the marketing/advertising efforts will be minimal if existent at all.
  • we lose focus and ignite confusion because we're trying to reach as many people as possible and address all of them at the same time. In one Google ad. On one landing page. In one blog article. Mission impossible, no matter how genius we are in copywriting, strategising or making things pop. 

So, when you think that 'anyone' is your potential customer because anyone can theoretically benefit from your offering, imagine yourself as an unwilling witness and first-responder to a horrible accident in a crowded space. Someone is in pain and needs help ASAP, you're trying to do what you can and call out to the crowd, Somebody, call an ambulance! What happens? 99% probability of nothing. Because nobody thought you were addressing them, and that somebody else will call the ambulance. Result: no one does. 

The same is with your business: if you're trying to reach anyone and everyone, you're reaching out to no one. And wasting a lot of money and time doing while at it.

Consistency and Acting by Design, not Chance

If someone asked you to write a letter, would you sit down and just write something? No. You'll ask to whom, about what and what is the purpose of that letter. Answers to these questions will determine what you will write, in what tone, which words you'll choose, etc. So why not treat how your business communicates and reaches out to the people the same way?

The who is as crucial as the what and the why, and it largely determines the how. And it helps you be consistent, consequential and intentional—because you're always talking to the same 'who', you get to know them even better, you know what exactly you want to say to them, why it matters, and what you want to achieve by saying this to them. And you get better at engaging with them and finding meaningful ways to connect, to build trust the more you do it. And we don't even have to comment here on why trust is important.

When you know the who, you'll tone down on doing random things to reach out to a random 'anybody'. You'll be less confused by the myriad of opportunities and possibilities. You'll know what and where to focus your attention (and where to spend your finite, non-refundable marketing buck as well).

Look Back and Question

You might be struggling with a Schrödinger's budget or with a lack of manpower, but you have an ace up your sleeve which you should put to good use: intimate, in-depth knowledge of your business (no one knows it better than you and your employees) and your current (and former) customers. There's no guesswork here, it's a wealth of actionable information that will help you determine what customers you don't want to cross paths with anymore, thank you very much. Simply ask yourself and other people involved in your business:

  • Who is the majority of our current customers? What are they like?
  • How do they usually find us? (word of mouth? referrals? Google?)
  • Why did they choose to work with us? 
  • What do they think about our company/services/products? Why that?
  • What was our experience of working with them? How did it make us feel? Would we do that again? And if not, then why?
  • What is the best thing about having them as our customer?
  • Is there anything about them that screams RED FLAG? What are those red flags?
  • Would we like to have more of these kinds of customers?

Knowing what you don't want to spend your time (=life) on is as important as figuring out how you do want to spend that finite and non-refundable time. Now, acting on that knowledge and understanding is another matter. There's always going to be that meek yet audible voice that pops into your head when you're in doubt or have to make a choice, and it keeps chipping away at your firm resolutions not to ____, fill in the blank.

You have a process and your potential customer doesn't want to follow it? You know how that will end up, you've been there and done that. Pain and misery for everyone involved. Do you find what they are doing morally or ethically questionable? Will it gnaw away at you for years to come if you work with them? Then why do it?

Some people and businesses are bad news for you (just like you are bad news for them). You feel it in your gut—that sinking nausea of the horrors to come. It's not that they are bad, it's as simple as they are not for you and you are not for them. There are no value judgements involved, it's just a cold, impartial fact. 

What if, after you did an inventory of your customers, you come to the conclusion that, well… None of them really were a good fit. You just stumble from one horror into another to keep the business going and pay the bills that are piling up.

That's a helpful revelation because at least now you know that the problem might be bigger than just the customers. Something doesn't add up, something doesn't work in the way you work or maybe in the way you approach your work or other people. Or yourself. Something doesn't align. So, you'd have to go back and revisit some tough questions, the whys, the hows, the works.

How is that for a motivational boost? You're welcome.

Let's say, you've done that, and here you are, with a better understanding of what you want to do and what you are doing, your purpose, how you want to work and what kind of environment you want to create for your employees. 

Plus, you figured out who is not for you, and now can clearly communicate it to them and not waste their time (because it's not all about you). By saying yes to them, when you know for a fact you should not, you are not helping them but doing them a disservice, too.

And now, you can finally intentionally focus your attention and resources on those who are a good fit and who need and want your help.

The Ideal Client: The Unicorn Conundrum

Business without customers is like Darth Vader without the Death Star, lonely floating in uncaring, freezing open space. Without customers and people to help, there's no point in your business existing and no means to either. So, your goal is to find those people and make it easy for them to find you.

To do that, first, you have to identify who those people (or businesses, but behind businesses, there are also people) are, and only then venture into figuring out how you can reach them, which is a whole other can of worms.

A good place as any to start is to ask yourself, who is that unicorn, your ideal customer? Ideal not as in Mona Lisa endowed with unquenchable consumerist thirst and unwavering purchase power but as in someone who needs and wants your help on the terms you can provide it, and you both be happy both in the process and with the result. It's someone who gets the most out of what you can offer them and who gives you as much in return

Sounds good but not realistic, right? Life doesn't work like that, so why spend time writing this fiction? Because it's not fiction, even though we dubbed that person a unicorn, they do exist somewhere out there, maybe floating together with Darth Vader in the open space for all we know. 

Coming back to Earth though, look at it like this: you are someone's unicorn, too. In your life, whether private or business, there are companies you are crazy about and you can't believe that they exist because that's just too good to be true. Likewise, there is someone out there who will feel the same way about you when they finally discover you. 

Now, one unicorn doesn't make a great customer pool and a viable business model, we hear you. That's the thing—it's not one person. It's also all the people, who share that core something with the unicorn, something they have in common. It can be the same problem, the same or very similar mindset, the goals, the obstacles to those goals, etc. 

And then there are other people, who for whatever reason are not your potential customer but they get and dig what you do, they clearly understand who you are helping, why and how, and they might know that unicorn and they will happily play the matchmaker. Or simply spread the word as it's in our all too human nature to want to help people who touched something in us, who made us care. Even if we personally don't benefit from it. 

So, when you speak to the unicorn, to that ideal customer, you are also speaking to all those people in the orbit of that ideal customer. They will also feel spoken to, they will relate, and they will be a good fit because from the get-go you know and they know that you two are on the same page in the same book and that both of you will benefit from your relationship. 

At least that's the theory. Why not give it a go?

If you google 'ideal customer (client)', you'll get thousands of hits and resources on how to create an ideal customer profile with various degrees of detail and focus. And there is no one-fits-all framework, you have to find the one that works for you. 

Regardless of frameworks and particular steps, regardless of whether you are in B2C or B2B, the things to keep in sharp focus when you start figuring out your ideal customer are:

You are not setting out to write fiction or do an exercise in creativity.

You are working with facts, logic, data, empathy, and a dollop of imagination. You gather the data (the whats, the whys, the hows; your goals, pains, and past experiences, everything we've talked about here and above) and you analyse, empathise, draw conclusions, and make connections. 

An ideal customer is not an abstraction, it's a real person.

Treat your ideal customer as the real, breathing, flawed person that they are. Give them a name, give them a face, and you'll see how straight away your attitude towards them will change. You'll feel more invested, and caring, it will come naturally to brush out what their life is like, what they feel and think, what they need and what they want. If we swapped each instance of 'ideal customer' in this text for 'Jim', how would that feel?

An ideal customer is an abstraction; it's a concept. Abstractions and concepts don't have problems, they don't need what you have to offer. More importantly, how can you relate to, empathise with and care for an abstraction? 

It's an Ouroborous of a process: it will never be finished.

Your ideal customer profile is no commandment set in stone. You can't do it once and then leave it to its own devices. Or try to make everything you do business-wise fit with this profile you've created. 

You change, and your business changes—different goals, different priorities, different markets, services, and products. So do your customers. What fit and made sense before, might not in 5 years. Or even in one. You have to revisit Jim once in a while, just like the other core questions about the essence, direction, and purpose of your business and your own life; calibrate and adjust. 


Whether we call them ideal customers, target customers, fans, soulis (apparently, that's a thing?), it's what behind those words that matters the most and what we sometimes forget—a human being in need, one on one with their confusion, pain, self-doubt, frustration. So, help them find you so that you could do what you do best—make their life at least a bit better, happier, and less complicated.

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