Figuring out how to find your ideal customer and then taking the time to get to know them are quite possibly the most important things you can do for your small business.
Think about it. Your business exists for your customers. You open your doors every morning for them. You login to your website everyday for them. If your customer isn’t buying what you’re offering, your business will struggle.
So the very first lesson in building your brand is to know your ideal customer inside and out, backwards and forwards, up and down. Only then can you craft a brand and a message that really speak to who they are, appeal to what they want, and solve the problems they have.
And that, my friends, is the secret sauce. That’s the way you stop being one of the many and you start being the leader of the pack.
But finding your ideal audience is something a lot of small business owners struggle with. And really getting to know them can seem like a tall order. Especially if you’re an online store owner who has very little face-to-face interaction with your customers.
When you know the right questions to ask yourself, though, it becomes surprisingly easy.
So today we’re going to break down the steps to finding and getting to know your ideal customer and the questions to ask along the way so that when you get to the end, you’ll feel confident about who you’re talking to, how to find them, and how to be the brand that wins their hearts and ultimately their wallets.
step 1: focus on the ideal part of your ideal customer
The first thing that most small business owners overlook when trying to identify their ideal customer is the ideal part.
Ideally you want to be making a ton of sales, so your ideal customer becomes anyone who is looking to buy from you, right?
WRONG. I’m telling you to stop that mode of thinking. Right now. DO NOT cheapen your business by trying to appeal to everyone. You are unique, your business is unique, therefore you need to find those unique people who are the perfect fit for your business.
Start, instead, by asking yourself who do you want to work with? Who are your favorite clients, who are the people you’re excited to hear from or sell to?
Or another way to ask this question is who are you doing all of this for?
Yes, you’re doing it for yourself (though sometimes you think you’re insane for doing it at all). Yes, you’re doing it for your family.
But when it comes to your customers, who are you ultimately working or creating for? And why are you doing it for them? What impact do you hope to have in their lives?
Here’s the all-too-familiar reality about being a solopreneur or small business owner – there is only so much time in the day and you can’t run a business trying to please everyone. So the best way to build a business that you actually want to work in is to build your business around those customers you love so you attract more of the same.
It doesn’t mean you’ll always get those happy, smiling, super appreciative, awesome-review-leaving customers and clients.
But it does help you narrow your focus in your business so you’re putting your best foot forward to those people who matter most to you. In doing so, you’re saving yourself time and energy.
I mean, speaking to your favorite person is always easier than speaking to a crowd, right? The words come easier, the conversation feels more natural and authentic, and there’s just a lot less ambiguity about how your message will be received. The same is true when you build your brand and your message for your ideal customer instead of for the masses.
Questions to Ask:
- Who are the customers you’re ultimately doing all of this for? Why are you doing it for them?
- What makes them “ideal” to you?
- What impact do you hope your business has in their lives?
step 2: figure out who that ideal customer is on paper
Once you’ve got a rough idea of who your ideal customer is, then it’s up to you to find out every little thing you possibly can about them, short of being creepy and stalking them throughout your store or on Facebook.
That starts with figuring out who they are on paper, or the basic things that most of your ideal customers have in common. This includes things like age, income, marital status, life stage, location, interests, etc.
The only attributes that matter are the ones that most of your audience has in common and are relevant to your brand. For instance, if you sell dog bandanas, everyone in your ideal audience probably owns a dog. Maybe you also know that most of them are Millennials. Perfect. On paper, your audience is Millennial dog owners.
The majority of your audience might also have two kids and live in Chicago, but unless you’re planning on incorporating either of those two things into your brand or messaging, they’re kind of irrelevant.
Understanding the basic demographic make-up of your audience gives you a clearer picture of them and helps you know how to relate to them on a broader level.
The way you talk and relate to a twenty-year-old single college student is going to be very different from the way you relate to a thirty-year-old married mother of a newborn, right? The places where you find them are going to be very different as well.
Building a relatable relationship with your customers is critical to getting them to give you a shot and to keep them coming back, especially as a small business. People buy from brands they know, like, and trust.
Feeling seen, heard, and understood is a big component of that likeability factor.
Questions to Ask:
- Who are your people? What basic demographics and traits does your ideal audience have in common with each other? These could include age, income, marital status, life stage, location/geography, interests, hobbies, etc. List only the things that the vast majority of your ideal audience has in common with each other and only the ones that matter to your brand or your messaging.
step 3: identify what makes your ideal audience special, what makes them better or different from other people like them?
Millennial dog owners is a large group of people. Not all Millennial dog owners are going to be the type to buy their dog a bandana. But there’s a specific subset, or niche, who will. So what is the thing that sets your Millennial dog owners apart from all the others? Perhaps they’re people who dote on their dogs. Maybe they’re people who treat their dogs like family.
But there’s likely an emotion, mindset, or behavior that really sets them apart from the rest. Distinguishing your specific people from the other people like them enables you to create a brand experience that caters to that unique niche group specifically, which in turn helps them distinguish your unique business from the other dog bandana businesses like yours.
Think of it like this. Lululemon and Aerie both sell athleisurewear, right? They appeal to the same general audience – Millennials and Gen Z-ers who like to feel comfortable and be active. But Aerie’s specific subset is more casual and focused on body positivity. Whereas Lululemon’s is a little more upscale and performance-focused.
By knowing who their specific niche audience is, they can design a brand that appeals to and attracts those unique people.
Once you find your subset or niche, that is where the real money is.
Questions to Ask:
- Do they have mindsets, habits, beliefs, motivations, etc. that set them apart from this larger group. If so, what are they?
step 4: understand how your ideal audience views your product, service, or industry.
Everyone has preconceived thoughts or biases when they shop. Some of them are learned, some of them are assumed, and most of them just come down to not knowing enough.
When I was growing up, everything my mom bought at the grocery store was a name brand. Naturally, when I moved out and started buying things myself, I gravitated toward named brands because those were what I knew. Until I realized how much more expensive named brand items are and how much they were eating into my budget. Classic case of bias.
Some people might be biased about coaching programs because they’ve had a bad experience with a program in the past. Some people might be biased about handmade sellers because they got a bum product from Etsy once.
Maybe you’re wondering why this matters. It matters because it helps you understand the mindset your audience has when they first approach your brand so you can begin framing up your messaging to speak to that mindset.
By proactively addressing any negativity they have and taking measures to reduce their fears and anxieties, you can establish comfortability and trust. It comes down to the different between selling a product and offering a solution.
Questions to Ask:
- How does your audience view your type of business or industry? For instance, is it something they’re distrusting of, something they maybe don’t see the value in? Is it something they see as a treat, as a nice to have?
- What general frustrations do they have when it comes to your industry?
step 5: become super familiar with their problems, pain points, and needs
You do not sell products and services.
Do I have you scratching your head? Hear me out. You might make products and services. But what you ultimately sell are solutions to problems.
If people were 100% happy with what they have or their current situation, they wouldn’t be looking for something else. When they’re not happy with what they have, that’s when they start looking for better options.
In order to capture their attention, you have to position yourself as the solution to their problems.
And in order to position yourself as the solution to their problems, you have to first understand what their problems are.
This is a hard exercise because we don’t often consciously think about the needs that are driving our purchases. But every purchase decision – from toilet paper to a luxury car – starts with a need, a void in our lives or a problem we’re trying to solve.
You buy toilet paper because you’re not going to go to the bathroom without it. You need it. Believe it or not, there is an emotional need behind that, and that is the need to feel clean and comfortable and confident. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is look at the panic that ensued when stores started running out of toilet paper during COVID. Talk about an emotional reaction, right?
It can also be hard to identify what the problem or need would be for products that aren’t exactly a necessity or products that you can buy anywhere. Jeans are a good example. Or jewelry. Or shoes.
But not all problems or needs are giant life-altering, world-changing ones. Sometimes they’re as simple as feeling like your closet is a little stale and needing some fresh options to make you feel cool and on-trend.
Sometimes they’re as simple as just having a bad day and needing a little retail therapy.
Or sometimes they’re even as simple as walking by an Auntie Anne’s in the airport and suddenly needing a sweet treat because you’re hungry, bored, and wandering around aimlessly while you wait for your flight. Plus I don’t know about you, but that smell of a freshly baked cinnamon sugar pretzel gets me every time.
Here’s an interesting exercise you should try. The next time you go to shop for something like jeans or shoes or a new book or anything really, ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I shopping for this? What problem or need do I have that is driving me to shop for this right now?
- Why is finding the right product important to me?
- Why am I looking at these specific products, looking at this specific store, interested in this specific style?
- How did I first find out about these options?
- Why did I choose this specific product over the others?
- What specific thing ended up being the deciding factor?
When you start analyzing your own purchase decisions, you start realizing that a lot more thought goes into deciding what to buy than you originally realized.
And perhaps I’m just a huge nerd, but I actually kind of find it fun.
Questions to Ask:
- Why would your audience potentially be in the market for your product or service?
- What problem or pain point are they ultimately looking to your brand/product/service to help them solve?
- What is the emotional need behind that problem or pain point that is driving them to find a solution?
step 6: know the journey they take to your product or service
When someone ultimately decides to purchase or not purchase your product, that decision doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Every purchase, from the People Magazine you “impulsively” buy in the checkout line at Target to the new house you just signed for involves a journey.
When you understand the different legs of the journey, you can better understand how to show up and convince your audience during each one.
At a high level, the different legs of the journey are awareness, consideration (or engagement), and purchase (or conversion). Sometimes the stages are called different things. But in order to make a purchase, a person has to consider your product. And in order to consider your product, a person has to know it exists first.
Your goal as a business owner is to figure out how to make the right people aware of your brand, how to connect with them and get them interested in it, and how to ultimately convince them to purchase.
The People Magazine might seem like an impulse purchase. You’re standing in line. You see it. You pick it up, maybe thumb through it. You ultimately set it on the conveyor belt.
But if it hadn’t been at the register, you wouldn’t have noticed it (awareness). If it hadn’t had a picture of Harry and Megan on the cover, you wouldn’t have picked it up (interest). And if you had had more than a few seconds to think about it, you might not have purchased it. But the line was moving and you needed to make a decision and you like getting lost in the occasional People Magazine, so you bought it (purchase).
It was probably the shortest journey of your life. But it was a journey nonetheless.
Understanding the journey helps you identify opportunities to connect with your audience and build a relationship with them throughout every stage so you can ultimately guide them to purchase.
Questions to Ask:
- Where is my ideal audience hanging out? Think in terms of both digital and offline spaces.
- What are some common interests that they have or share with each other? Maybe common hobbies, common stores they like?
- What does my brand offer them that no one else does?
- What is my ideal audience ultimately looking for in a brand and/or product like mine?
Getting to know your ideal audience is critical to setting your small business up for success. Remember, your business can’t exist without your customers.
But once you know them, and know them well, you can craft your brand experience around them and build a business they simply can’t resist.
What is the most difficult thing for you when it comes to finding and getting to know your ideal audience? Let me know in the comments!
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