When I started my business one of the first things I did was start to dutifully fill out my ideal customer avatar just like I'd been told to do.
I searched google for a picture of what she might look like so I could properly visualize her.
I made up names for her and her family and friends.
I knew what she had for dinner, what kind of computer she preferred (Mac, obviously) and spent too much time deciding what her favorite music, movies and TV shows were.
In my mind I had a perfect picture of her.
And then I crumpled up that piece of paper I'd so painstakingly slaved over and threw it away.
Why? Because I realized that I'd skipped a crucial step and as a result, that piece of paper was worthless.
I'd skipped the step of deciding whether or not this person I'd made up in my mind was someone who even WANTED my services.
I'd created an avatar without ever bothering to figure out whether or not this was a person I wanted to market to.
I'd created a marketing tool before I'd bothered to decide whether or not I even wanted the person that marketing tool was built for to be my customer.
Nothing about that avatar told me whether or not I wanted to work with her.
Or whether she wanted to work with me.
Or - important! - if she could pay me what I expected to be paid.
And that, my friends, is what's all wrong with all the advice you get about starting with a customer avatar.
So what's a girl to do instead?
Throw the avatar away and instead start with the 7 steps below.
1. Who Do You Want To Help?
Step 1 looks a lot like the Ideal Customer exercises you hear about all the time.
Considering I just told you those exercises are worthless you’re probably wondering why I’m not telling you to go through one.
Here’s the deal: they’re worthless when done in a vacuum as the only thing to be considered when thinking about your ideal customer. But they are valuable when used as the first step of a more thorough process.
So go ahead and think through who your ideal client might be.
(Or, let’s be real, just refer back to one of the 50 times you’ve already thought about this. #amirite?)
If you haven’t been through this exercise before, here are some of the things you should sketch out:
- Who is she? How old is she? Who are her family and friends? How does she spend her time?
- What does she like? What does she dislike?
- What does she do in her spare time? Who and what does she listen to, read, respect?
- Where does she spend her time consuming media? Does she spend it online? In print? TV?
- What problem is she struggling with that you want to solve? Why is she struggling with it? Why hasn’t she been able to solve it?
You get the idea: Write down everything you know about your ideal customer. If she’s you 5 years ago (which is super common) or if she’s a real person you know, describe her (or you, as it may be).
If she’s a combination of several people you know, make up a persona for her, name her, and write down everything you know about her.
Now that you have some idea of who she might be, we’ll use steps 2-7 to determine if she really is your perfect customer.
Hint: For most coaches and service-based entrepreneurs, this person is likely an earlier version of yourself who was struggling with the same problem you now want to help other women work through.
2. Why Do You Want To Help Her?
WHY do you want to help this woman? It’s important to understand the why because you’re creating a business that you’ll presumably want to run for several years.
And trust me, if you’re going to go through the heartache and trouble of starting your own business, you want to start one you’ll actually like, and that means working with clients you actually like.
Which means it’s important to take the time *now* to make sure you’re seeing more than dollar signs in your why. I promise you’ll thank me in 5 years.
(Actually probably more like 6 months. That’s how quickly it goes bad if you’re only chasing money).
Hint: Like Step 1, your why is likely a very personal one, especially if you’re going into coaching.
When you go through a personal transformation ourselves, it’s natural to want to share that experience with others who are struggling with the same thing. Don’t be afraid to own that as your why if, in fact, it is.
3. What Do People Already Ask For Your Help With?
Who asks for your help now? And about what? Is there something your friends and family always ask you to help with? What kinds of questions naturally find their way to you?
If people are always asking your opinion about something - whether it be natural skincare routines, home organization or how to lose those last 10 pounds - it means they perceive you as an expert with valuable knowledge to share.
That’s a really (I mean really) good hint as to who you should be helping at a larger scale (and hopefully your answer here has some relation to the problems the woman you met in Step 1 is facing, and to the why you discovered in Step 2.
Hint: Make sure you actually like doing whatever it is you list in this step.
A very smart person once reminded me “Be careful what you’re good at because you might end up doing it forever.” Sage advice I think about every single day.
And I think about it everyday because it’s SO true - we become good at something without really realizing it all of the time, and that’s what we become known for. This business is your baby, your creation. Make sure you pick something that you’re good at AND that you like doing.
If your answer to this last question was no, don’t despair! Revisit the list of things people naturally ask for your help with - I promise there’s something there that you like.
4. Do You See A Match?
Take a look at your answers for Steps 1-3. Is there a common customer that fits all 3 answers? If your answer is ‘Yes’, Congratulations! The woman you want to help, why you want to help her and how you can help all match.
Move on to step 5 to make sure the flip side of the equation - the financial side - is also a match.
If your answers don’t match up, don’t worry - this is far from the end. Look at what DID match - maybe 2 steps but not the 3rd? Find the commonalities you do see and start looking for ways to build on those to bring everything in line.
Hint: If you’re still having trouble finding a match, try narrowing or expanding 1 or more of your answers and see if you can find one that way.
5. Can She Pay You?
This is both the most important AND most ignored question on this list. Paying attention here will catapault you past 98% of your fellow business owners (I’m not even kidding).
I know you want to help others, but at the end of the day you’re building a business for yourself.
And guess what: when you’re building a business to support you and your dreams, that business needs to make money.
Please take an honest look at who you’ve chosen as your ideal client, what you’re planning to offer, and decide if she can pay you market rate for those services.
Hint: I’m not asking you to do a ton of complicated research and financial modeling here. A gut check will suffice.
For example: If you want to serve non-profits, recent college graduates or low-income populations (all laudable choices) please don’t assume you’ll make money by selling high-price VIP offers.
6. Do Enough Of Your Ideal Clients Exist?
Technology is amazing, and we’re told over and over that running your business online will allow you to serve the most random of speciality niches, and do so profitably.
Well, yes. And also no.
Just because the niche exists doesn’t mean there’s enough interest to fill your calendar. Before you start marketing to your ideal client, make sure there are enough of her engaged and buying similar products elsewhere.
Hint: Take a look around at Google Keyword searches, Facebook’s Audience Insights (if you use Facebook advertising) and other blogs or sites that serve your ideal customer to gauge whether the market’s large enough to meet the needs of your business.
If you only see 1 or 2 blogs and they don’t seem to get much site traffic, consider that a red flag. If you find 100’s of blogs with highly engaged readership, consider that a green flag (and no, don’t worry that the market’s saturated. Finding no competition is a much worse sign for your business idea than finding tons of competition is).
7. Do You Know How To Cost-Effectively Reach Her At The Scale You Need?
This is another step that’s skipped (or not even considered) way too often because it sounds hard and intimidating. Don’t fall into the same trap.
It’s all fine and great to know who you want to help, to know that she wants your help, and know that she exists and can pay you. Those are all super important steps to validating who your ideal customer is, and why I included them in this list.
But none of that info means anything if you don’t look at it through the lens of this final filter. It’s that muy importante.
Do you know how to find her at the scale you need to meet your income goals?
Take a look at your revenue goals and make an educated guess on how many people you need to reach each month to meet those goals, and what kind of financial investment it’ll take to do so (and make sure that educated guess is doable for your business).
Hint: The outreach required to find 3-5 clients a month for a coaching package can look a lot different than having to find hundreds of customers to buy a product each month. How you plan to deliver your services counts a lot here.
There are countless marketing strategies that work for each model, some paid and some free, so you need to know which ones work for your style, how quickly you want to grow and what resources you’re willing to invest.
Stuck on one of the steps and want my take on it? Tell us about it in the comments and I’ll help you out.