As a small business owner it’s very tempting to get excited by a potential client willing to do business with us especially during the quieter periods when projects are winding down, decision makers are on holidays or training programs are suspended over the summer months (as is the case in my line of work). I am sure many service providers can relate.
Big or small, all businesses go through natural cycles of growth and dormancy but with cash flow being the biggest challenge for most small businesses the dormancy periods are felt much more acutely.
Tempting as it is, rather than immediately jumping at the first opportunity that comes your way, especially during a dry spell, I encourage you to stop and really think about whether this is the right client for you.
The questions I encourage people to reflect on is:
“What does your ideal client look like?” “What makes them ideal?”
Take out a blank sheet of paper and describe specific characteristics that make them ideal for you and your business.
The more crystal clear you can become about their behaviours and traits, the more you will attract that type of client because that will sharpen and narrow your focus to what’s important to you.
This might seem like an odd example but I remember when I was expecting my first child, all I saw were other pregnant women. It seemed like the strangest thing at the time but that is where my energy and attention went so that is what I looked for and therefore saw more of.
We’ve all heard the expression, “Like attracts like”. When we are feeling open and optimistic others seem more open, friendly and kind. When we are closed, grouchy and scowling that is what is reflected back at us and wonder why everyone is in a bad mood. Energy, positive or negative is a powerful force that we put out and receive.
The same goes for our existing or potential clients. Who we choose to surround ourselves with is an expression of who we are so we must be mindful of what we are projecting and therefore attracting.
When I reflect on the best work I have done for my ideal clients, here is what stands out for me:
They were grateful for the service I was providing-The leaders who contracted with me were secure in their strengths and also appreciated their limitations. They were not afraid to ask for help and were grateful for what I was able to do for them and their teams. They had a problem to solve and appreciated the skills and support I was able to provide.
They were willing to pay for the value they received, graciously. The ideal client has done their homework and is willing to pay for quality work. We’ve all accepted at one time or another less money for services we provided and it doesn’t feel good. Over time if this pattern continues it erodes our self-esteem and once we agree to a lower fee it’s pretty tough to up it again especially with the same client. Of course it’s our job to know what we are worth and ask for what we fairly deserve even if it means we have to walk away from clients who are only about paying the lowest cost and still demand the most from us.
They trusted and respected the expertise I brought to the table. In other words they didn’t micro-manage. They were engaged in setting direction and establishing clear outcomes for what success should look like and they left me to design the process. We established regular check-ins to ensure we were on track but they didn’t need to review every Powerpoint slide and edit every bullet point. There was a mutual respect for the strengths each party brought to the table and we allowed each other the space and freedom to accomplish tasks in our own way.
They are loyal and generous– If I’ve done great work for them and received rave reviews they give me more business and refer me to others in their organization or network. They don’t continue to make me jump through hoops every time to prove my worth especially after they’ve done their reference checks and due diligence. In my experience this is a power play to show who’s in control and holds the purse strings. Ideal clients see the relationship as a win-win where they are paying for a service they need and I provide it with excellence every time.
They share my values about the “why” of the work- This is probably the most important trait that I look for when vetting potential clients. Leaders who really want to make their organizations the best place to work also take accountability for the culture they helped create and are willing to be as engaged in the process as they are asking their employees to be. In leaner times I have taken jobs against my instinct and better judgement when managers tell me to “fix their people” and distance themselves from any involvement or responsibility. You can imagine how those engagements worked out!
Getting ideal clients is about forging long term relationships with people who we connect with in a real and lasting way that reflect our values. Relationships that are in harmony have an ease about them that almost feel effortless. There is a mutual give and take that flows from a place of real interest, care, liking and respect.
So before you jump at the next opportunity that comes your way reflect on who you ideal client is and validate if you are on track or whether you need to make some changes about who you are inviting into your life.