Narrow Your Target Market

How many times have I felt the pressure to take on clients outside my target market?  Too many to count.  The business is alluring, and it’s easy to fall into the ‘how can I run a business by turning away business’ mentality.  But that mentality will eventually add stress to your work.  In this post, we’re going to work it out so you and your business always operate at optimum performance (sounds like sports shoes).

Aren’t I Giving Up Business?


Now that my enthusiasm is out of the way, let me explain.  It’s really easy to get caught in the ‘take everything’ mentality.  It’s how I started my first business, and it was really hard on me.  I ended up working for several clients who didn’t understand the value of my work because I charged too little and took on projects that were too small for my business goals.  While taking on whatever came my way was at first great for gathering data about the market at large, I didn’t narrow soon enough and ended up with a big headache and small return for my effort.

Here are the three reasons a “take everything” approach is wrong:

  1. You will wear yourself out.
  2. People won’t know how to refer you.
  3. Your promotions will fall short.

Let’s unpack these, shall we?

Running Around in Circles

Being an entrepreneur means you’re already juggling a lot of balls – things like finance, business planning & projections, goal setting, customer service, digital presence upkeep… Why in the world would you add more to that list?

Working with customers and clients that aren’t in your target market means you will be doing extra work just to make them fit your model.  This means mental work to understand a demographic that you don’t identify with, or systems work to be able to handle their request.  If you have employees you may find yourself working extra hard to bridge the gap between their usual scope of work, too.  All this to say you’ll be stretched thin.

To add to this, your confidence will probably go down because you’ll constantly feel like you’re falling just below the standard you like to reach.  When you work within your target market, it’s easy to nail expectations.  But when you’re reaching outside that market, it can be a challenge due to too many unknowns.  The quality of your work will be sacrificed to all the time you’re spending fitting a square peg into a round hole, and that is a horrible feeling.  By specializing, you only get clients like your very best client.

How Do I Describe You?

The second issue with working with clients or customers outside your target market is a lack of clarity for what you do.  That is, your company’s mission and values will get lost, which means both the client and others who view your work later will be unsure of how to refer (or describe) you and your business.  Further, if you are asked by someone in your network if you will take a project and you say yes despite its scope, you are saying yes to all future projects in the same vein.  Suddenly your public business image is murky.

So what should you do?  Say no.  That’s right, I’m asking you to turn down business.  Sounds scary, right?  But this is the best thing you could ever do for yourself and your business.

I don’t just mean that your calendar will be more open for the right projects, but also that the requester will want to know why you said “no”, at which point you get to affirm your business model and mission.  That person will then think of you when something more appropriate comes across their desk.

Are You For Me?

In a similar vein, you will eventually want to run ads for your business.  More often than not, you will be doing so on platforms like Facebook or Google.  If your target market is too broad, you won’t know where to start — and neither will the platform you choose.

Platforms like Google and Facebook don’t offer much in the way of targeting your ads.  That is 90% up to you.  Once you know your target, these platforms will help you the final 10% of the way by providing keyword and phrasing suggestions, but the suggestions will be totally off if you don’t know your target.  You will ultimately end up wasting your money on ads that don’t work.

Ads that don’t convert aren’t just detrimental to your wallet – they also can hurt your company image.  If I see an ad that I can’t immediately say “yes” or “no” to, I start to wonder what the heck the company is all about, and why they’re running such a generic or wishy-washy ad.  That starts your public image down a slippery slope toward losing future business.  How?  I may not need your services, now, but someday things may change.  If you get an automatic “no” from me, that means I quickly understood what you were about and may remember you in the future.  Catchy language that builds on your targeting ensures my memory is hooked.

Case Study Time

Here is an excellent example of this in action.  I network my butt off (stay tuned for a Network Like A Ninja article), and so I meet a lot of other entrepreneurs in my community.  Last week I met an entrepreneur who owns a moving company.  His company only does small to medium sized moves, and describe themselves as being in direct competition with Two Men and a Truck.  He doesn’t want to do big moves.  He could, and he could make a lot more money from one move, but his system isn’t set up optimally for such a move and it’s not the market he wants to serve.  Essentially, he wants to move families in order to make an often stressful event simpler and calmer.

Two days later I was talking to a friend who is planning a move.  Immediately, my new contact came to mind.  Not only had I just talked with him, but his very specific target market made it easy for me to know when I encountered a ‘perfect customer’.  I could just as easily have recommended Two Men and a Truck based on past personal experience, but myself and my friend value local companies, and my new contact’s stood out.  I immediately made the recommendation, likely garnering him a new customer.

How to Narrow Your Target Market

One of my favorite entrepreneur help forums is Fizzle.  They publish a weekly podcast, blog, resources, and curate a membership forum for entrepreneurs of all walks.  Their article entitled “5 Questions to Narrow Your Target Market” is a great starting point if you think it’s time to get specific about your work.

Help other women entrepreneurs by telling them how you knew it was time to narrow in the comments below.