my ideal client has an avatar. photo by Anton Petukhov.

Who Are You Trying to Help? Go Beyond the “Ideal Client”

If you have a small business or nonprofit, you’ve probably done at least one “who’s your ideal client” exercise in your life.  (If you haven’t, you might consider it.)  There are a lot of these exercises out there in small business consulting circles.  They invite you to think about the person you’re most trying to reach with your marketing, so you can connect with more of them.  We even do our own version of it as the very first lesson in the 90 Minute Website program, for example.  Here are some of the more common kinds of “ideal client” questions:

What are they like—gender, age bracket, education, etc.?
What are their challenges, frustrations, and struggles right now? (The ubiquitous “pain point”)
Where do they look for solutions to these struggles?
What kinds of offerings could help them work through that struggle and on to something better?
What is their budget?

…and so forth.  It’s important to consider these kinds of questions and make sure you can answer them.  If you attempt to market yourself without knowing who you’re talking to, it will be a waste of time and money. In my circles, a good website is an invitation to a conversation that will show people they can believe in you, so you can take the next step together toward something better. Knowing who you’re conversing with has to come first.

But there’s another layer to this, once you’ve explored the first one.  And that’s where Jean comes in.

The Ideal Client Comes to Life

The photo above is on my office wall.  I see this woman whenever I go in or come out.  For whatever reason, my mind has always called her “Jean.” It might look like a simple photo, but it’s one of the most important objects in my office.  And, very likely, it’s one of the reasons I attract the amazing clients I do.

Jean is my ‘avatar’ for the kind of person I want to work with. I don’t actually know who she is, or anything about her for that matter, but that isn’t important.  She is the carrier of my own ideal client story.

In that story, here’s what Jean’s photo represents to me:

She’s a person who used to work in a corporate job that paid well enough, but wasn’t anything like the work she’d one day hoped to be doing.  She was very unhappy. After sticking it out for a while, she decided to try working for herself instead. With a little money she’s taken time to squirrel away, she made the jump and decided to start a consulting business to help women like herself figure out a career or vocation that really feels like their life’s work.

She went to and had some simple business cards made up.  She networked.  She joined the local chamber of commerce.

Jean avoided the whole website/social media question for as long as she could, but realized she had to face it if she wanted to get the word out about her new business.  She did a Google search and looked for local web people, but none of them felt right.  She checked out some DIY website builders, even set up a freebie account, but the whole process felt like brain damage.  Besides the technology issue, she had no idea what to put onto a website that would convince people to work with her: Brand new in the business, working from her home office, in a field with heavy competition.

One day she startled herself when she realized she’d been staring at a blank template page in Squarespace for an hour, hands suspended above the keyboard (click goes the camera shutter).  She knew this wasn’t going to cut it. She was frustrated at being unable to find a person who would not just put up some pages, but also coach her through the process of what to say, and how, and what it should look like. And teach her where to find images that evoked the right feeling, how to get Google to pay attention to her site, whether to blog or not.

And the most unreasonable part of all?  She wanted the person or people to believe in her, and to care about her business as much as she did.

That’s Jean.  She’s typical of the people I love to work with, and those who most need what I offer:

She’s got a vision for her life she wants to step into.
She has to have a purpose that gets her out of bed every morning.
She’s passionate about making something better in the world, and has the courage to jump into self-employment.
She has a budget for a good website, and is willing to invest in the right relationship to get it done, so she could focus on building her business instead.

I have internalized my so-called ideal client.  The photo of Jean greets me every day when I sit down at my computer and my screen saver asks me, “Who do I most want to work with today?”  I know her stress, her tight shoulders, the way she complexes over things in the middle of the night.  I feel her struggling with the right steps to take to build a business that supports her. I see the forest of website dreck she has to hack her way through every day, not knowing who to trust. I know what she wants.  I know how to help her get there.

Who’s YOUR Jean?  

Who do you want to work with today?  Where do they find themselves today, right now?  What’s their ‘magic wand’ wish that will make life exponentially better?  Do they crave being heard?  Are they in pain or fearful?  Do they feel stuck in an ugly pattern?  Is their health suffering because of the pressures and circumstances of their life or work?

Or on a more material level, do they need the release that comes with self-care, some time away, a home that feels right to them, friends, community, a cause to support so they feel part of something bigger?

Think about what you’re offering.  Think harder about who you want to offer it to.

Then gather a stack of magazines, or if you’re more digital, go to an online stock photo house like or  Flip through the magazines, and see which peoples’ faces reach out to you. In a stock photography site, plunk in some keywords in the “Search” box. (Hint: set a timer. This is a huge delicious rabbit hole of time.)

Find your Jean. Or John. Or whoever jumps out at you.  Cut or print them out.  Put them in plain sight.

Build a story for them, as I have.  Feel for them.  Love them.

Bringing the people you want to help to life, and bringing them into your life where you can’t generalize or anonymize any more, will rock your world.

Don’t keep Jean waiting.  She needs you.

Love to all.