Music Gro: Growing Creatives

What is Wrong with the ‘Ideal Client’ Mantra & What to Do Instead (Part 4)

Problem #4: A Set-Up for Failure

So you have an ‘ideal client’ and everything is going along beautifully. Suddenly, your client seems distant or apathetic. Payments are not as timely. The interest seems to have waned. Appointments are getting canceled more frequently. Messages are hit or miss. They are no longer behaving as your ideal client. What do you do? 

Hopefully most of us would take the time to work with the client and find out what issues could be resolved rather than simply ‘cutting them loose.’ Yet, I have seen in discussion thread after discussion thread people recommending getting rid of clients at the first sign of trouble. Certainly, it is your right to do that as a business owner. We are all entitled to run our businesses as we see fit. As long as we understand the consequences of our decisions and actions. But you cannot then also complain about having to find and onboard new ‘ideal clients’ every time you turn away a client who has fallen from your ideal. That is simply one of the consequences of choosing the ‘ideal client’ path. 

When we understand that it is this ‘ideal client’ mantra which sets us up for failure from day one (because we’ve focused so much on the ‘ideal’ part thinking that it will stay static), then we begin to understand another inherent flaw in this model. However, life happens for all of us. A job loss. A medical diagnosis. A new responsibility in caring for an aging parent. A new baby. A new job. A bout with depression. There are a myriad of ways life can change, and expecting an ideal client to always be ideal only sets us up for disappointment and failure. If the relationship can only remain static or get worse, that seems like a bad place to start.

When we were moving our family in 2010, paying both a mortgage on the old house (while it was up for sale) and renting in a new state, while also trying to get established in our new area, we were financially strapped. We needed a bit of grace from our providers while we worked to rearrange monthly bills. We were not ideal clients. We were so worried about money that we weren’t paying attention to much else. The providers who were working with our kids at the time were able to show grace whether it was setting up smaller monthly payments for medical support, or changing our due dates for different tuition payments. That 18 months was rough for us. But we learned so much about how to navigate honestly, live in community, and what it looks like to preserve a person’s dignity. 

Even though we were far from ‘ideal clients’ at the time, we knew our situation was temporary and that we just needed a bit of understanding and flexibility to make it work. 

Now, as I continue to serve my community with my small business, I can vividly remember the people who did not turn us away because we were not their ‘ideal client.’ Many of those providers are still friends. When I have extended that same grace, understanding and flexibility to clients in my business, I have strengthened our connection as human beings. Not every client has to start out perfect or ideal. But, like in the story of the Velveteen Rabbit (which is still a favorite of mine), if we are willing to become REAL, we will find incredible reward in sharing one another’s REALNESS. 

What to Do Instead…

1) Find Common Ground

Instead of setting myself and my clients up for failure with the ‘ideal client’ mantra, I look for areas where we seem to ‘mesh’ or loosely agree. I look for commonalities we can build upon. But I am open to challenges, learning, growth, and new ideas as well. I do not expect all of my clients to fit into one way of doing things. I know building rapport and trust will take a bit of time. I accept the responsibility of teaching my clients how my studio operates and am intentional about my communication. I am intentional about building the culture within my studio business. I am open to feedback and change. I know there may be rough patches, so I am intentional about building good trust and communication channels. I let all of us off the perfectionism hook and accept that there will be missteps and mistakes along the way. But I am confident in my ability to solve problems, negotiate, and communicate.  

2) Be REAL people, not ideal people

When we view our clients as REAL people instead of ideal people, and view the relationships as dynamic instead of static, we all benefit from REAL growth. With our growth as human beings we will find that more people are attracted to working with us. Our financial growth stems from our personal and professional growth much more powerfully than when we expect financial growth to lead to personal or professional growth. In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek writes, “Even well-intended finit-minded leaders often have the perspective of ‘make money to do good.’ An infinite-minded perspective on service, however, looks somewhat different: ‘Do good making money’ (the order of the information matters).” 

3) Service attitudes create Community which Equals Success

Service-based small businesses are just that – service based. What if part of our service to our community is being an example of a great business who values ALL clients, developing deep relationships which strengthen the whole community? What if by our example, we inspire the next generation of great small business owners who are watching what we do? What if other business owners see not just our business success, but our larger contributions to the community and want to partner with us? What if we inspire other businesses to be less focused on ‘ideal clients’ and more focused on doing our best work and building up our communities in tangible ways? Service and a successful business are not polar opposites. We can have both. We can let go of all these ‘ideal’ mantras and perfectionist attitudes while having great business success.   

I know, some of you are arguing that non-ideal clients take extra work and extra energy from you. You think your clients are creating your burnout. That may be true to some degree, but I challenge you to challenge those assumptions. 

My own burnout (years ago) was caused by:

  • teaching too many students 
  • using systems (like invoicing) that took up way too much of my time
  • trying to make all students fit into one method or way of doing things
  • not having well-defined boundaries and not being willing to enforce my own policies

When we really look within ourselves honestly, we may find (like I did) that we are the source of 99% of our business problems – NOT our clients. 

I realize it is much easier to point blame toward clients instead of our own systems, processes, or attitudes. I understand the desire for things to be easy – we live in a hard world. 

That’s why it is so important for me to break down strategies I know will lead to disappointment, self-blame, or even failure. YOU have not failed and YOU are not a failure. But poor strategies will yield poor results. 

Is it possible to have success using the ‘ideal client’ avatar or mantra? Yes. But that success will never be as deep, as fruitful, as rewarding, as impactful in your community, or as financially beneficial for you as the success you will achieve after you set aside all the ‘ideal stuff.’ 

In the last post, I’ll enumerate more strategies to help you avoid the pitfalls of the ‘ideal client’ strategy and enjoy lasting success.

Table of Contents

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *