With every decision and action you take, with every message you communicate, you build your brand. Those decisions, actions, and messages will appeal to some more than others and in so doing will determine who your clients will be. Ultimately it’s your brand decisions that choose your clients.
A few days ago Seth Godin published one of his usual short, pithy posts, Choosing your customers. The essence of the post is:
Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your pricing, your content, your promotion, your outreach, and your product line.
You’re choosing your customers or clients with how you brand your business.
My Retail Experience
A number of years ago I worked in a picture framing shop. I remember one day a woman walked into the shop who was a royal pain in the you know what. She was making a lot of pointless requests and expecting me to jump through hoops to meet those pointless requests. I didn’t. I treated her well, but wasn’t willing to do the hoop jumping thing, instead politely declining.
When she left I figured she wasn’t going to be a return customer. At first I thought about whether or not my boss would be upset with the way I handled the situation. I didn’t treat her with a “customer is always right” attitude, but rather a “this is how we do things here” attitude. Again I was always nice and polite. It’s simply that I didn’t bend over backwards to do things in a way different from how our shop worked.
I started thinking more about it and thought that for every person who might not come back to our shop because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, there was probably someone leaving another shop in town because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted there.
If we treated customers in accordance with how we wanted them to be, over time more of the customers we wanted would become customers of our shop and more of the customers we didn’t want to deal with would be customers of one of the other shops in town that catered to that type of person.
By each shop sticking to its brand the customers in town would slowly redistribute themselves to the stores who’s brand most aligned with their individual personalities and shopping habits.
There are Enough Clients to Go Around
Most markets have different submarkets, niche markets, each with customers with different interests, needs, and wants. When you make decisions about what your brand will be you inevitably target different groups of people within the overall market. Your brand will appeal more to some and less to others. Ultimately it’s you that chooses who your business appeals to.
You’ve probably heard the expression about time, price, and quality (fast, cheap, and good). You can get 2 of the 3 when hiring someone, but not all 3. If you want something done fast and cheap, don’t expect it to be good. If you want something good and need it fast, expect to pay a hefty price. If you want something good and inexpensive, understand it will take some time to complete.
As a service provider you can also realistically pick only 2 of the 3 as part of your brand. Which you focus on is going to determine the kinds of clients attracted to your business. Do you want to be the business that’s inexpensive with a quick turnaround or the the business that produces truly great work for a price? Neither is better or worse for your business. They’re just different in that they attract different kinds of clients and require different details in your business model.
When you research a market to choose a niche or decide how you’ll differentiate your business from the competition, what you’re ultimately doing is choosing who your customers will be.
Most markets have plenty of potential customers. There are usually enough to go around. Web design is certainly no exception. Many, many people have or want websites and they need to hire someone to create and maintain them. You don’t need all of them to hire you to have a successful business. You only need a handful and you get to pick and choose who that handful will be by how you build your brand.
Build your brand to appeal to the type of client you want to work with and let some other web designer pick up the clients you prefer not to work with.
There are two components to brand:
- The sum of all associations, both positive and negative someone has with your business.
- The number of people that have associations with your business.
The second component above is reach. It’s how far your brand has spread. When most of us think about brand we think about large companies that everyone knows. These companies have a large reach. We all know them and have thoughts and feelings about those companies.
For example if I mention Apple, Microsoft, and Google you know who I’m talking about. On the other hand if I mention McGuckin Hardware you probably don’t know who I’m talking about unless you live in or near Boulder. McGuckin’s reach is mostly local.
To me the more important component of brand is the sum of all those associations. This is especially true for small businesses and freelancers. Our reach is never going to be that of Google. It doesn’t need to be. What’s important to us is that those people we want to reach have a sum positive association with us and our businesses.
What’s also important is that we’ll never be able to get everyone to have a positive association with us. No matter what price you set for your services, some will think it fair, some will think it overly expensive, and some will think you’re underpricing yourself. You can’t please everyone, which is the whole point of this post.
Don’t try to please everyone. Try to please the kind of people you want to work with. Identify who those people are and understand what they want and need. And then build your brand around those things. By doing so you’ll be choosing your clients instead of them choosing you.
It may sound strange at first to think we get to choose who are clients are, but we really do. We choose our clients with the choices we make in building our brand. Our choices will inevitably appeal to some people more than others.
If you align your choices about price, content, marketing, quality of services with the wants and needs of the people you want to work with then it’s you choosing them instead of the other way around. If you’re not attracting the type of client you want look to your own decisions and think about who it is you’re targeting.
You choose who your clients will be by making your business the obvious choice for them. It may seem like they’re the ones making the decision, but ultimately it’s you making the decision for them.
Ask yourself who you want to work with and what would make those people hire you. Then be that person, that business that they want to hire. Don’t wait for the right clients to find you. Be the brand the right clients for you will choose.