Dream clients

Why you need them and how to find them

Niche positioning

POV: I’ve just come off a Zoom call with a client where I talked them through their co-created brand strategy. I’m thinking how much I love my job and how they’re a dream client. There was so much positivity and mutual respect in the (virtual) room.

Dream clients – not just a ‘nice to have’

Having dream clients is not just pie in the sky. Giving you and your team permission to define your dream client is a crucial element of nailing your brand positioning. When you take that leap into niching, you not only build your proposition around the value you add to specific clients but you give yourself a razor sharp new business strategy.

Saying who you’re for (and so, by definition, who you’re not for) gets you halfway there. Once you’ve established that, everything else starts to fall into place. Not just in how you market your brand but also in how you work. You’re able to hone your expertise because your processes, ideas and solutions flow from a deeper focus and you can take advantage of, and build on the patterns and themes you encounter time and again.

Of course positioning isn’t just about what you do and who you do it for, but these are an essential part of the wider equation that encompasses the thoughts and feelings people associate with your brand. These other positions are ‘softer’ (but still essential) associations around brand personality, story, values and promise. For the purposes of this post however, I want to focus on the what and in particular, the who.

Feel the fear but do it anyway

When I discuss this with my clients there’s often a reticence, a fear of so tightly (and even loosely, in some cases) defining the ‘who’. This can take the form of, “Surely if we say we work with X we’ll miss out on working with Y (and all the other letters in the alphabet)’. But defining a strategy is all about making choices – it’s the reason I share this Michael Porter quote in every workshop I do:

Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.

By allowing yourself to become selective, you become sought after. You become known for a specific and readily identifiable value proposition expressed with a clarity that’s integral to attractive positioning.

Where the F do you start?

Once you’ve defined your perfect client you can qualify opportunities as they arise – YOU can choose as well as be chosen.

niche-positioning-2

Sadly it isn’t as simple as simply qualifying a prospect by the 3 Fs: Fun (your team will enjoy the work), Fame (they’ll make a great case study or PR) and Fortune (they’ll pay the bills, and then some). These are definitely worth considering but a highly prescriptive client definition, and being clear on your non-negotiables, will give you far more, including being able to justify whether a prospect is the right fit for your organisation.

How to define your perfect client

Get clear on WHAT you do (best)

People came to my last agency wanting a range of services. We offered brand identity, web design and development, retained graphic design, illustrated books, pretty much anything other than packaging. Over time, I realised that I wasn’t enjoying the work as much as I should have been, and that I wanted to focus on brand identity and strategy more. I had to make some tough choices, one of which was to drop a whole revenue stream of web development work. When I came to reposition my agency I started with what we did or rather, what we wanted to do more of. And that meant dropping a few things. By going ‘niche’ you can go deep, extend your knowledge, build a specialism and develop expertise that is appealing as well as effective. It also changes who might be looking for those services.

Get clear on your WHY

Work is a big chunk of your day. It’s said that the average person spends 90,000 hours at work, so knowing what gets you up in the morning and understanding why you’re driven to help a certain group of people is hugely important. The Co-Foundry’s ‘why’ or purpose is to help organisations that strive, to build brands that thrive. Knowing that, means knowing who I want to help – the strivers, the purpose-led people.

Get clear on WHO you work best with

One of the most powerful and immediate ways of defining a position is by picking a sector. This isn’t always easy. It might even mean dropping an area you’ve done a fair bit of work in, something that can feel risky. However, the benefits of niching down to a particular sector are many. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of the problems and desires that run through the sector but you’ll build marketplace intelligence and become known by, for example, attending specialist conferences and being active on industry-specific media. Your new business strategy may benefit too, as people moving organisations will take you with them.

Another way of selecting a client type is by focusing on their issues, needs or traits. I took the decision to focus on creative and tech founder-led brands as I already had a lot of experience and knowledge in that space. As well as working with these clients, I’d personally experienced a lot of the pains and gains of creative and tech founders for myself so had a natural affinity with them. As time has gone on I have extended that criteria to encompass chief execs of charities. These two areas of focus have so much in common – namely, a genuine desire to make an impact and while the latter may not have skin in the game financially, they do, emotionally. Both groups care about their people, something that works well with another fundamental aspect of my proposition – co-creation which sees teams involved in decisions throughout the process.

Follow the energy

It sounds so obvious when you read it but, and this is fundamental – find people who energise you.

The late great Milton Glaser (in his talk entitled ‘Ten things I have Learned’) put it perfectly, exhorting us to avoid the people we find toxic:

You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energized or less energized. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

The Co-Foundry’s qualification checklist

In my case a qualification criteria might look like this, my dream client has to tick these boxes:

What they want:
Co-created brand strategy and brand identity design

Who:
Founder-led creative, tech and charity brands
✅ Traits: Open minded, open to involving key members of their team
✅ Lifestage: Been in business for a few years. Their brands have gotten a little ‘leggy’, with some brand architecture conundrums that need sorting.
✅ Goal: Looking to widen reach, diversify, reposition, make a positive impact
✅ Where: Anywhere English-speaking
✅ Size: 10-500 – SME
✅ Ownership: Independent or charity

Why:
At crossroads. Struggling to position themselves, in need of a brand evolution or full rebrand.

Budget:
Ready to make an investment

And some no-nos:
No to ‘pile ‘em high’ and ‘build to sell’ – making you rich doesn’t interest me, helping you and your team make a positive impact does.
No access to the leadership team
No appetite for research and discovery – just want cosmetic branding

Making the change

Although the word ‘dream’ is liberally sprinkled throughout this post, there is nothing airy fairy about how you go about identifying, approaching and working with the sort of clients that tick all your boxes.

Nothing should be left to chance. In the same way that you will have interrogated your brand closely when defining what you’re looking for in your dream client, testing your various hypotheses is key: For example, looking back over your income and client profitability, reviewing your marketplace and testing whether there’s a market for the people and businesses you’re looking to serve – too big and you’ll be one of many fish, too small and there may not be enough opportunities. And don’t forget, of course, listening to your gut!

In my case, as I was niching my entire offering (not just who I did it for), I needed to find partners to help me deliver the things I wanted to drop. In practice this took the form of building a trusted network of digital agencies and freelancers.

All of these changes – choosing to focus on brand strategy and identity for tech-based and creative founders, and third sector organisations, and building a network of collaborators – needed to be reflected and communicated in my own brand. This meant a new brand name, a full rebrand and marketing tailored to the new positioning and business model.

Leading with ‘no’

Getting comfortable with saying ‘no’ is fundamental to making this approach work. Ideally, you don’t want anything to derail you from the sort of ‘dream client’ strategy that will lead you to doing your best work and make you happy.

I’ll leave the last words to author, speaker and advisor, David C Baker. His 2017 book, The Business of Expertise is seen as a blueprint for entrepreneurial experts who want to make better business decisions. He identifies ‘smart positioning’ as the foundation stone of becoming known as an expert:

Positioning is a deeply wasteful exercise. It’s driven by saying “no” more than saying “yes” as you decide how to proceed with courage.

If you carve out an expertise business that fits who you are, takes advantage of your strengths, and minimizes your weaknesses, it’s more sustainable. That’s good for you, for obvious reasons, but it’s good for your clients, too, because you’ll be around to help them over a longer period of time, getting better at it as time passes.

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