Do You Know Who Your Clients Are?

If you haven’t defined a target market for your business or private practice, you may actually be preventing yourself from getting clients. I often hear professionals and entrepreneurs say they don’t want to “limit” themselves by narrowing their marketing focus to a particular group. But the truth is that having a target market doesn’t limit your marketing; it aims it.

When clients show up at your door, you can choose to work with them regardless of whether they belong in your target market. But to go out and find new clients, you need some kind of organizing principle for your outreach efforts. The universe is simply too big to market to everyone in it.

Here are four more reasons why choosing a target market is so essential:

1. Targeting allows you to position yourself in the marketplace. With a particular type of client in mind, you can create an identity that appeals to exactly that group. A clear marketing identity will enable you to project a consistent image to those you wish to reach, and take advantage of the market appeal of factors like exclusivity and specialization.

2. Marketing to a defined group of clients will cost you less in both time and money. You will be able to locate leads and reach out to prospects much more easily, because you will be able to quickly identify who they are. With significantly less effort, you will be able to find places where clients gather, call them, mail them, and meet with them.

3. You can get to know your market better. When marketing to a finite universe, it becomes much more possible to meet your client base in person, build referral relationships, and increase word-of-mouth. You’ll be able to learn more about your market’s problems and concerns, and can tailor your services and your marketing messages more closely to match what they are seeking.

4. Targeting makes it possible to use attraction marketing. Broadcasting your marketing message to a mass audience is prohibitively expensive, no matter how you do it. Media advertising, trade show booths, direct mail, and publicity campaigns can reach thousands of people, but the cost can exceed the return. When you limit your audience to a group you can more easily reach, you can attract them through the lower-cost strategies of networking, writing, and speaking.

Defining a target market is not quite so simple as saying it is “anyone who needs my services.” That won’t help you locate prospective clients, or even identify them when you run across them. You need to describe your desired market by a label or category, the more specific the better. That way you can look them up or seek them out.

For example, “busy professionals” or “midsize organizations” are fair definitions, but “upscale baby-boomers” or “growing high-tech companies” would be better, because they further qualify your target. Categories like “professional women in health care” or “financial services firms in the Seattle area” are excellent, because you can find them in a directory or on a membership roster.

Beware the temptation to leave your target market broad. When you do this, your client universe remains too large and you will once again be spread too thin. You would be better served by carefully defining two or three different markets to approach than by trying to come up with a one-size-fits-all definition of who your clients are.

When there are many possibilities for a target market, who should you choose? I believe the most important factor is to identify people you truly care about, and who you want to spend time with. The more you enjoy interacting with a specific group, the easier your marketing to that group will be.

But be sure you are choosing a target market who can afford to pay what you need to charge. If there are several potential client groups who you would enjoy working with and can afford you, consider making your target those who are the easiest to reach, or who are likely to give you the most repeat business.

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