Music Gro: Growing Creatives

What is Wrong with the ‘Ideal Client’ Mantra & What to Do Instead (Part 3)

Problem #3: Lack of Growth

Business owners I talk with regularly say that their ‘ideal client’ either does not exist or is so hard to find that they cannot find enough to fill their client roster. They tell me how they were coached and their belief that the right web copy and social marketing would draw in their ‘ideal clients.’ What they found instead was that no one responded based on their copy. Inquiries were still generic with people searching based on price, or based on word of mouth referrals. 

Their ideal client exercise and time spent re-doing copy and marketing felt wasted since it did not change the number or types of inquiries they were getting. Instead of the ‘ideal client’ avatar helping their business, my clients found it became an unnecessary hurdle to their growth and sustainability. 

The most frequent question is, “How long do I wait for ‘ideal clients’ to show up before I just start taking anyone?” Their options were to continue to struggle to find those ‘ideal clients’ and be frustrated at the lack of business and growth, or to accept ‘non-ideal’ clients just to pay the bills. But let’s take a look at that last idea. If I agree to work with someone I think is not an ‘ideal client,’ then how will I treat that client as opposed to my ‘ideal client?’ Most of us, even unknowingly, will put less energy into those we see as ‘non-ideal’ clients. Over the years, many music teachers (including me) have used this strategy. We put far less energy into the clients we don’t enjoy working with and that spirals to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those clients get the idea we are not in it with them and they lose interest as well. We create a revolving door which is exhausting. While this may have been more of a self-preservation strategy to pay the bills, we can see how unsustainable this practice is. The ‘ideal client’ mantra actually leads to disappointment and a lack of growth in ‘ideal clients.’

The thing is…we all know this is true. We’ve all seen the social trends leaning heavily on social proof for a while now. How many times a day do you see a post in a group, forum, or chat of someone asking, “Who is the best _______________ at the best price?” Fill in the blank with handyman, roofing company, landscaper, yoga instructor, dog trainer, piano teacher, eye doctor, house cleaning service, or whatever you are looking for. People want REAL life recommendations based on experiences. THEN, they might visit a website. People don’t want to take the time to research, compare, read web copy, make phone calls, or learn about all the options themselves. Most people want a short list (top 3) of providers to choose from based on everyone’s opinion of the best and/or the cheapest.

So why are we wasting time on ideal clients when we could be putting time into being the best at what we do in our area and getting those social proof recommendations? Why are we spending time talking about ‘ideal clients’ instead of showing clients how to easily refer to us, sharing WHY we are the best and WHY we are of such great value? 

The other side of Growth here is professional and personal growth. If I only ever have ‘ideal clients’ to work with I never have to change or grow. That lack of personal growth hurts our businesses tremendously. So much changes and evolves quickly now that we too are better when we are willing to learn, grow, change and embrace all types of new people, ideas, and strategies. It is typical to see a spike in business growth when the business owner goes through their own professional and personal growth. You understand this because you attend professional development conferences and webinars ready to learn and implement new ideas. If we are willing to learn from our clients, they will teach us a great deal about ourselves and our business. But it takes that relationship and the respect and trust in the relationship in order to learn from one another. We can help instill that trust and grow that in all of our clients. 

What to Do Instead?

1) Know Yourself First

Who are you as a leader, a small business owner? Why do you do what you do? A good way to explore this is Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why.” What makes you different, special, and sets you apart from what others in your industry and your area do? What do you offer that no one else can? 

Then know how to communicate that. Part of my job is to communicate often about how unique my teaching approaches are. No one else in my area does what I do when it comes to teaching piano. But if I do not communicate that in ways easily shareable, then my clients have no idea how special I am and no reason to share my services. That communication from me happens in person, via e-newsletters, in email responses, and on socials. And it is confirmed on my web copy which you can find at My clients use the same words and phrases that I use when they refer me to their friends, because they have seen and heard those words and phrases repeatedly. “She’s not your typical teacher – she’s way better. She’s kept my kid in piano way longer than we expected. She gives our child ____________________ which has been invaluable.”

2) Know that Client Relationships are Relationships 

They take work – on both sides. Instead of creating ‘ideal client’ avatars, it would be beneficial to consider the idea of client relationships and partnerships. The ‘ideal client’ suggests a static and two-dimensional entity. In reality, humans are complicated, life is messy, and things change. A client relationship or partnership suggests a more dynamic and evolving situation where we expect some amount of change, growth, even some struggle. 

I have been married for 23 years to my husband. There are many things about him that I think are ideal for me. But our relationship has changed, evolved, and been strengthened over time. We have had storms to weather. We have had to re-negotiate everything from child rearing strategies to money management to household tasks often. We have helped one another out when the other has hit a rough patch. We have been patient with one another. We have annoyed each other. We have made mistakes, and apologized. But we have always come back to knowing that we are better together than we are apart and are committed to the continuing evolution of the relationship. 

While I do not make the same type of investment in my clients as I do my marriage, I do view my relationship with clients as one that evolves over time and one that takes effort. We teach each other a lot. We sometimes have to re-negotiate things. We sometimes make mistakes and have to apologize. We help one another out or offer grace when there is a rough patch. We celebrate often and encourage one another. My clients are not ‘ideal’ – they are REAL. And that realness involves work for both of us. I teach them about my own boundaries and expectations. They teach me what they need and how best to deliver it to enhance their experience with me. 

Those REAL relationships are what people crave. It’s why they will refer you and say you are the BEST.

Are you ready to give up the ‘ideal client’ mantra yet? Let me know your thoughts.

In Part 4 I’ll dive deeper into how ‘ideal client’ mindsets set us up for failure.

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