The concept of “ideal clients” is nothing new. Lots of other design and marketing professionals talk about them.
There’s also a lot of counter-arguments against using the “ideal client” model out there. From what I’ve seen, people who are against the ideal client model criticize the points that I don’t even include in my own branding framework, and they suggest doing something else instead that’s kinda obvious to me, but maybe it’s not to everyone, so there’s that...
Either way, the title of this post is not about “ideal clients”, it’s about “dream clients”. What’s the difference you might ask? Here’s a few definitions to get us started.
The ideal client is a mental model of the type of person that’s currently in the situation to desire, value, and be able to afford your services. By identifying this “most likely buyer”, you’re removing from your focus all the folks who are not likely to buy anything from you.
Your ideal client is also a person who is more likely to buy these services from you, as opposed to buying them from a competitor. Why might they do that? Here are some possible reasons:
- You’re geographically closest to them.
- You’re the cheapest.
- One of your former clients has told them good things about you.
- They share your value system and appreciate your personality.
Reason #1 is pretty logical if your services require the two of you to be in the same space. I’ve had clients who chosen me over others because they were able to meet me in person and get to know me before working together, even though I do my work remotely. So, don’t dismiss local clients just because your business is location-independent.
Reason #2 sucks. You can’t afford to be cheap. Moving on.
Reason #3 is pretty good. Birds of a feather flock together, so if you enjoyed working with the client who recommended you, you’ll probably like the new client too.
Reason #4 is where we get to the main point of ideal clients as I see them: they’re the people you get along with on a personal, not only professional level. This is something you need to account for when you’re forming your ideal client profile: how do these people approach their life and business? What are they fed up with? What messages might attract their attention? In my book The Human Centered Brand and the free companion workbook, I offer questions that help you pinpoint who your ideal clients are, and where you’re most likely to find them.
Your “right people” are the folks who are attracted to your work and resonate with your message and your brand, but may not buy your services (for whatever reason).
Maybe they’re more advanced, beyond the point where you’d be able to help them. Maybe you don’t offer anything they want. Maybe they can’t afford your services. Maybe they’re your peers.
Important to note: even people who don’t spend any money with you are valuable for your business. Your right people will support you in other ways:
- Share your blog posts and offers.
- Feature you on their own platforms.
- Forward your newsletters to their friends.
- Comment on your blog posts and send encouraging emails. (We could all use more of those!)
- Recommend your services to their friends, family, coworkers, etc.
- Implement your advice in their life, and experience the transformation you want to see in the world.
Don’t completely alienate your right people for the sake of converting clients. Having a community of people who support your cause is worth more than money. (But yes, you also need money.)
Dream clients are actual human beings who have bought your services, and you freakin’ love working with them.
The sight of their name in your inbox or your phone screen excites you, because it’s almost always good news. (The only bad news is usually: they got sick and have to reschedule.)
They’re not ideal, they’re very real. They have their quirks and flaws, but those don’t affect you. They have their bad days, but they never lash out on you.
Working with dream clients is life-changing.
I’m not exaggerating. I hope that you’ve experienced working with at least one dream client so far, because once you do, you don’t ever want to go back to working with bad clients.
Once you get a taste of how awesome a client relationship can be, you no longer want to settle for a dysfunctional relationship.
Before you experience working with a dream client, this “ideal client” thing is just words on paper. It doesn’t feel real to you, and you don’t honestly believe it’s possible. You keep accepting clients from Hell because you worry that if you say no, you won’t earn any money. (I know how that feels, I talked about this in my post Turning down client work when you really need the money.)
After you finally meet your first dream client, you realize:
“Holy shit, this is real. Can it be this way all the time? If there’s one person like this, there must be more of them...”
And you’re right. There are more. Many more than you realize.
Dream clients: Heaven on Earth
If you haven’t had the fortune of experiencing working with a dream client yet, here are some marks of a great client:
- They value your work.
- They’re thrilled with the quality of the services you offer.
- They keep coming back for more.
- They never undermine your expertise.
- They ask intelligent questions and are open to learning from you.
- They share their expertise with you, and willingly offer all the information you need.
- They communicate with you in a timely manner, and treat your project as a priority.
- They pay your invoices immediately.
- They don’t ask for discounts (in fact, they might encourage you to raise prices, and congratulate you when you do).
- They respect your free time and understand that you have a life outside of work.
- They don’t have unreasonable expectations (short project turnaround, email reply within 5 minutes etc.).
- They know what they want and are able to articulate it.
- They know themselves, and give you accurate estimates on their part of the work.
- They recommend you to other people.
Do you think this is too much to ask for? It’s not. You deserve to have clients this awesome. These people are out there. Don’t give up searching for them.
How do you find your dream clients?
The process of finding your dream clients is part strategy, part luck. The “luck” part is that you need to be in the right place at the right time, when your dream client is also there. You can also meet your dream client through your personal or professional connections.
You don’t have to wait until that happens. You can seek out these opportunities yourself.
The key is to know the approximate profile of such a person (that’s where your ideal client profile comes in), and then go visit events where those types of people gather, join communities they’re most likely to join. I have a 20-page PDF guidebook that takes you through this process (totally free, no email sign-up required).
Once you're there make the first move to connect when you encounter someone you really like. The appropriate first move is not “Hey, I sell this thing, do you want to buy it?” (99% chance they won’t and will consider you rude.)
The appropriate first move would be to just get in touch, genuinely connect over a mutual interest, and offer help with no strings attached. If they’re local, you may ask them to meet you for a coffee, or arrange to meet at an event you’re both attending. You go into this with no expectations, and you do this repeatedly with new people. You’re just building your network, not fishing for clients.
You’re introducing your new biz friends to folks who might need their work, or who may offer a service they require. You recommend books they might like. You generously share advice when they encounter issues. You’re kind, without obsessing about when you’ll see the returns.
Eventually, you start seeing the returns because if you’re such a great person to be around, people will want you to succeed, so they go out of their way to help you.
Are you worried this takes too much time and effort?
Boy, you have no idea. This is not a quick tactic you employ when you need clients fast—it’s a way of life that helps you get great clients consistently.
If you need clients fast, just say so. Publish a post on social media and say “I have an opening for a project, does anyone need any work done?” and you’ll get some bites for sure, but you can’t be too picky if you need clients right this minute.
But if you want great clients, you need to be able to say no to everyone who is not one. This requires self-confidence and a healthy cash flow so you’re not constantly stressed about money. It’s easier to be picky about clients when you have a waiting list!
Graduating from so-so clients to dream clients takes time, but once you get there, you experience a level of ease and joy in your business that nothing else can replace.
Your dream clients are out there. Go find them.
Let your brand bring all the dream clients to the yard
In my book The Human Centered Brand, I guide you through the steps of crafting an attractive, authentic brand that creates a deep resonance with your right people and the kind of clients you’d most enjoy working with. It contains practical tips and exercises that will help you promote your business with ease and clarity.
Learn more about the book, and download the sample chapter.