We all have clients. Sometimes we have great ones, and we call them our ideal clients. Other times we have some of the bottom-of-the-barrel, less-than-ideal clients. It might be a bit noisy or a bit squeaky, and frustratingly, the squeaky wheel gets the grease a lot of the time.
We've got Paul Kennedy from PGV Consulting, and we'll talk about how to find ideal clients and remove the terrible ones.
• How do you identify an ideal client? Start with your Why and think about your criteria: why are you particularly excited about winning Client A but a bit lukewarm about having Client B?
• How do you deal with a non-ideal client? Think about increasing the price, be upfront, be innovative, or just look at the good side of things.
• Ensure your ideal clients know who to call. Make them remember you.
How do you identify an ideal client?
How do you identify a bad client?
Start With Your Why
Paul: I'd like to start with the “Why” and focus on what we have previously discussed about Simon Sinek. I love what Simon Sinek is about, and most of your listeners will be familiar with him.
If you find out your “Why”, your purpose, why you're doing what you're doing, it could be a mixture of both business aspirations and personal ones. Particularly if you're self-employed, it's good to blend the two because your personal life and your business life have to live in harmony with each other.
If you focus on your “Why”, it gives you your passion as to why you're really doing this. For instance, I'm an accountant by qualification. That doesn't necessarily mean that I actually really want to do accounting, especially a few years down the track. My “Why” was not to be an accountant, and that kind of led me to where I am.
Working out your “Why” makes the other questions—your “What”, “How”, “Where”, and “When” so much easier. It's like picking up the correct piece of the jigsaw first. Once you've done that, the rest of it follows much more easily.
Most of us meet and start off by asking, "What are you doing?" In my case, I'd perhaps start telling you about accounting, but it's not where I really want to spend my time and perhaps not where other people want to spend theirs.
Nirvana: Ideal Clients Seek You Out
Paul: I've got a few beliefs. One of them is Nirvana. It is when you get your business to the point where your ideal clients are actually seeking you out.
Once you've reached Nirvana, it means you're in a very privileged position. If somebody is looking for somebody in your field and they know what you can do and what you've done for others, they will come to you and it won't be all about price. It will actually be because they want Josh Lewis to look after their business, their IT. You change the relationship, and it becomes one where they actually want you. It's not an argument or discussion over price.
A Short Story
Some years ago, we found ourselves in Helsinki, Finland, and there was a big cathedral out the front. Every day, tourist buses would pull up and people would pour out and walk up the stairs to this magnificent cathedral. We noticed there was what appeared to be a homeless man sitting there and he was sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He was rattling an old dirty coffee cup.
As sad as his situation was, he was very, very smart because he knew where his ideal clients were. Tourists were delivered to his doorstep every day and had to walk past him as they went up to see this magnificent cathedral. Most of them would be on holiday, and they see this poor, dishevelled man and they have to walk past him. Everybody dropped a euro or two in there. How could they walk past him and ignore him, given their circumstances versus his? In many ways, I so admired that man. He understood his ideal client and he got them to the point where they were coming to him.
Over half a million people visit that cathedral every year. I did the sums, and I think it was around about 13,000 prospective ideal clients coming to him every day.
It goes to show you can be in any walk of life but you can position yourself to make it work for you. Again, that's being resourceful. It's not about lack of resources. It's about being resourceful.
Have a Business Plan
Paul: I am also a great believer in a business plan. I think it's very unwise to start a business unless you have a plan. It doesn't mean you have to be fixated on it, but it gives you some sort of general direction to where you want your business and career to go. Once you've started on that journey, that will lead you to who your ideal clients are and what makes them ideal.
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How do you identify a bad client?
Who is your ideal client?
Paul: Identify the criteria and the things that make up your ideal client—the people who value, respect, and actually act on your advice.
A non-ideal client would be someone who neither respects, values, nor acts on your advice. They might still be paying you, but from your perspective, it would be very frustrating to give them your best advice but they do not actually act on it.
Think About Your Criteria
Paul: I encourage people to think through what are the criteria of your ideal clients. It is actually quite helpful to spend a bit of time identifying the traits of non-ideal clients.
I often encourage people to think of a situation they might have had where they won two clients, they're driving home, and they're pretty happy and excited. They're particularly excited about winning Client A. They're a bit lukewarm and cool about having Client B.
I encourage people to think through what were the traits of Client A that got you excited, and what were the traits of Client B that made you feel a bit cool about it (I've won them, but I'm not sure this is going to go the way I hope it does)? The more you can drill down on that, the more it will help you identify the clients you want and those you don't want.
Should You Keep a Non-Ideal Client?
If you've just started in business, the expenses are being covered, and there's food on the table, is it okay to stick with bad clients if removing them will mean that you're no longer financially healthy?
Paul: We obviously need to be and want to be financially healthy. It perhaps comes down to timing as to how long you might bite your tongue and continue working with somebody who's not an ideal client.
How do you deal with a non-ideal client?
1. Think About Increasing the Price
Paul: All of us in business invariably have some clients that we perhaps don't want. You can have a very direct conversation and say, 'Look, perhaps I'm not the best person for you.' We could do it by increasing your price to be unattractive to people who are not ideal clients.
That's something that we've learnt, so we changed around our business model from charging per hour to charging a flat rate per month.
In 2009, we're charging $55 or $85 an hour. In 2010, we changed the business model around to per month. One of our clients didn't want to pay per month. I told them that with the number of hours they're doing with us, they're going to be saving money in three months on average.
But they were not interested, so I went from $85 to $110 to $150 to $200 an hour before they agreed to go per month. We were making heaps less money, but they were fitting in with the model and how we wanted our business to work. And they were happier with that because then it was back to less than what they were originally paying, so it worked out for everyone.
Paul: If you really don't believe that this is the sort of business you want to be working with a particular client, increasing your price so that you're unattractive is one way of doing it.
2. Be Upfront
Paul: It's not a bad idea to be even a bit more upfront and simply say, 'I don't think I'm the right person for you.'
You were talking about different ways to terminate a contract with a client. We've done this before as well. We've noticed that the businesses that we're working with are getting bigger and bigger. One of them was going in a different direction and was more interested in running a home network for the 40 employees as opposed to a business network. We said that's not really what we do and we're more than happy to put you in contact with someone that works with businesses that have the same ethos. We found that was a professional way to break into that closing doors should situations change. Is there any way you shouldn't terminate a contract?
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Paul: I do it as pleasantly as possible. I think that we need to be honest, not everybody is going to work with everybody. Otherwise, you'd end up marrying everybody.
You can't be everything to everybody. You shouldn't try to be. If you do, you'd probably come to grief and a bit unstuck.
3. Be Innovative
Paul: I have a client with whom I've done quite a bit of work over the years. My role was to identify people that I knew that represented his or his company's ideal client criteria and to introduce the two. They would host a high-quality event, and I would invite these people along and learn a bit about each other. One thing would lead to another and invariably business.
In doing so, I was introducing my client to his prospective client, who loved what my client did, but because they were spread across Australia, it was just going to be prohibitive.
After I've done my initial introduction, my client and the prospective client sat down and talked it through. The latter said that they love what my client does—bringing our senior management together for a day and a half once a month for 10 months—but the cost is much more than they are prepared to pay and bringing together the senior management from across Australia once a month is really overwhelming for us.
This happened 5 years ago, so I was a bit surprised that my client hadn't thought of doing it by Zoom. Five years later, they are still doing business. The client is delighted. They've achieved it at a much lower rate, and they've managed to do it without disrupting their business every month when they bring a group of senior executives together.
It's often not what you do. With my client, all they really changed was how they did it. I can't really take the credit, but my client said that I have changed the criteria of their ideal client. They see themselves delivering what they do—business coaching—to a much larger audience than what they previously have perceived. I'm a great believer in knowing who your ideal clients are, who you would like them to be, and who they could be.
4. Look at the Good Side of Things
Paul: I think with COVID-19 essentially everybody has recognised that we can do so much. What we were previously doing physically at one location we can actually do via Zoom. COVID-19 has actually accelerated much of the change that was going on.
In business, being able to do things through Zoom is awesome. It's not about the lack of resources; it's more about being resourceful with what you've got. That's a big thing that we bring to businesses. People don't want to use the XYZ tool and aren't ready for that. Most of the time, when you push into a corner like what COVID-19 did for a lot of businesses, you find out that these tools aren't that bad. They're not the enemy, and they're going to help you out. They're going to take you off the road, and you're going to be significantly more utilised throughout the day.
Some people drive. I have a friend that drives an hour and 40 minutes to work every morning, five days a week. It's ridiculous. When his business went into COVID lockdown, he found that he had more time for his family. He spent an extra 40 minutes with his family in the morning and an extra 40 minutes in the afternoon, and they were happy but he was still spending an extra 2 hours a day at work. It's definitely a blessing in disguise.
Paul: Personally, I'm not particularly good around the technology side, but you obviously have taken to it like a duck to water. I think that's a wonderful gift.
Technology is your friend, and I'm learning that myself and enjoying working with people who have that outlook and have that ability, which I very much respect.
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It should sit there like electricity is your friend. We don't need to know how it works. We don't need to know if it's AC or DC coming through on high voltage lines. It just matters that we need to flip the switch and it works, and that should be what all business owners want.
Ensure Your Ideal Clients Know Who to Call (You)
Paul: If you turn the switch on and it doesn't work, even though you might not know how it works, you at least know who to call.
Henry Ford said that he doesn't have to know everything. He just has to know who to contact to make sure that he can achieve everything.
Paul: That's very much what I'm about. I believe in the business plan and in knowing your ideal client and who they are.
Make Your Ideal Clients Remember You
Paul: What I do is I work with my client in identifying a number of activities. They could be one-on-one introductions, giving presentations, writing articles, whatever's right for my client so that we are constantly getting them in front of their ideal clients.
I think some people go way over the top. They're excellent at what they do, but I think they significantly overcommunicate to the point where their target market is annoyed and say, 'If I get another email from Paul Kennedy, I'll scream.' You don't want to do that.
On the other hand, you don't want to go to the other extreme where your target market says, 'I've got an email from this guy Paul Kennedy, and I don't think I even know him.' You've got to be just right. It'll be different for every business, but you have to make sure that when your ideal client has a need, you are the one they think of and they know how to contact you.
Build a Business Development and Marketing Calendar
Paul: Identify those five to eight activities and then build a marketing and business development calendar that bullet points down which activities you are going to do each month. They are all different because there is no single silver bullet. I don't believe you could do it all via LinkedIn or do it all via one-on-one introduction. You need to be doing a variety of activities that are getting you in front of these ideal clients and you need to do it consistently, not just once.
Get yourself to the point where you've built your brand amongst your target markets or your ideal clients so that when the time is right for them, not when the time is right for you, they keep thinking, 'I need to go and talk to Josh at Dorks Delivered.'
I agree. We call it the digital fridge magnet. When you look at the plumber or the nice pizza place around the corner, if you don't have that on the fridge and you forget, a lot of the time you end up going somewhere else. You want to be in front of them enough but you're not annoying them and pestering them.
Paul: Absolutely. I've got an excellent database of people I know and who know me. Some of the people are so good at their social media, but personally, I think they do too much of it to the point where I have it set up so that it's automatically put into a subfolder in their name because I respect what they do, but I physically cannot consume everything that they're churning out. It could be one video a day and I just physically don't have that time.
I think so much of that good content that they're sending out goes to waste. In my case, it goes automatically into the subfolders. Sometimes I get to look at it, most of the time not. These people are so good at what they do, but it's actually going to waste.
On the other hand, you have the extreme of people who don't communicate at all. I think finding that right balance somewhere in the middle so that you're there enough but not to the point where you are an annoyance, is the way to go.
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How do you avoid losing a prospective client?
Do you think you can get too close to an ideal client and break the relationship? Do you think you can do things that are too friendly and they think that's weird? What situations could get you too close? What are the Don'ts to make sure that you don't destroy a relationship with an ideal client?
Remain Professional at All Times
Paul: I do think you must at all times remain professional. You don't want to get to the point where the relationship has become casual and taken for granted. If there is an issue, either party might get reluctant to raise it because of the closeness so it festers away. Equally, if you do get too close or your relationship has become too entrenched with that one individual in the company, what happens if that person moves on and he's no longer there?
It's a fine line. On one hand, you obviously want the relationship to be a healthy one, a productive one that works cooperatively for all parties. It's important to make sure that it always remains professional, but you don't take each other for granted and that you deliver what you say you are going to deliver. Don't get to the point where you're essentially living in each other's pockets. I think there is a dividing line and it's important to keep that.
I know one time that I felt a bit uncomfortable. We don't work with this company anymore. We were quite close to them, and they would have parties and I'd bring along a keg of beer to celebrate.
There was this one Christmas party in particular. I was there with a keg of beer and then a few hours went by, they shut the gates. I thought that's a bit weird, and then a few of the key decision-makers in the business started smoking a joint. They offered me to join them, but I'm not that guy. I said no judgement, but I obviously did. They felt comfortable enough to do that in front of me, but I did not feel comfortable being around that.
Paul: I think that's an example of where getting too close can cause a bit of grief and can actually ruin the relationship.
Planning, Growth, and Value
Tell us about PGV Consulting and how that works with businesses that are listening and how they can leverage your services to be able to help them find ideal clients.
Paul: I'm an accountant by qualification, but I don't do any accounting. I just wasn't very good. In the last 25 years, I've been really about business planning, business development, connections, and introductions. PGV stands for planning, growth, and value.
Paul: I like to begin with the business plan. Otherwise, it's a bit like going and trying to put a house on a roof before you've put the foundations down. I see the business plan as being the foundation, and it's important that you do that. As part of that process, you go through all the normal things like mission, vision, strengths, SWOT analysis and so on, but I really like to drill down on ideal clients and equally non-ideal clients.
Paul: If you've reached Nirvana, your ideal clients seek you out, sadly, non-ideal clients will also seek you out. When that happens, it's always good to know your competitors. Refer your non-ideal clients to them. Anything that can slow a competitor down is possibly a good thing.
Work out what activities are going to engage you with those ideal clients on a consistent and ongoing basis so that they get to know you and particularly what you can do for them.
People can engage my time by booking me for a certain number of hours per month where I work with them initially on the plan, if they don't have one, and then actually implementing the plan and particularly getting them in front of their ideal clients: people I know and who know me.
Paul: I have a wonderful database that's very up to date and very comprehensive. I go through that when I'm working with a client in my database to see who I know that meets my client's ideal client criteria. And then we set about a series of activities, such as one-on-one introductions and presentations, so that one gets to learn the story of the other and see if they can do business together.
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I think that's very valuable to any business. I guess a lot of people out there claim to do similar things, but I think what's big and promising is you've got a client base where people can hit the ground running. You know these people, and being able to find the right person that fits your business means that it can be a few hours that you're spending with them and they might be coming out on the other side with maybe not a client, but at least an introduction to an ideal client.
Paul: A person or an organisation might not necessarily be an ideal client themselves, but they may know your ideal client and be able to introduce you or where you work in partnership, alliances, etc. I'm also a great believer in that so long as it works for all the parties involved. You don't really want to be doing work with people who are frustrating, not ideal, can't pay your bill, don't actually act on your advice.
Do anything you can do to avoid that so that you're always working in your circle of people who do actually value what you're about and actually act on it and are able and willing to pay for your services.
"How to Find the Ideal Clients" by Paul Kennedy
Paul: I wrote an article some time ago called 'How to Find the Ideal Clients.' If it's of interest to any of your listeners, I'm very happy for them to have a copy. It was published in Spark Magazine about 4 years ago.
Also, with the new financial year, I think it's the perfect time to sit down and revisit your business plan if you have one or build one if you don't. Identify who your ideal clients are, work out what those actions and activities are going to be that you will progressively unfold over the next 12 to 18 months, and consistently deliver it and get your story in front of those people you want to have as your clients. I'm sure you'll find that your business grows the way you want it to.
I love going back to the business plans that I've done in the past, and I can look through some of the stupid ideas I had and some of the amazing things that I've been able to accomplish to sort of put things into perspective. Sometimes we are too busy running the rat race to realise how far we've run.
Recommended Book: Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Paul: I think that really takes you back to where we began: Start with “Why”. As you go home every night, you're pretty excited and pleased about it because you've actually helped the sort of people you want to be doing business with. You can see the difference that you're bringing about in their business, and that's the motivation to get up the following day and go back and do it again.
You took the words out of my mouth. I was about to ask about your favourite book, but I think you've answered that question perfectly. Start With Why is definitely up there if it's not your favourite.
Start with your “Why”. The big thing for me is to try to remove your business from it. That's what I did. Look at why you do what you do outside of the business. What is the driving motivators for you? What would you do for free? If you were retired, where would you stand and how would your day look? If your business fits into that, awesome. If it doesn't, make it fit into that.
What is freedom to you?
What is business built freedom to you? What would you say is the vehicle of business and how does that bring freedom to you?
Paul: It's spending your time doing what you want to do, enjoying it and seeing the rewards. That kind of almost defines your “Why” for each of us, doesn't it? It will be different for everybody, but business freedom is getting your business to the point where you want it to be and where your ideal clients are actually coming to you and that you can see that you've created that.
I can see that you're getting your business to that point where the sort of people you want are approaching you. And at the end of each day, you've built your business so that it's delivering the outcome that you want.
If you have any feedback or any questions, feel free to jump across iTunes. Leave us some love, give us some feedback. Paul will be in our Facebook group where you can ask different questions. Stay good and stay healthy.
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