How Many “Ideal Clients” Can You Get?

Ideal coaching client

If you didn’t read yesterday’s post (Getting More Clients: What’s Your Real Goal?), take a moment to check it out. We’ll still be here when you’re done.

Today we have a new question for you.

A fair number of marketing coaches out there instruct you to do a little exercise called “Defining Your Ideal Client.”

The premise of this exercise is basically “Figure out who you really want to work with so you don’t end up with clients who aren’t the right fit for you.”

I’m all for ideal clients. It’s nice work when you can get them. But it can be a very fine line between Defining Your Ideal Client and Defining the Flawless Human Being.

Here’s what I tend to hear when people do this exercise.

When people give me their definitions of their ideal clients, they include a level of detail that looks impossible to find in the wild, because they’ve been taught to only focus on their “ideal.”

You may ask, what does the perfect human being coaching client tend to look like?

On paper, it tends to be a list of fairly innocuous positive traits:

Clients who are passionate about [the thing]. Clients who are self-starters and willing to take direction without being dragged. Clients who stay on track and don’t rush the process. Clients who are open-minded, optimistic, and willing to invest in whatever it is they’re getting coaching about. Clients who Take This Stuff Seriously.

All good on the surface, no?

But when you read between the lines, here’s what it really boils down to:

They can’t live without you, but they’re not needy. They should be willing to pay a lot, but they can’t expect the world from you. They should be flexible, but they shouldn’t reschedule a lot if things come up. They have plenty of money, but not enough to hire someone better than you. They should be broken enough to need your help, but not… you know … broken. Eew.

Our demands list for a client becomes longer than that for a spouse, and somehow we expect to find 30 of them a year.

There is a big difference between a qualitative definition and a quantitative definition. You can get your hands on the latter a lot more easily than the former.

(My grandfather’s definition of the ideal client, incidentally, was “one who paid upfront”.)

“I want clients who are willing to invest in what’s important” is not the same as “I want clients who think paying my rates is a completely reasonable thing to do.”

(Parenthetical aside: If someone isn’t willing to “invest”, then they can’t, by definition, be a client – ideal or otherwise. Clients pay, which is another word for “invest”. If they don’t pay, they’re not clients. I notice that when a coach uses the word “invest” in their head, they often subconsciously feel “I know I’m probably charging more than I should be.” Not always, but often enough to be statistically significant.)

“I want clients who are self-starters” is not the same as “I want clients who consistently take action on the things we cover each session.”

You can tell when you have the latter. (And, you can communicate that clearly to clients as well.) You can measure it every single session. Not so much with the former.

This is exactly the same principle that we talked about in yesterday’s homework.

“I just want good clients” sounds reasonable when you’re desperate, broke, or both. It sounds like a perfectly unassailable statement. But if you take a step back, and you just hear those words by themselves, it sounds ridiculous.

Understandable, yes. Ridiculous, also yes.

Imagine a 15-year-old girl’s diary entry.

It says, “Oh, God, I just want a good boyfriend. That’s all I want. A good boyfriend.”

If a grown-up were to say, “You might want to be a little more specific about your demands of the universe,” they would get a frenzied and furious, “You just don’t get it!” in response.

And of course the adult realizes, “No, honey. You don’t get it.”

If you walk out just looking for a “good boyfriend,” you’re either a) not going to find one because of your psycho desperate frenzy, or b) you’re going to get a person who can’t possibly meet the criteria of “good boyfriend” because you haven’t even defined what that meant.

On the other hand, if the same girl’s diary read, “I want a boyfriend who is between one and two years older than me, tans easily but isn’t too dark, plays football but isn’t a jock, gets great grades but doesn’t think he’s smarter than me, pays attention to his schoolwork, has a good job so we can go on awesome dates, but above all, he has lots and lots of time to spend with me”?

This girl lives in La La Land.

It’s like that with clients, too.

The thing is, when you start defining something in detail you can intuitively tell whether you’re asking too much of the world (aka, “looking for the Flawless Human Being”).

Defining your desired clients in detail can also get you to see things that are mutually exclusive to a coaching relationship. (aka, “If they have that much money and are that much of a self-starter, then they probably don’t need a coach.”)

As you build your coaching practice, you are bound to have a certain number of clients who, through no effort of your own, are what you would consider to be your ideal clients. When that happens, yay for you.

What’s more likely is that you will have a larger number of clients who are Perfectly Good Enough.

Some will be self-starters but they have to reschedule appointments a lot. Some will send you too many questions via email, but they do everything you suggest and think you are an angel sent from God. Some you have to drag kicking and screaming towards their goals, but they ultimately follow your direction and they buy six months at a time in one lump sum.

Like a spouse, you wouldn’t call them perfect by any stretch. But they’re fine. They’re just fine.

The purpose of the Defining Your Ideal Client exercise is not to magically set a force in motion to guarantee only the perfect people come to you.

The real purpose is to get you very clear on what kinds of clients you truly don’t want, and what makes a client Good Enough To Work With. It also helps you decide what to communicate to potential clients so you are able to say what kind of coaching experience they can expect from you.

Done right, it’s how you start filling your book as you grow your coaching practice. When it’s overdone, you’re being Miss Princess Diva Pants Hand Me My Tiara And Peel Me A Grape.

Your homework for today:

Think about your Ideal Client. Go ahead and write it down in as much detail as you can.

Next, look at that definition and ask how many humans on Earth would fit that description. Edit it and tone it down where it makes sense to do so. Make anything that’s vague (self-starter) more specific (takes action on what we cover each week).

Finally, look at it again and ask yourself if it reflects what you’d really accept in a client. You may have defined a perfect 10, but you may still be very, very satisfied working with 7s or higher. Figure out what 7 means for you.

Because your ideal client is really the Satisfying Enough Client who decides to hire YOU.

It would probably be a good idea to make that as wide a pool as you can.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.