Music Gro: Growing Creatives

What is Wrong with the ‘Ideal Client’ Mantra & What to Do Instead

I know so many people (including business coaches) who have repeated the idea of “ideal client” because they heard or read about it or they were coached into believing that they had to attract and work with ‘ideal clients’ in order to succeed in their service-based business. Taking it a step further, some were coached to create an ideal client avatar to help them visualize the clients they needed to seek out. Business owners were coached to create certain ‘screening questions’ to help them identify whether a potential client would be ideal or not. The assumption was made that those who did not fit the ‘ideal client’ profile would not be ‘a good fit’ or worth working with.

It’s time to break down why this strategy is not profitable and potentially harmful.

This is Part 1 of a 5-Part Series…

Problem #1: Stereotypes

First, it is important to know that my personal bias is always toward inclusion, diversity and equity. So to have an ‘ideal client avatar’ would mean that I would be looking for clients who likely fit stereotypical tropes and gender identities which automatically excludes large groups of people.

Let’s look at an example. We’ll pretend that my ideal client is someone who understands and appreciates my value as a service provider; someone who aligns with my values or supports my business mission; someone who can afford my services; someone who always pays on time; someone who reads my emails, policies/contracts and replies to communication in timely ways; someone who does not question, criticize, or complain about my work; someone who happily refers my services to others (and those referrals are also ‘ideal clients’); someone who meets or exceeds all of my expectations in the provider-client relationship; someone who communicates their questions or concerns in a professional and clear way; someone who does not ask for special favors but appreciates it when I do ‘go the extra mile;’ someone who can be flexible when circumstances require change.

That all sounds pretty awesome, right? Nothing wrong with any of that. 

Until we layer into it my internal biases (conscious or unconscious). As much as I say I am not biased, the image that comes to mind when I think of that person above is a white, cis-gender middle class mom (much like me). As hard as I work to be aware of my biases, to do the anti-racism work, to pursue diversity and equity, the first image that comes to my mind is a reflection of my own bias. You might not think you have such biases but in your mind’s eye you also have images that come to mind immediately. And that is okay. As long as we all acknowledge that we do have internal biases to overcome when we think about anything related to an ‘ideal client.’ In the best case scenario, I work to overcome those biases and seek out clients who do not fit into my initial image. By doing that, I also now open up to a myriad of possibilities for clients who could turn out to be ‘ideal.’

But here’s the catch. As soon as I open myself to other possible images of ‘ideal clients’ I realize that my list above may have to change as well. What if someone meets all the criteria but English is not their first language? Do I turn him away because communication may take a little more effort? What if a potential client meets all the criteria but needs time and help understanding the value in my teaching approach as opposed to their previous teacher? Do I send her away because she is experiencing some doubt, questions or confusion? Consider the client who was turned away from another potential teacher because of their gender-orientation. Do I turn him away because he does not fit my ‘ideal’ in some way? What about the client who is amazing but cannot afford my rates? Do I turn her away solely on the basis of money? My answer in all of those real life situations has been a resounding ‘no.’

The client for whom English is not his first language is actually more careful and respectful in his communication because he has to think a little more about what he is and is not trying to communicate. And he asks great questions when he needs clarification about a policy or something I have shared in a newsletter. The client who transferred in and was not sure about my approaches to teaching experienced friction and doubt at first, but has become one of my biggest champions and source of referrals now that she has seen the difference in results between what I do and what other teachers do. The transgender client who was made to feel less-than elsewhere felt immediately safe in my studio when I used the correct pronouns and shared my own support for my child who is also part of the LGBTQIA+ community. That family recommends me to others in their network. The client that was struggling to afford my rate was able to be open about their situation, and the family was able to accept a generous scholarship from a private donor in my studio.

What to do instead…Stop looking for Ideal Clients & Work to Create Clients you love working with

In fact, in my 30 years of teaching experience my most ‘ideal clients’ never started out that way. People become ‘ideal clients’ when we take the time and effort to invest in the relationships, to see one another as unique and gifted human beings. In my experience, most people live up to the expectations and boundaries we set with them. When we exemplify honesty, grace, professionalism, flexibility, kindness, healthy emotional regulation and boundaries, open communication channels, and good humor, most people respond in kind or reach for those same good behaviors. We have the opportunity to show and teach people how to be great clients by affirming and calling out the qualities we most desire in our clientele. Do you appreciate a client’s timeliness in all things? Then call attention to that personally and in your studio communication (without naming names). I recently had a client point out a date error in my last studio email. Not only did I thank her personally, but in the follow-up correction email to the studio I pointed out how much I appreciated my clients taking the time to read emails carefully and point out my mistakes. And when clients don’t live up to my examples or expectations after time? Then, I can choose to continue to educate and mentor, or I can suggest we part ways.

For me, the ‘ideal client’ mantra is overused at best, is a form of stereotyping, is discriminatory, and bad for business at worst. Our lives and our businesses are better when we embrace ALL people. Rather than forcing others to fit into my narrow definition of an ‘ideal client’ I choose to look for common ground with all people and start there. The diversity in my studio has gifted me many times over in the form of new-to-me music from other cultures and groups, new opportunities to celebrate with students in the traditions which are meaningful to THEM, new ways to reach more clients or niches within communities, and so much personal growth as I continue to hone my own clear communication and teaching skills. The diversity in my business has meant that my small business attorney, my former CPA, and my former social media manager have all brought important new perspectives for me to consider that I never would have thought about. Their experiences as Black, Hispanic, or Persian women brought a richness to my business that I would have missed out on had I not hired them for their expertise.

You may not think you have racial, ethnic, gender or other biases, but you do. We all do. By acknowledging that fact, I am able to keep those biases in check and be intentional with those I serve and those I employ.

 

It takes effort and work to mentor and mold clients. But it is all worth it. The work results in real relationships and a community of respect, gratitude, joy, support, and love. When we set aside stereotypes and tropes, and open ourselves up to the highs and lows of building community, we find that the sum is far greater than the parts. We no longer look for ‘ideal clients’ and we no longer struggle to keep our client lists full. Instead, we find we have built a community reflecting the values and behaviors we model. If we model and mentor well, we will discover that the community grows organically and beautifully.

Are you ready to set aside stereotypes, tropes, and the idea of ‘ideal clients?’

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series which looks at demographic information & real-time numbers.

Comments? Share your thoughts here or email at musicgro@musicgro.com

 

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One Response

  1. I could not agree more! Bravo! We need more of this worldview to foster peace and unity in our country! 🙏🏻✝️ Where would we be if Jesus only chose to work with “ideal clients”?

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