Whenever I’m networking and have spoken to someone for more than a few minutes, the question I most dread comes up. No, not, “What do you do?”


“Who’s your ideal customer?”


I feel like that’s hard to answer, so I normally make a joke of it and answer like a dating show contestant. “Oh, someone who’s a good listener and open to change.”


But it’s not entirely a joke, because, though I do tend to serve businesses of a certain size, I also do want clients to both listen to me and implement suggested improvements.


If you’re having trouble defining your ideal customer, ask yourself these three questions.


Can I help them?Cleaning Service

Most businesses, particularly in the B2B or professional service realms have a certain scope within which they’re comfortable. For instance, if you have a professional cleaning service, maybe you don’t have enough cleaners to pick up a contract with a large office complex. On the flip side, maybe you don’t do residential cleaning, because those jobs are too small for the revenue gained to cover the expenses they require. So your ideal customer is somewhere in the middle.

Or, maybe a certain company just has requirements which are out of your wheelhouse. If you are a business attorney and someone contacts you for divorce representation, they’re not your ideal client. You might be able to get some business out of them, but if it’s an area in which you aren’t experienced, you’re probably doing a disservice to you both.


Do they want my help?

Remember my date show answer about wanting a client who listens?

There will be certain clients who, though you could help them, aren’t interested for whatever reason. Maybe they’re a brand new business and they’re not ready to outsource any services yet. Or perhaps they’re a larger business who can’t be convinced you have anything to offer them.

Maybe you’ve found that clients in certain types of businesses are less receptive to outside advice, due to the specifics of their industry. Or you haven’t gotten your foot in the door with that industry yet.

None of this is to say that you can never work with these types of clients. However, for the purposes of referrals, they are not your ideal clients.


Nuclear Power PlantDo I want to work with them?

It’s a fact of business that certain customers are not worth the hassle. Maybe they want to pay you bottom rates, but they require 100% on-site work (and their office is on 3-Mile Island).

Maybe they’ve had multiple failed business ventures, and stiffed their vendors on unpaid invoices when they closed shop. Perhaps they are unethical in their dealings with employees or customers.

If a client is going to be a lot of work for little return, or if they could bring down your reputation just by association, they’re probably not the client you want to pursue first.


Again, someone being a “no” to one (or all) of these questions isn’t a reason to absolutely never pursue them as a customer. However, when you are in a networking situation and only have minutes to describe who you’re looking for, use these parameters to describe your “ideal” client.