Now that you’ve narrowed your target market down to a specific group, you might think you’re ready to start thinking about your product. But you’re wrong. Because the best target market isn’t a type of person, and it isn’t a group of people. The best target market is actually one person—your single ideal customer.
Why is this important?
Most entrepreneurs aren’t willing to narrow their market down this much. If you’re like most people, you’re probably thinking of a lot of arguments against this right now:
Now, in the past, some of these arguments might have been valid. In the first peak of mass marketing and advertising in the 50’s, the market was limited enough that you didn’t have to choose a single person for your ideal customer. In those days, it was enough to know the type of person your customer was. You could narrow it down to a group, not a single person.
If you wanted to sell shoes, for example, you could specialize in shoes for young, professional women who worked in offices and needed to walk comfortably while using public transportation. Because the market was less saturated, and potential customers had less access to your competition than they do now, that level of target customer was enough.
Today, however, things are different. The presence of the internet means you’ll never be the only business around. What’s more, it means that if you want to stand out, it’s not enough to have the best product or service. Nowadays, when people are looking for something, their needs have evolved past wanting something “good enough.” They want to buy what’s exactly right for them.
“In a world of infinite choice, if something isn’t made specifically for me, I’m gone.”
~ Ramit Sethi, Money + Business Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs
What does that mean for you when picking your target market?
It means you need to get inside their heads. You need to understand, not just who they are and what they want, but how they feel and think.
When you do that for a single person instead of a type or a group, you’ll discover that your single person—your one ideal customer—is actually many people. And thanks to the Internet, all those people—the thousands of people who are your one ideal customer—will be able to find you.
What’s more, once those people find you, the others will too. As your business grows, you’ll naturally draw plenty of people who aren’t exactly your ideal customer, but they’re close. They’re friends with your ideal customer, or they’re similar in some way, or they see how much your ideal person benefits from what you offer, so they want it too.
You won’t be leaving these people out. You just won’t be targeting them—not at first. Later, you can expand to target more people, and even to have multiple customer profiles.
But for now, let’s start with one.
In the last chapter, you narrowed down your target market to a group. Now, you’re going to narrow it down to your one ideal customer. You’re going to find out what they think and how they feel—and you’re going to do it using their own words.
To do that, first you’ll need to find them.
There are a lot of ways you can find people who fit your target market group profile:
Later, when you’re developing your product, it will be good for you to talk to as many people as possible about the problem you want to solve. But right now, you’re not trying to expand your knowledge—you’re trying to narrow it down.
Keeping that in mind, you’d better go deep and not broad. You don’t have to gather lots of data, just find one person that fits your profile well, and learn as much as you can about them. The best way to get into people’s heads is to have an honest talk with them.
If the thought of interviewing people scares you, don’t worry—we’ll walk through how to contact them and what to ask. But first, let’s decide who you’re going to interview.
If you’ve already done some work with people in your target market, then past clients or customers is your best place to start. It doesn’t matter if these clients paid you or not—if you did volunteer work with the people you want to serve, that’s just as good!
Your goal here isn’t to figure out what you’re going to sell; it’s just to figure out who you’re going to help (and eventually sell to). So think back through your notes and ask yourself:
If you’ve never worked with anyone in your target market, then think about your friends, family and acquaintances. Do you know anyone personally who might fall into your target market? Add them to your list.
Then go back to what you’ve written so far about your target market, and take everyone off the list who doesn’t fit—or who you just don’t like. Remember, you’re creating your ideal customer. So it’s important that you like them and enjoy working with them!
If there’s no one in your personal network who might fall into your target market, then it’s time to look online.
Don’t spend a lot of time doing this—you don’t need to collect a lot of data from these forums right now. Right now, your goal is simply to find a few people who could help you develop your ideal customer profile.
You’re looking for 3-5 people who fit into your target market and would be willing to talk with you about themselves. And since you want these people to match your ideal customer, your gut instinct reaction to them is just as important as the facts about them.
For example, if there’s a friend who might be perfect for your target market but who you just don’t like very much, take them off the list. If you read a post in a forum that just rubs you the wrong way for no reason, cross that person off your list. You don’t want an ideal customer who you like a bit—you want an ideal customer who you love.
Again, your goal is to narrow your list down to 3-5 people who will be willing to actually get on the phone and talk with you. Here are your criteria for choosing the right people:
Once you have your list of around 5 people, it’s time to reach out for personal interviews.
But what do you say?
If the person is your friend, it’s easy to reach out—you probably talk with them on a somewhat regular basis. If they’re a former client or customer, it shouldn’t be hard, especially since you’re targeting people who are your ideal customer—which means they like you as much as you like them.
For a former client, you can say something like this:
Hope you’ve been doing well since we last talked! I’m working on expanding my business a little more, and since you were one of my favorite customers, I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk with me and answer a few questions. Basically, I want to define who it is I can best help with my work. Would you be willing to set up a time to talk with me so I can ask you a few questions about our work together? It should only take about 30 minutes, and I’d love to see you and buy you a coffee. 🙂
Thanks, and let me know!
But what if the person you want to reach out to is a stranger?
In that case, you’ll need to connect with them based on what you have in common: the issue you both care about.
I saw your post in [forum] about [topic], and I really loved what you had to say. I really agree with you about [something you said].
I’m thinking about starting a business related to [topic], and I’m trying to talk with a few people who understand this issue to find out more about what they think about it. Would you be willing to set up a time to talk with me for about 30 minutes to share your thoughts about [issue]?
Thanks! Let me know—I’d really love to hear more about what you think.
It may take a few tries, but most people will probably be willing to give you thirty minutes of time to talk about an issue they care about.
Now that you’ve got some conversations lined up, what are you going to ask?
Your goal for these interviews is to get information about your ideal customer. When you finish the interviews, you’ll be able to write a detailed description of your ideal customer—using her own words to describe herself.
So what do you need to know about your ideal customer? You’ll be asking about three main categories:
The most important thing for these conversations is to keep them as open-ended as possible. Remember, you’re not trying to define your solution, or even to figure out what problem you’re going to solve yet—right now, you’re just figuring out exactly who the person is that you want to serve.
Start with the basics: find out how they think about themselves and describe themselves. Traditionally, these are very basic questions like gender and age. But you’ll get more valuable information by finding out how your ideal customer describers himself and thinks about himself.
Start with basic demographic questions if you don’t already know the answer (it is useful to know that your target customers are all 30-something women!), but make sure you get more detailed and valuable demographic information, too.
Ask questions like:
Once you know the basics about your person, it’s time to go a little deeper. For the second stage of your interview, you’ll find out more about your customer’s life and concerns with questions like this:
Questions like these will give you some insight into how your person feels, thinks and sees the world. They’ll also give you a lot of insight into what your person’s daily life is like—which will be really valuable later, because your business can solve a problem they encounter on a daily basis.
Finally, delve into your person’s hopes, fears, and dreams. At this point, you’ll want to make sure you get into their thoughts about the issue that you plan for your business to address. Even though you don’t know yet exactly what problem your business will solve, you know the general area or issue, so you can find out their thoughts on the topic.
You can also start to find out what their “pain points” are—the areas of the problem that really bother them. Solving one of these pain points is usually the easiest way to launch a new business.
Ask questions like:
As you’re planning your interviews, make sure you be respectful of people’s time. Choose a few questions that you think will give you the best value. On average, each question will take about 5-7 minutes to answer, so if you told the person the call will take 30 minutes, then plan to ask about 6 questions. Keep an eye on the clock as you talk with them, and wrap up the conversation when the time is up.
If possible, it’s a good idea to record the conversations so you don’t have to take notes. This will enable you to pay attention to what the person is saying and have a real conversation instead of a structured interview. Use your questions as a starting point, but listen to what they’re saying, and ask different questions as they come up.
And don’t worry: you’ll find it’s not too hard to get people to talk about themselves, especially if the conversation is centered around a topic they care about!
“Everybody is interesting when they are interested in something.”
~ Amy Poehler
You’ve talked with several people, and you’ve gathered a lot of information. Now, you’re going to pull it all together to create your one ideal customer profile.
Remember, you’re not just targeting a type of person now—you’re targeting one single person. But it doesn’t need to be a real person, and in most cases, it won’t be. In some cases, you might want to pick just one person—especially if they’ve already been your client or customer—and use them as your ideal customer. But usually, an ideal customer is a combination of several people. So now that you have all this data, it’s time to pick and choose.
Demographics are the most basic facts that will get you closer to defining your target market. Things like age, gender, income level, family size, employment status and others aren’t meaningful in and of themselves, though. What they do is provide context for the needs and motivations of the people you hope to connect with.
First, look through the demographic information you have—from both the individuals you interviewed and the people you researched in the last chapter—and identify some trends.
For example, are most of them women or men? What’s the average age of your target customer? Where do most of them live? How much money do they make? All of this information isn’t as important as the way they think and feel, but it will influence how you talk with them and what assumptions you make about your customer.
Once you’ve gone through the demographic information, you’re going to choose which ones apply to your ideal customer. Remember, you don’t have to pick the average—your goal here isn’t to create a profile of a person who fits into all the boxes; it’s to create the profile of the one person who’s perfect for you.
If most of the people you talked with are 30-something women, but you really want to work with 40-something women, that’s okay. Are one or two of the women you found in the age range you want? Then there’s probably a market in that age range, too. Make your ideal customer 45—at least for now—and you can change it later if you need to.
Decide where your ideal customer fits in each of these categories:
Go ahead and give your ideal customer a name:
Now that you’ve written down the most basic facts about the people you want to target with your online business, it’s time to get into the fun stuff: psychographics. This is where you go deep into your target audience’s head and figure out what they care about, and what motivates them.
Your goal here is not so much to construct a painstakingly accurate psychological profile, as much as figure out the core motivations behind what your target customers do, and how they think.
Start by going through your notes from the interviews. Find things your interviewees said that resonate with you. These could be phrases, words, or descriptions that illustrate what your customer feels or thinks.
And don’t overthink this—you don’t need to wonder whether these phrases and statements are accurate, because you got them from your potential customers. So all you need to do now is find the statements and phrases that feel meaningful to you—the ones you connect with.
As you’re doing this, pay attention to words or phrases that were said by multiple people. These are probably thoughts and feelings that a lot of your potential customers feel, so make sure you include them in your profile.
Once you have your psychographic phrases and words chosen, go back to your demographic information, and combine all of this into a description of your person. Include details about their day-to-day life, and include as much information as you can about how your person thinks and feels about the problem or issue your business is going to address.
Here’s an example of a customer profile written by Megan Dougherty when she founded her website, Paying for Life.
Recently Graduated from College or University. Underemployed. They have a job that is unrelated to their passion. They are willing to sell out, to a certain degree, to finance their lifestyle / projects, but resent that fact, and want to get out of what they are doing.
They find this difficult because they are not earning enough money (or are using it too badly) to be able to afford to follow their passion fully. These passions can include, but are not necessarily limited to: artist/musian/writer/activist/traveler/scholar/. This passion takes up a significant portion of their free time and usually late at night. They are working in customer service in some way, because the hours are flexible and the remuneration is the highest possible for the least amount of emotional investment.
They frequently find themselves short of money, despite working full or close to full time. They have pricy social lives, they frequently go out to bars, restaurants, shows, plays or their friends’ houses. Drinking will almost always be involved. Much of their “after-rent” income will be devoted to social expenses.
They are socialists, dislike the government, large corporations, organized religion and anyone who tells them to stop screwing around and get a real job. They feel frustrated that they did the “right” thing by going to college and it turned out wrong. They do not trust that hard work will get them where they want to be, or believe that the best way through life is to graduate, get a career, marry, buy a car and house, and have kids, although they know a few people who have done this.
They have debt: student loan or credit card or both. They make the minimum payments but little more. They try to avoid thinking about it, because it seems overwhelming. They rent their urban apartments, and usual bills include smartphone, internet and utilities.
They pirate television and movies, but buy music (as long as it is available for direct purchase from the artist). While they are broke, it is situational, not generational.
Your customer profile describes your ideal customer—the person you really want to work with and help. It also includes a lot of information about how your customer sees the problem you’ll be addressing with your business and how he views the problems and issues in his own life.
What’s more, this profile describes all this using your customer’s own words. This is really valuable, because when you start writing your copy for sales pages and other marketing to tell your customer about what you have to offer, you’ll be able to use your customer’s own words to describe how you can help.
But keep in mind: this customer profile is just a starting point. As your business grows and as you refine your niche, your customer profile will grow and change, too—and that’s okay. Here are a few of the ways your target market might change in the future:
All of these changes are normal and okay—they’re just part of the development of your business as you grow. Your first customer profile is a starting point for your business, but it’s not the destination!