It’s no secret that finding the right customers is integral to your success in business. Often, though, this is easier to know than to actually achieve.
We caught up with four business owners who have done it for themselves. They explain everything from discovering their business niche to targeting specific customers for their products and services.
Meet Our Experts
Sarah Arrow – Leads Launch Leverage
We work with businesses to make them more profitable.
From mapping their customer experience to launching their sales funnels, we focus on what the business needs, and get to the heart of what they should do to expand.
Lucy Whittington – Connectably
We offer an app solution to small service businesses, putting everything in one place.
Connectably is simple ‘all in one’ online business software connecting the tasks, actions and admin small service businesses need to do to make money.
Ruth Douglas – IMP Ideas
At Imp Ideas, we work with businesses of all sizes to create amazing marketing that reaches more people, tells their story, and makes them more sales.
We run regular workshops in business planning, marketing, and social media as well as offering bespoke training packages.
Bryony Thomas – Watertight Marketing
Watertight Marketing’s mission is to give people who own and run growing businesses, charities, and social enterprises a clear and shared understanding of marketing fundamentals so that they take calm, confident, marketing decisions that build towards their goals.
How They Found Their Market Gap & Customers
Finding a gap in the market is essential to any business, but it’s not just about the gap itself; it’s about whether there are any customers around to fill that gap.
Here’s how our entrepreneurs found their place to shine:
Our business was born out of the frustration that content marketing only worked for exciting, tech businesses. In 2006 we had a transport company, and we were advised to do things that didn’t meet the customer’s needs. Example: build a community. When you have someone who wants something valuable moved right now, they don’t want a group or email newsletter—they want to know how much will it cost and whether or not you can do it right now.
Research told us that many small business owners were in the same position as us. They had clients and wanted more, but building a community wasn’t working for them.
There was a gap in the market for small service-based business owners to have one app, not lots of apps and software that are disconnected.
We saw how brilliant business owners were busy doing what they were paid for during the working day but then ending up with a ton of ‘evening admin’. This evening admin is what it took to run their business—the marketing campaigns, the sales follow-ups, writing quotes and proposals, sending out invoices, chasing payments, and doing their bookkeeping. It meant there was little time left to enjoy their life and family because their business had taken up too much of their time. And of course, when that happens it’s easy to fall out of love with what you do.
Deciding who my customer base is has been a process of narrowing. In the first year of working full-time in the business, I took on a variety of clients and work that were close to, but not really, my ideal client.
At the end of each piece of work, I’d evaluate what went well, what didn’t, and ask myself “do I want this type of work or client again?” In that process I’ve found that I work best with clients who have a clear sense of their business, are focused and know what they want to achieve, but are perhaps lacking in the skills or knowledge to get there. Which is where I come in.
At three years into being a time-for-money marketing consultant, I was turning business down at a ratio of 3:1 and charging three times the local average day rate.
I was desperate to find reliable consultants to refer people to when I couldn’t meet demand or the client wasn’t the right fit for me.
I created my business by identifying this need for a pool of trusted consultants to refer to who are licensed to use my methodology. We saw our ‘competitors’ as a market in equipping them to use our models.
We call our customers ‘Ethical Entrepreneurs’. They’re Generation X. Their parents are Baby Boomers and their children are Millennials. This audience reads a lot of articles and rates experiences very highly. They buy fair trade and organic products. They donate to charity in a variety of ways. They’re sick of the marketing overwhelm and they just wanted gentle guidance and support. They do not want to outsource their thinking but they do want unbiased answers.
When we worked out who our ideal service business owners were, we created personas and gave them names: Richard and Rachel.
We know exactly what Richard and Rachel do—they run a professional trade business and professional service business respectively—and we know how their days look.
We worked out what they spend time on, what frustrates them, what they’d rather be doing instead, how this makes them feel, their confusion and overwhelm at the software available, and the overriding need for simplification and time-saving. We know exactly who our customers are, and refine this all the time as we find out more about them from every sales and support conversation we have. We make notes on what our customers think, what they’re saying, and what they are frustrated by.
Targeting Their Customers
Once you’ve worked out who your customers are, you need to decide how to target them. This is much harder. You might assume it would all be tied up in an exceptionally expensive marketing campaign, but it needn’t be.
Here’s how our experts tackled the challenge of growing their customer base:
Initially, I target our audience through blogging. I write content that captivates their interest and then nurture them through emails.
The email sequence contains pop-culture references (my audience love The Big Bang Theory) and I talk about the weather. I highlight my Britishness as this helps introverts identify with me, and I talk about the things that my profiling says matters to my customers: family, friendships, creativity and of course, marketing. I use a lot of humor. Life is too short to read emails that aren’t funny.
We’ve not kept our ideal customers a secret—in fact, we openly talk about Richard and Rachel (although ironically we are yet to have users with those actual names!).
We explain in our marketing messages that we too used to be Rachels, and tell stories of having worked in this market before with lots of business owners like this. And that’s where we first started our marketing for our customer base too—those Richards and Rachels we already knew.
My largest clients have come through word of mouth and personal contacts. I also pick up clients from being active on social media, including Facebook Groups that I’m a member of.
Each month I also run free or low-cost group training opportunities in my local area, things like Instagram Walks, product photography mini-workshops, introduction to Facebook Ads. These not only grow my network and bring me clients, but they are also a great way to find out what questions and problems businesses have so I know how to target my online content.
Firstly, I wrote my book: Watertight Marketing. This captured the process, metaphor, and frameworks I had developed. There was a built-in mechanism for the right kind of people finding me, rather than the other way around.
To access a companion set of workbooks, people register their copy of the book. This has built up an extensive database of clients wanting to use the approach and marketing consultants who understand it.
A year after the book came out, I started to train and license other consultants to use the materials with their own clients. Where many would have seen competitors, I saw collaborators.
At some point through the nurture funnel, I’ll speak to potential customers either via a webinar or via Zoom. Here I’ll uncover their goals, their aspirations, their deadlines and what I can (or cannot) do to help them.
I now actively market my content on LinkedIn (which is a great place to target exactly the kind of people who might be interested in my services) and start the conversation there as well as my blog posts. I follow everything up with a series of targeted ad campaigns. If you see one of my ads you’re who we’d love to work with.
Being really clear, open, and transparent about who you designed your product or service (or in our case software) for makes it a lot easier to sell. It also makes you easy to recommend and refer. Even if who you are talking to isn’t an ideal customer, if you can share a simple explanation of who those ideal customers are, other people can pass that on for you.
When you really understand your ideal customer, your marketing gets a lot easier. You can show up where they already are—the right social media at the right times, the right blogs, the right press—you get the idea. You can also use the language you know that they are using to describe the problems and frustrations or ‘wants’ that they have. The best copywriting always reflects back what ideal customers are saying themselves right back at them.
Understanding your ideal customer is critical to your business success. Without knowing (at the very least) the type of business or customer that you want to serve then you can’t go out and find them.
You also need to understand what their needs are, what problems they face, the impact on them of those problems, and the barriers they face in solving them. If you understand those things then you can create services and products that solve their problems, and marketing that speaks to the benefit of solving the problems, and really connects with your customer.
Psychographic profiling is often overlooked when it comes to profiling ideal clients and customers. Many companies just focus on demographics.
When you get into the teeny-tiny things that make up a person, you can communicate with them far more effectively and your content makes a much bigger impact.
Why Positioning The Way They Did Was Integral to Their Success
It may seem obvious; if a business is successful, you found the right audience, right?
But there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. For example, it can often equally be about learning what not to waste resources on.
Or you may have found the perfect gap in the market with a natural customer base, but it offers untapped potential.
By only working with ethical entrepreneurs we limit the drains on our time, energy and resources. We also have the added bonus of knowing that our clients are positively changing the world in a huge way and we’re a part of this. This inspires all of our team.
Unless you have a huge and unlimited budget, getting your marketing and sales message spot on most of the time is going to make you more profitable.
You’ll also have much more qualified and better sales conversations when you can speak your ideal customers’ language and quickly get to the point of how you can solve their problems—not all problems, just theirs.
With so many online marketing channels available, I think that many people forget that what you’re also creating in your business is a community. So while people talk about finding a niche and finding a tribe—I think you also have to care about the people that are your actual customers.
They aren’t just buying your products they’re buying into you and your values, so being clear on what your values are and how you tell your brand story are really essential for authentic marketing that builds the community of your business.
We have seen time and again that clarity on your ideal customers is important for three key reasons:
Firstly, if you are unclear about who you serve, you end up having to filter through inquiries from people you don’t want to work with, or you get no inquiries at all.
Secondly, if you are unclear, you often end up working with people who sap your soul, and regardless of what they pay you, this is not sustainable.
And thirdly, if you are unclear of your customers, you are rarely able to craft a proposition that is compelling enough for people to pay good money for, and however much you may like them, if there’s no profit in it, it’s unsustainable.
Here are the top tips from our experts. Jot them down and see if you can use them in your own business:
- Know your customers’ tendencies, not just their demographics. Where possible, be specific, targeting your ideal customer in your materials, and don’t send out general marketing messages.
- Understand their problems well, and use language that matches what they use to reflect that you know where they’re coming from.
- Channels like LinkedIn can be useful for targeting business-oriented clients (as opposed to Facebook).
- Taking ethics into consideration from the start can save you problems later.
- Personify your ‘ideal customers’ by giving them names and identities.
- Psychographic profiling can be a useful next step.