If you’ve looked at any business resource, you’ve seen the advice to define your ideal consulting client. It is one of the key building blocks of an effective plan to get consulting clients and build a robust business pipeline. And yet this is often the step that most consultants struggle to do or ignore altogether.
So what is it and why does it matter so much anyway?
What is An Ideal Client?
An ideal client is a profile of a person who has specific problems that they will pay you well to solve and/or specific aspirations that they will pay you well to help them achieve. In a sense, they are who your best-case-scenario client would be. Your consulting client soulmate, which essentially means that you are a fit for them and they are a fit for you across multiple dimensions.
Why Should I Care About an Ideal Client?
If you want to build a successful consulting business, you have to know who you are going to serve and, therefore, sell your consulting services to. You have to know it with enough specificity that, when you are in your market, the people who you want to work with understand that you are talking to them and you can see that you get who they are and what they care about.
Defining your ideal clients enables you to define your value in your market and with prospective clients. You have to know the “who” to define your value because your value only matters if it matters to who will buy your consulting services. Without knowing who you are valuable to, you may default to trying to be all things to everyone. The problem is that the clients who you most want to work with won’t know that they should pay attention to you or seek you out. They won’t recognize that you can solve their problems and help them achieve their goals. You’ll just be another consultant who, well, “does stuff” that may or may not be relevant to them. They won’t have a reason to care about you so, more often than not, they won’t.
Defining your ideal clients also will help you pursue clients who are the type of people you want to work with, who will pay you for all of your value, and who you can consistently produce excellent work for. Without knowing how you define what is a fit for you, it will be too easy to work with anyone who says yes, even if they aren’t who you want to work with, underpay you, and are not a fit. The problem with that is that fit feeds your reputation. It allows you to do your best work, which will help you build a magnetic reputation for excellence that will draw more clients to you.
Why is it A Person?
The short answer is: people buy consulting services; organizations or companies don’t. People purchase consulting services on behalf of organizations or companies, but it is a person or people you have to convince to hire you.
That means you have to know who the people are and what matters to them. But you couldn’t possibly imagine every single person you hope will buy your services. Defining an ideal client is an easy way to answer those questions and at a level of detail that is most actionable when trying to get business. Those details will make it easier for you to describe your value, market your services, and deliver a compelling offer that resonates with people.
You need details about both your ideal client’s demographics (who they are) and their psychographics (how they feel). Don’t underestimate that feeling stuff either! Understanding how they feel is critical because people have emotions and emotions influence and, according to neuroscience, often dictate decisions about what they want to pay for and who they want to hire. A market and niche don’t have emotions. So, while those are essential to define, you need more nuance about what is behind decisions about hiring a consultant.
Does Defining an Ideal Client Limit My Ability to Get Business?
No. Not at all. In fact, it will help you because it will allow you to gain clarity and focus, both of which are essential to making better decisions and taking fruitful action. It will give you a focused approach to getting business. You will know who to reach out to and what to say to get them to hire you. You will be better able to articulate what you can do to solve their specific problems and help them achieve their specific aspirations.
And don’t worry. Defining an ideal client doesn’t box you into only working with a client who fits your exact description. In the same way that my husband is perfect for me (which is true) but not exactly who I imagined as my soulmate, you ultimately work with people who don’t match your ideal client exactly. But knowing what matters to you and them will help you more easily find and be found by the clients that you should be working with.
Please ignore the temptation to pick more than one ideal client at the beginning of your consulting business. I know from coaching consultants that this is difficult. You know that you can help so many different types of people with so many different things. How could you possibly pick just one person? Again, it comes back to having clarity and focus driving your decisions and actions. Having too many ideal clients will have you pursuing multiple paths at once, which can be overwhelming. It also can be confusing in your market. The more clarity and focus you have, the easier it will be for prospective clients to understand who you are and why you should matter to them.
How Do I Define My Ideal Client?
When defining your ideal client, you want to be Goldilocks, not Alice in Wonderland. You want your description to be just right. That means having enough detail that you can make good decisions and take helpful actions but not so much detail that it takes you down rabbit holes that don’t help you.
Here’s what I find useful. Start with imagining a person (fictional or not) who is at the intersection among these things:
Your Expertise: You have existing knowledge and skills to help solve their problems and achieve their aspirations.
Your Results: You can entice them with examples of results you have achieved or contributed to in the past.
Your Market: You have access to them and they are willing to pay you.
Your Passion: They are the type of person you most want to work with and you could do the type of work you most want to do.
Once you have that person pictured, flesh out the details of who they are and what they feel. Write it down. Again, the more specific you are, the better. If you need help, download my free tool for Defining Your Ideal Client for a list of questions to answer.
Defining your ideal client at this level requires your insights, imagination, and research. Use your insights about the market in which your ideal client operates or what you know about similar people. Use your imagination to flesh out the details of who you think the ideal client is and cares about and then validate everything with research. Research can be as simple as talking to people in your market to see if what you wrote matches their realities.
What Do I Do with My Ideal Client Description?
All things flow from your ideal client description. As one of the first steps in developing your consulting business plan, you will use your ideal client description to further refine your market and niche. You will use it to develop and implement a focused marketing and outreach plan to secure business. You will use it as a guidepost to ensure that you are doing the work that you most want to do with the people you want to work with, which will enable you to do your best work and have the life you want.