Music Gro: Growing Creatives

What is Wrong with the ‘Ideal Client’ Mantra & What to Do Instead (Part 2)

Problem #2: A Small, Shallow Pool

The whole point of creating an ‘ideal client’ is to know that your services are not for everyone – to create a target audience for marketing and sales. But the ideal client strategy is often touted with no reference to and no understanding of real market research. So let’s run some numbers. (All numbers were obtained from my city and county website reports.)

I live in a densely populated metropolitan area, north of Atlanta in a suburb (as of 2020 numbers) of roughly 20,000 people with roughly 7,600 households with children under age 18 living at home. Of those 7,600 households about 6,700 households live above the poverty level. If we continue to break that number down by factors like median income and education about 3,000 households are likely to be my pool of potential clients. If I were to continue to narrow that pool with an ‘ideal client’ avatar I would likely have around 1,500 households in my pool. The average conversion rate for service-based businesses is 2%-5% (not industry based, but general). That means (based on 5% conversion) I would likely have 75 clients. (That is only 1% of that original 7,600 households.) Even if I go back to the 3,000 households (forget the ‘ideal client’) the 5% conversion rate equals 150 potential clients. But that also does not factor in the competition in my area. If there are a dozen private piano teachers in my area (not to mention the ‘big box’ music schools), you can now see how my ‘ideal client’ has significantly harmed my ability to get enough clients to be successful. One could argue that there are several surrounding suburbs from which to draw more clients, which is true, but there are also that many more providers competing for those clients. If you can see how harmful the ‘ideal client’ mantra is for my suburban area, now imagine how harmful it is for a rural area or an economically depressed area. The ‘ideal client’ characteristics and avatars create very small, shallow pools from which to draw clients. We automatically shrink our worlds so significantly that our conversion rates would have to be 100% in order to get enough of those clients in the door. No matter how great a salesperson you are, a 100% conversion rate is just not realistic. One can also argue that online teaching opens up a much bigger world of potential clients – and it certainly does. But if you maintain the ‘ideal client’ perspective in online teaching, you will likely find parallels in terms of numbers. A significant population has grown in favor of online learning since 2020. But a significant part of the population has also rejected online learning based on their experiences from 2020. You have to know your market, do your research, and run your numbers to know which strategies will actually benefit you.

What to Do Instead…

Can you narrow the pool of potential clients if needed without having an ‘ideal client’ in mind? Absolutely! It is wise to have some screening questions and a ‘Meet and Greet’ with potential clients so that you can all ask questions and see if everyone is comfortable with one another. But those questions you ask can be more about what that client is looking for in the overall experience, what they are looking for from the teacher (communication, teaching style, fees, expectations, flexibility, etc), and what they hope to achieve by working with you specifically. Just as important as your screening questions though, is LISTENING to that potential client. Their questions often point to their previous experiences (positive or negative). Or, can reveal important information about their real reasons for seeking you out.

1) Do Your Market Research

What are the actual numbers in your area? What does your competition look like and what do they offer? Before you take any business advice to heart, know what your actual numbers are. How you market and sell must be different from how someone else in another city or part of the world markets and sells. Can there be common themes – yes. But every market has nuances. Part of running a business is doing your due dilligence and understanding your local market including your audiences, resources, economic conditions, niches, history, future plans, and much more. Then, you can decide what strategies might work best for your unique situation.

2) Let Go of ‘Ideal’ & Perfectionism

So many are stuck thinking that the ideal this or that will make everything easier. Does the ideal college degree make a successful career? No. Does the ideal wedding dress make for an easy marriage? No. Does the ideal house make for a happy family? No. Does the ideal client make business easy or wonderful? No. Yet, too many business owners were sold the myth that if they could just get ‘ideal clients’ everything would go smoothly. If you have owned and run your own business for more than a minute, you know business can be hard at times and it requires work.

There is no perfect, ideal, or full-proof business plan, model, or idea. There are many good models, ideas, and plans, but every business owner and business is unique. And, what works for one business or business owner will likely not work exactly the same for another. It is time to let go of the thinking that ‘ideal clients’ will somehow make your work and your business better or easier. Instead, you can embrace a diversity of clients, grow relationships, and build a beautiful community of people you never knew you needed, but who enrich your business and your life immeasurably. 

3) Don’t Center Yourself

Too often, the focus on ‘ideal client’ centers us in the equation instead of the client. It becomes about what is best for us, not about the client. When we fail to listen to potential clients (and current clients), we miss important information which might actually help us improve as teachers or business owners. When we center ourselves we prioritize our perspective over someone else’s truth. We have all done it (often without realizing it). But that is not listening. In active listening, we ask questions to understand and clarify; we value and validate another’s perspective and experience; we learn and we find paths forward based on common ground. We find new opportunities because we let go of ‘ideal’ and we listened.

If you can let go of the idea of ‘ideal’ anything, you will find a rich array of possibilities and experiences ahead of you. That ‘ideal’ mantra sets everyone up for failure. Letting go of our ideas of the ‘ideal studio,’ the ‘ideal client,’ the ‘ideal workflow,’ frees us from the trappings of perfectionism including comparison, imposter syndrome, and what success and failure look like. More on all that later…

For now, how does this information change your thoughts about the ‘ideal client’ mindset?

In Part 3, we’ll look more closely at how ‘ideal client’ mindsets are connected to Growth or lack thereof.

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