The dilemma of “ideal clients”

I remember my wife giving me that particular look of hers.

It was the kind of glance I get when I say something that feels alien to her psychoanalytic perspective, not necessarily up for a lengthy debate, but also not really willing (or able?) to let it just stand in the room like that, unchallenged… 

I had talked about someone being an “ideal client”. 

There’s a lot I could write about this, so let me focus on why, as a marketing concept, it represents a dilemma to so many coaches (and anyone marketing anything to anyone, really), and how I’ve recently made peace with that dilemma and got unstuck.  

The dominant discourse in sales is that “it’s absolutely essential to niche as narrowly as possible and talk to a very specific kind of person/demographic in order to come up on top in a market where everybody fights for potential clients’ attention. 

I did challenge that dogma around niching in another nugget (and then another one to add some more colour through storytelling) 

…and storytelling is really what got me my lightbulb moment. 

But first, here’s the dilemma: 

When you create a specific “avatar” (a real or imagined person that represents the kind of client that you would love to work with and hence aim to talk to directly), you will, almost by definition, be excluding more people than you are talking to. 

That feels scary to coaches. Why?

Coaching is non-directive, and the coach doesn’t have to have expertise in what their clients are bringing, so really it works for a tremendously broad range of people. 

But marketing-wise, if you try to talk to everyone, you tend to get nobody’s attention. 

And so coaches despair. 

I certainly did when I first thought about the niche for existential coaching, which are people with existential concerns… i.e. people who are alive and in the world with other people – what a shit niche! That’s bloody everyone!

Much further down the line I found myself deeply inspired by the avatars that a former supervisee of mine had created. They had a face, a story, they were 41 years old and worked in a specific industry in a specific role… and yet their experience would capture the attention of a huge range of different people (with different faces, across different ages, working in a wide variety of different industries and roles. Matti was talking about an experience that many people would be able to identify with. 

And then it dawned on me that movies do the exact same thing: Very specific people, but if the writing is good, then the protagonist’s experience as well as their struggles, hopes and dreams, will resonate deeply across a broad range of demographics. 

I realised then and there that choosing a specific avatar or describing your ideal client is far from as suffocating as I had made it out to be. If you capture their experience, their pain, their desire… you can tell a story about a very specific person and it’ll resonate, and you will have gotten what you set out to open up: The attention of someone who’s life and those around them you could positively impact through your work. 

Now have a little think about the kind of story you could tell about your work that speaks to that kind of experience. My invitation is not to be afraid to give your protagonist a name, a face, or a role in a family or organisation. If you tell the story well, people will resonate! 

With Love

New content: Joining the illustrious ranks of Coaches on Zoom Drinking Coffee

Scrolling through the guest list of this podcast reads like a who-is-who of the coaching industry, and it was both exciting as well as a real pleasure to join (the company that hosts the wildly popular WBECS summit that I got to present at in 2021) Founder and CEO Alex Pascal for a deep dive into existential coaching and a range of philosophical concepts and how they apply to people’s growth journeys – over a cup of… ehm… whiskey!

Before you scratch your head and doubt my sanity: the intake form did ask me what my choice of drink would be, and that it could be something other than coffee, and that Pascal would match my choice. And so I followed my hunch to choose an “existential drink”, enjoy an evening podcast slot over a good single malt, and lean into the very last rest of my 16 year old Laguvulin bottle that I had saved for a special occasion. It gets more existential than meets the eye, but let me elaborate on that as part of the episode. Please enjoy! 

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