Four Steps for Identifying and Connecting with Your Ideal Client

After first looking at the false dichotomy of specialization vs. generalization and presenting a viewpoint on how to scaffold the growth of your business, and then exploring the characteristics your firm brings to a particular type of specialized focus, I am going to elaborate a bit on how you might go about attracting new business in your chosen niche.

Specialization Yields Focused Communications
You know this from your own design investigations: the most effective communications are focused, clear and purpose-driven. When you look at the landscape of the most successful designs, ads, apps, brands and products, you see that they are driven by a clear purpose, a point of view, an understanding of (and hopefully respect for) their audiences. In fact, this is what you help do for your clients, isn't it?

So your communications strategy, which drives new business development for your firm, must be equally concise, focused and purpose-driven.

And of course that means that some element of specialization is requisite in order to optimize your new business efforts. I wonder, though, if many businesses see new business development as following a linear path. You started communicating in this way and you must remain consistent unless there's some major shift in your business model. In fact, while you must remain consistent in your core principles as a business, your new business strategy has a lot of room to shift and change.  As you define new audiences or markets for your business, as you grow new capabilities, as you engage with new audiences, the specifics of your strategy will change as well.

In particular, as you develop a new area of specialization, you will be challenged to communicate your value to and initiate new business initiatives for your ideal clients. The following are 4 steps to get you started.

Step 1. Describe

Your first step is to understand who your ideal client is. In specific. Really know what type of business you are ideally suited to deliver success to (or with)! Be in the head of the person at that business who you think you need to talk to. Know why and how you want to work with them.

Consider the qualities that make for an ideal client for your business. It is probably a business that:

  • allows you to leverage your strengths (aesthetic, strategic or technological)
  • has a product, service or philosophy that appeals, interests and engages you and your team
  • reflects your personal, cultural or business values
  • is managed, owned and staffed by people with whom you would love to have a conversation, share ideas and collaborate deeply
  • is managed and staffed by people who respect design and the process of making design happen
  • is managed and staffed by people who will respect your expertise
  • gets your creative juices flowing
  • inspires strategic insights every time you see a new product or project or initiative they've launched
  • just seems to speak your language
  • has needs you know you can address
  • has needs that you sense will enable you to evolve their thinking or practice (and perhaps your own)
  • will thrive as a result of your point of view, background, capabilities, process and size

Now sketch it out, write it out, outline it, brainstorm it and put it in writing for your everyone on your team to connect with.

As you might do for your client, prepare a series (2-3) persona profiles to help put some flesh and blood around your wish list. It will inform your strategy and provide a reference for your intake procedures (meaning when you're qualifying clients, you can actually check off where they're situated on this list of ideals).

While you're thinking about your ideal clients, consider this. Just about everyone wants to work with the big-name brands. Don't start with those. Think beyond brands you want to add to your portfolio! Instead, consider how you might turn a new or smaller brand into one you'd be proud to add to your portfolio because YOU helped to turn them into a big-name brand.

Step 2. Identify

Wish list in hand, now you want to match up your ideal with the real. Identify a select group of businesses that fit your profiles and create a dossier that outlines:

  • Your shared values and interests
  • Their needs cross-referenced with your capabilities
  • Their opportunities cross-referenced with your insights
  • Work in your portfolio that demonstrates your capabilities and insights

By being honest and clear with yourself about why these businesses will succeed as a result of your vision and passion, you can now prepare a concise new business / pitch presentation that clearly communicates the value you bring to their businesses as you move to the next step.

Step 3. Investigate

So now you've identified maybe a half dozen or so actual businesses that you want to connect with. It's time to expand the dossier with information about key decision-makers at each company. After all, you're talking to and working with people, not businesses. And before you can have a conversation with the people who might hire you, you need to know a little more about them. What makes them tick? What keeps them up at night? What's they're big hope for the future . . . the future of their business and their own careers. Listen, you may talk to someone today who isn't going to contract you to work at their company tomorrow; but if you keep that conversation going there might be a project at a future company 5 years from now.

Is your ideal client worth waiting for? Absolutely.

Everything you learn, every conversation you have, every connection you make is an investment in the future of your business. So take the time to learn about them and how their business runs:

  • Key issues and concerns that they face, particularly as it relates to the intersection of their needs and your capabilities
  • Access points, including learning how they do and do not like to be marketed to
  • Timing and procurement considerations
  • Potential referral sources

How? By listening to them in person and via mass communications: following them on their most prolific social media platforms, reading their blogs and other published work, attending events at which they speak, learning more about committees and boards on which they serve, etc.

Take the time to learn before you move onto the next step.

Step 4. Act

Armed with a purpose, a case and that fat dossier of information, you are ready to leap into action. Start making calls. (Kidding.)

Making contact depends on what you know, what they need and whether the time is ripe. The key idea here is make the first contact matter to them. But that doesn't mean first contact has to be everything, say everything, mean everything. It's the first of many conversations you will have because you are committed to this community of ideas.

Your goal is to initiate a dialogue that they will want to continue with you because they find your ideas valuable, helpful, inspired and engaging. If you can speak to them about design and design strategy in the context of their business or organizational concerns, you can develop a more meaningful long-term relationship not only with one client but with an entire community of clients.

Of course that means you're still following their ideas on social media. Having read their ideas you can initiate meaningful dialogues around shared interests and ideas, letting them take the lead. If they write something that you find meaningful, respond to it, share it, reference it in your own blog forum, giving them credit and linking back to the original idea.

And then there are some of the other obvious points of contact:

  • Ask a colleague or strategic partner to make an introduction when the time if ripe.
  • Identify at least one future event at which to meet them.
  • Join committees or events in which design strategists might be valuable participants.
  • Email them with an idea around a shared interest, co-authoring an article, co-producing a conference panel, an invitation to see the inner workings of your studio or a request to pitch your business.
  • Interview them as part of your ongoing research within your business

Remember to act wisely. Consider the value of the relationship you can have with key influencers and lifelong clients. They are worth the wait.

How did you meet your first ideal client? Share your experiences in the comments.