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Defining Your Ideal Client: It’s Not How, But Who You Want

At some point in your career, you have questioned whether you are working with the right kinds of clients. Your days may be filled with some wildly successful appointments, but you have even more appointments that go nowhere. You may feel drained after countless days of chasing prospects or trying to convince them to take action.

We start to wonder why we put so much effort into trying to help people who are not as committed to helping themselves as we are. How did we get here, and how do we make it stop? I would suggest the answer is not how, but who. 


Do You Know Who Your Ideal Client Is?

The makeup of our days is determined by the people we spend it with — in our case, prospects and clients. Although we may have a full calendar, it is often filled by people who may not be the right fit for us — or vice versa. The calendar also may be sprinkled with people who brighten our day and make us proud of the work we do to help them. If only we could have more of those!

In the early part of your career, you may have been more inclined to work with anyone, especially when you are trying to find your way in the industry and pay bills. But over time, it becomes clearer to you what — and who — you are (and are not) willing to deal with.

As you progress in your career, you become concerned about whether you are working not only with people who have money and can afford your services, but with those who also satisfy the other — more personal — side of the business. Ultimately, do you enjoy working with them? Do you cringe when you see their name on your calendar, or do you clear your afternoon to spend extra time with them? When their number pops up on your phone, do you want to answer, or do you automatically send it to voice mail?

We begin by being honest with ourselves about what works — and what does not work — in our business. Only then can we begin to make real progress toward crafting the business we originally set out to build. 

Sometimes, the best way to figure out who we do want to work with is to identify who we do not want to work with. In the spirit of being honest with ourselves, here are a few traits of people you may recognize you prefer not working with:


» Those who treat your staff (or you) poorly, and who do not respect your time.


» Those who overly question themselves (or you) and backtrack on their decisions.


» Those who have a predetermined outcome and are inflexible or uncoachable.


The reality is that we all want to believe we work with people who value our services, respect our time, are committed to their future and allow us to enjoy going to work every day.

The quicker we identify who fits the bill, the happier we will be in business and in life.

Qualifying a client or prospect at the very beginning is incredibly important to ensuring you are sitting in front of someone who is genuinely looking for financial leadership and direction. Are they interested in you as a person and as a professional? Are they shopping around for the cheapest product, or are they looking for a “right fit” relationship to build over many years? Qualifying prospects and clients effectively — and early — can be the key to developing a winning practice.

Still, there will be some people who simply are not ready for the kind of help you can provide them. When they are not ready for your help, they are not your

ideal clients — at least not yet.

Chances are, if we surround ourselves with the right kinds of people, we inevitably find people who want, need and are ready for our help.

Who are the right kinds of clients for your business?

Think about the clients you enjoy working with. Do they have certain traits or demographics in common? Ask yourself questions such as:


» What problems can you solve for clients?


» Who needs and wants this solution?


» Where do these kinds of people work or congregate?


» What types of people are ready and able to pay you for your services?


» What are their biggest financial pain factors?


» What stage of life are they in where you can help them the most?


Brainstorm the kinds of qualities you want your clients to have. Most advisors have a wide variety of clients but have never considered which ones are truly ideal. In simple terms, who are the clients you wish you could duplicate? Those are your ideal clients!

You want your practice to be filled with these wonderful, easygoing, coachable people. Of course, it goes without saying that even as “nice” as someone may be to work with, they also need to purchase from you at some point. After all, you need to make a living.

Try zeroing in on your list of top

clients — the ones who were the most profitable to work with. Then ask yourself some additional questions about these top clients, such as: Were they easy to work with? How did they treat your staff? Were they responsive to providing you information you needed? Did they appreciate your advice and hard work? Did they follow your advice? Do they freely send you referrals?

In addition to these questions, take a look at their demographics: What is their average age? Are they married? Do they have children or grandchildren? What kinds of jobs do they have, and what is their annual income? Do they typically fall into a certain risk tolerance category?

After you sort through their demographics, you will probably see some patterns emerge. Do not be surprised if your ideal clients look a lot like you — it is human nature to want to work with people just like us.


Keeping Score

From these lists of characteristics, decide what is most important to you and score your clients accordingly. Are profits most important to your practice? Or are you willing to forgo some immediate profitability if it means that the meeting process or sale is easier and relatively stress-free? If you did not have to spend time working with the less-than-ideal client, would that free you to focus your efforts to find more clients in the ideal category?

Perhaps you are willing to work with a difficult client if you know it is going to pay off in the end, but they might not show up on your ideal client list. This means that they might help you reach a revenue goal, but they may not be the kind of client you would wish to duplicate. 

You may need to go through this exercise several times to get crystal clear on what is most important to you in your practice right now. It is quite possible that you will discover that you are consistently working with the wrong kinds of people. Perhaps you are serving too broad an audience, or you do not have a clear path from “introduction” to “client,” which makes your (otherwise enjoyable) conversations feel labored and ineffective.  

Have you considered working with a smaller niche market to refine your processes and have a more predictable prospect base that shares your “ideal client” characteristics? 

We simply cannot be all things to all people and expect to serve them well. The first step in specializing your practice is to identify a group of people who you wish to serve — in other words, find your niche. Niche marketing allows you to be laser-focused and be exceptional at what you do. It sounds counterintuitive, but you really can do more with less.

I define a “niche market” as a big group of people with the same big problem. When you focus your efforts in a specific niche, you can anticipate planning challenges and develop dynamic solutions quickly. You also are able to brand yourself as the financial professional of choice for your niche market — making it easy for your ideal clients to refer friends just like them.

Although they may be unique in their own ways, the people in your niche market may have the same employer and the same benefits available to them. So, instead of trying to learn 100 different employer-sponsored plans, you can learn a single plan inside and out and be considered the local “go-to” expert for this group. By having a clearly defined niche, you can place your focus on planning techniques and product strategies that best suit your clients’ situations.

But why only ideal clients — or a niche market? You might be saying to yourself, “My services can benefit everyone! Why do I have to limit my practice to only one type of client?”

It is about working smarter and not harder. Why waste time and effort on prospects or clients who never heed your advice and who you do not enjoy working with anyway? It is probably best for both of you if they find someone else who is a better fit for them. But it also all comes down to numbers. That’s right — I said it — it is a numbers game. It is your business, and you get to decide your numbers.

I would estimate that your current top clients equal about 20 percent of your entire book of business. After you have estimated the percentage of ideal clients you have, estimate how much profit you earn from those ideal clients compared with the rest of your clients (the other 80 percent).

I am guessing that those few ideal clients are the ones who produce at least 80 percent of your total revenue.

This 80/20 rule is the Pareto Principle that you likely have seen manifest itself in so many areas of our world.

Now imagine this: If these ideal clients represent 80 percent of your income and they are equivalent to only 20 percent of your entire client database, what would happen if 100 percent of these clients were ideal clients?


The Numbers Tell The Tale

Let’s play with some numbers. Imagine you have 100 clients, who provide a total revenue of $10,000 per month.

Remember that of these 100 clients, only 20 represent your “ideal” clients, and they provide 80 percent of your total revenue — $8,000 per month.

This means that your 20 ideal clients earn you $8,000 per month, while your other 80 clients earn you revenue of only $2,000 per month.

Now imagine your 100 clients are all ideal clients! 

If just 20 ideal clients bring in a monthly revenue of $8,000, then 100 ideal clients could potentially bring in a monthly revenue of $40,000!

If all your clients were ideal clients, instead of grossing $10,000 per month, you could be grossing $40,000 per month for the same amount of effort, time and work as you would have expended for the same number of less-than-ideal clients. And because you are working with people you truly enjoy serving, your days are filled with meetings with people you actually like! 

By breaking down the math, you can see why your practice should be focused on your ideal clients. Nobody likes to admit that this is a numbers game, but it is. We all have 168 hours in our week, and it is up to us to decide how (and with whom) we spend them.


Chris Kowalik is founder of ProFeds, and is an expert at serving federal employees. Since 2001, Chris has coached more than 1,000 financial professionals, to help them turn prospects into profitable clients. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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