Get Off the Ideal Client Ferris Wheel

by Annie

in client-tell, marketing your business online

Ferris wheel in fast motion

Please keep your arms inside the car at all times. Better yet, get off the damn thing altogether.

This post is part of the Word Carnival, sponsored by Tea Silvestre and The Word Chef. Check out the Carnival’s home page for links to all the participating blogs in this month’s biz-blog-fest, as well as deets on how you can get some fabulous door prizes at our upcoming Twitter party!

True confessions time: I freaking HATE Ferris wheels.

UPDATE: ANOTHER reason to hate Ferris wheels!

I know. It’s weird. Tell me something I don’t know. What makes it weirder – even downright crazy? As in “banana sandwich”? As in “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”?

OK here it is: As much as I hate Ferris wheels, that’s how much I love roller coasters. The faster, the crazier, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

So I can handle this. But not this.

Go figure.

What gives? I think I just hate going around and around — slowly — (well, in comparison to this, it’s slow). Sure, the view’s great. But then you’re stuck up there, and some jerk is gonna rock the car, you know he will, and then where are you?! I mean, if you want to put your life in jeopardy for thrills, go on the freaking roller coaster!


Of course I am.

But anyway – this isn’t about that. The Ferris wheel has absolutely nothing to do with anything. It’s just a clever visual metaphor. For what, exactly?

For the way we all go ’round and ’round and freakin’ ROUND ALREADY on this whole “ideal client” thing.

You’ve heard it before — heck, you’ve heard it here, I’m pretty sure: If you want to explode your bottom line into atmospheric levels, just target your ideal client.

And while that might be true, as far as it goes, truth is — metaphor alert! — LIKE A FERRIS WHEEL, it doesn’t go very far.

Especially when you’re just starting out.

Yes. By all means. Know WHO your ideal client is. Figure out as much about that sucker as humanly possible. But then realize that the whole “ideal client” thing is — in some ways — a crutch. There. I said it.

Ideal clients are great but the problem is they’re IDEAL. As in IDEALIZED. As in not completely real. As in “made up.”

They DO NOT EXIST. Not like they do in your mind. Or on your business plan. I promise.

People are messy, y’all. They’re complicated, they’re contradictory, they’re imperfect as all get-out and they will NEVER live up to the unicorns-and-glitter-ama of your ideal client fantasy.

Which is soooo not to say you should ignore all that ideal client advice. You totally SHOULD figure out who your ideal client is, if for no other reason than to be able to spot the Anti-Ideal-Clients (aka “The Nightmare Clients” who are generally polar opposites from your ideal client scenario in at least 3 out of 5 major ways). And then you should definitely center your marketing efforts around where those ICs are likely to congregate on their own initiative.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking these mythical ideal clients are the endgame. The ugly truth is when you are the boss — your own boss — then you are gonna have to work with some less-than-ideal types. Don’t get so caught up in the whole ideal client exercise that you overlook the not-ideal-but-could-totally-work-with-them-anyway types right in front of you.

Also: Sometimes the less-than-ideals can magically transform themselves into more ideal-esque types with your special brand of client-interacting-awesomeness.

I’ll leave you with that enticing thought …

Don’t forget our Twitter party this Thursday, September 29, at 7 PM Eastern! Get the details over at Tea’s Word Carnival page.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole Fende September 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I completely agree – Ferris Wheels stink and Roller Coasters ROCK. Ok, on to business…

Being a list lover I’ve always taken the approach that if someone hits more than 50% of the ideal customer characteristics it’s a good fit. I’m happy to hear that it’s normal to not have 100% match. Really no roller coaster is perfect either, each has reasons why its fun, but it actually isn’t possible to include all of them in one ride!
Nicole Fende recently posted..What if Romeo had used a dating service?


Annie September 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm

OK, that calls up for me a vision of a combination roller-coaster/Himalaya/Octopus ride… I would die, but I would die happy.


Tea Silvestre September 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

What?! You mean humans aren’t perfect?! Okay – I knew that. But thanks for the reminder that none of us is ever “ideal” for more than 10 minutes at a time. Finding our “special brand of client-interacting-awesomeness” is exactly how we mitigate all of that. The more we figure out how to provide what we do in a way that works for us AND our close-to-ideal clients, the better off we’ll be. It’s “how can *I* be more ideal, first?”
Tea Silvestre recently posted..How to Attract Your Ideal Customers (Create Your Own Recipe)


Annie September 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Yes. This. A few million times over. Rock on, Chef Tea!


Sharon Hurley Hall September 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Love this, Annie – knowing who we want to work with helps us avoid the people who will mess up our working life. I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with a client who was ideal in every respect, but ticking 4 out 5 boxes usually means a smooth working relationship, which is good enough in most cases.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Finding and Connecting With Writing Clients


Annie September 28, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Right Write on, Sharon!


Eugene September 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I think that identifying your ideal customer is a good exercise to give you some focus. If you are creating content, for instance, you should cater that towards someone. That’s where the “ideal client” persona comes in. You are writing to them.

Of course, you will attract all sorts of variations of this “ideal client” and even some not so ideal ones. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with them, especially at the onset of your business.

But a focus is a good thing to have in my opinion.
Eugene recently posted..How to Find and Connect with Your Ideal Customers


Annie October 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Oh definitely, Eugene. Start there. Just don’t *end* there. Rock on!


Michelle Church September 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Mee tooo…I love roller coasters and have never liked a Ferris Wheel…AND I do have some issues with the ideal clients. Love your post. I take it one client at a time as there are some in the market I enjoy working with but would not want to work with THEM. I believe you know very early in the game if the two of you will work well together. My grandmother always said all money is not good money..I choose the good money and have no problem saying I am not the one for you! Love your honesty and realness….
Michelle Church recently posted..New clients are closer than you think


Annie October 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Ooh. I think I love your grandmother.


Julia Hayes September 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Wild stuff Annie!
Ignoring ferris wheels and roller coasters (love them both) I used to be able to size up my clients ideal-ness by their socks and shoes.
That told me a lot – like” would they pay my fees”, “were they just dreaming with their $million deals” – “were they going to insist on going for a drink after the contract was signed”. Their gold watches might be who they want to portray but their footwear is usually who they really are.
That was the offline world. Now I can’t see their feet in the ‘Contact Me’ form, so I’ll have to settle for the number of checks in the boxes.
I actually meet the clients before any tenancy contracts are signed, so I can turn on my intuition switch. After all, I’m going to have to work with them 9-5 for 6 months so I want to know they are the right fit for the business centre.
Julia Hayes recently posted..Helpful Twitter Handbooks


Annie September 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm

OK, we totally need a new metric. The online version of shoes-and-socks. That would be brilliant. I’m gonna get right on that.


Clare Price September 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I hate ferris wheels too and I loved the comparison between going round on ideal client and not getting your business out there in front of real people. To me, ideal clients are those that need my services the most often. I totally get behind the idea that we can transform our clients by the way we frame our relationship with them. Thanks for the insights.


Annie September 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

My pleasure, Clare. Thanks for participating in the Carnival yourself – the coolest thing about being a Word Carnie is the exposure to different ideas and voices.


Stella | Small Business Outsourcing September 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Hey Annie, I like your idea of “let’s take the short-cut” and “… explode your bottom line into atmospheric levels, just target your ideal client.”

Now you got me on the most compelling reason to “figure out who your ideal client” in order to “be able to spot the Anti-Ideal-Clients”. Short and sweet – I like that:)


Annie October 4, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Right on, Stella! (Side note: The comments from you, Eugene, and Michelle, for some reason – no doubt the work of evil robots intent on taking over the ‘nets – were marked as spam. I have whipped the crap out of the spam-net monkeys and they ASSURE me this will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.)


Nick Armstrong September 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Annie – lots of great points here, especially the thing about the ferris wheels.

I f*ckin hate those things. They scare the crap out of me. Although, I also have an equal hate for roller coasters. Can’t stand ’em. Don’t want to go anywhere near one again. Same thing with planes.

I discovered why: I have a complete and utter aversion to not being in control.

My silliness aside, I completely agree with you – the ideal client does not exist. And when you think they do, you’ll find out (just like that “hawt” streetwalker you picked up last night) that they’re hiding something they didn’t tell you about.

Most of the time, you have to run screaming from your $20 a night motel room. Some of the time, though – like you say – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The conditions for that are rare, few, and far-between, but it usually starts with setting the appropriate expectations and boundaries and hoping to god that they respect ’em.
Nick Armstrong recently posted..Aim for One


Annie October 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Hey, at least you KNOW your (maybe not so entirely irrational) fears. This puts you way up on many, many others. (And how the hell did you know about that motel room, dude?!)


Sandy October 2, 2011 at 3:57 am

People are messy. These three words sum this topic up for me most aptly, Annie.

Many decades ago, our small business, back in Africa, was bought out by a larger business. They had a ‘you don’t mess with us’ policy. It was called bullying their clients. We were so naive, we had NO idea what they were talking about.

Their offices had silver sheets on either side of their doors with the big heavy roller clients they worked for engraved into them. Message: You are inconsequential to us. You will be lucky if we bother to work with you.

Their staff were primed to make appointments way into the distance and when the clients arrived they waited in an intimidating board room. Just long enough. Message: Scarcity – you will be privileged if we find the time to work with you.

Big dollars and deposits. Message: If we choose to work for you, you will pay us a lot, up front.

It worked. Their clients were cowered by their tactics. They behaved like lambs.

We were truly disgusted. This after all was 180 degrees from our ‘we care about you’ approach to our clients. We could never do business like that.

Later on, after we had moved to Australia and started up a business again, I remembered all of this. We never tried to simulate it, but every time a messy client dealt us a horrible, nasty, messy blow, I would fervently wish we had.

Not really though. They weren’t nice people, the ones who had been so successful at avoiding messy people.

We would console ourselves by reflecting on the many lovely people we worked with, who were reasonable and valued what we did.

Still, on reflection, I would say it was the messy people who dragooned us, limbs flailing on a perilous roller coaster ride. Maybe being pleasant and doing work only for pleasant people is more akin to the safety of a sedate ferris wheel ride?
Sandy recently posted..What goes round comes round


Annie October 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm

What a nightmare, Sandy. There are definitely levels of messiness, and what you’re willing to put up with depends entirely on you and your business and your resources. Personally, I’m OK with a certain level of messy — the “I’m not really sure what I want” messy, the “I’m scared to pay you a ton of money ’cause what if I don’t like it” messy … those messes I can deal with. Abusive people who get a thrill out of nickel-and-diming me into homelessness? Not so much. The trick is in learning the warning signs for the Cat 5 messes you’re no-way, no-how gonna put up with, and showing those peeps the digital door quickly.


Stan Faryna October 5, 2011 at 11:40 am

I found your blog via your comment on Eugene Farber’s blog post here:

I’m glad I found you. Because I enjoyed this blog post. You have identified a problem that lots of people have. Words don’t solve problems. Words do not summon clients. Words don’t do the work that win’s a client’s gratitude, admiration and reference. People do these things. Or they don’t. The latter kinda sucks.

I loved your metaphor of the Ferris Wheel.

“And while that might be true, as far as it goes, truth is — metaphor alert! — LIKE A FERRIS WHEEL, it doesn’t go very far.”

I’m looking forward to geting to know you, Annie.

Best regards,
Stan Faryna

Recently on my blog: Charlie Chaplin made me cry!


Annie October 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Aw, sugar plum, I”m glad you found me too. 😀 That Eugene – he’s like a match-maker. A digital Yente. Also: this…

Words don’t solve problems. Words do not summon clients. Words don’t do the work that win’s a client’s gratitude, admiration and reference. People do these things. Or they don’t. The latter kinda sucks.

… is kind of genius, my new friend.


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