Business Essentials

SME Tools: Finding Your Ideal Customer - Brought to you by NatWest

SME Tools: Finding Your Ideal Customer - Brought to you by NatWest

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Identifying your ideal customer is crucial if your business is to survive and thrive. Entrepreneurs tell us how they work to pinpoint their perfect clients.


Customers are the lifeblood of every business. But they have to be the right customers. Put your products or services in front of the wrong ones and you’ll only waste time, energy and money. And chances are you won’t make any sales.


That’s why it’s critical for all SMEs to understand every facet of their target market, says photographer Shelly Mantovani. She runs two businesses: Toast of Leeds, which creates artistic, informal, non-traditional wedding shoots that wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of high-end glossy fashion magazines; and FStop Brand Photography, which works with companies and individuals on their commercial and personal branding.


Mantovani says she takes a scientific approach to studying her client’s personal characteristics. “I have target demographics,” she says. “For Toast of Leeds, my ideal customers are 25 – 35 years old, mainly women, middle-class, upwardly mobile, homeowners, savvy, no children. For F Stop, they’re mostly creative and generally male: artists, designers, musicians and Instagram influencers. The words on both of my websites are written with those target demographics in mind. I know what my clients want to hear, I know how they speak and act, how they dress, where they shop and what coffee they like.”


Getting a handle on demographics

When Mantovani started her businesses, she admits she took a more scattershot approach to finding customers. Anyone would do, as long as their cheque book was open. “I was so focused on earning money that I’d take on any job,” she says. “But when I worked out the identity of my target client, it helped me find my niche. Having a handle on their personal characteristics really helps my business because occasionally I’ll meet a prospective client and immediately know that I’m not right for them – and they’re not right for me.”


That knowledge is vital for client satisfaction, she says. “Because if they don’t want what I’m selling but buy it anyway, they won’t be happy with the finished product. Happy clients ensure repeat business.”

Louisa Ashforth, owner of Sheffield-based salon LA Beauty & Hair, has developed the LA Skincare range, which she supplies to a growing list of independent beauty salons and also sells online. She made her six-product range with hand-selected active ingredients so that it would be suitable for everyone, including those with sensitive skin.


It can be difficult to stand out in an over-saturated market, but then something happened to make Ashforth narrow her customer focus. “Clients would buy a product for themselves, but then their sons or daughters would use it and, afterwards, comment that their skin was so clear,” she says. “While the ingredients are beneficial for acne-prone skin, the range is a little above the price point for teenagers. However, it’s very common for people to suffer with acne around the age of 25.” She’s since decided to predominantly target that specific demographic.


Making the most of social media

To do this effectively, Ashforth makes use of social media, including writing educational skincare blogs, reposting customer reviews and connecting with celebrities. “I’ll send them product samples and, if they like them, they generally post a picture,” she says. After all, her potential customers are celebrities’ social media followers.


Adam Craven, director of luxury swimwear brand Emma Pake, has made a study of social media to better target customers. “We understand who’s buying our products based on past purchase locations and the postcodes we ship to,” he says. “But social media also plays a part in determining who our audience is. For example, when influencers post pictures of themselves wearing our swimwear on Instagram, we can study their demographic and the demographics of their followers.”


Know your own brand

It also makes sense to identify customers who have the money to buy what you’re selling, which might involve thinking differently. “We like and prefer to help small SMEs,” says Helen Goodwin, director of visual display training company Made You Look!, whose clients include small independent retailers who want to get the best out of their window displays. “But their budgets can be small, so we’ve also begun targeting business improvement districts and councils – bodies that want to improve the look of high streets and hold larger pots of funding to make it happen.”


Studying your competitors’ customers may help you find your own, says Goodwin. “Then see if you can give your customers a different experience,” she says. “Be inspired by others, but don’t rip them off. Know where you want to be promoted, too. It’s all very well networking or giving talks about what you do, but if the wrong audience is listening, it won’t benefit your business.”


Shelly Mantovani’s advice to any SME wanting to find its ideal customer is to first understand itself. “I did some mentoring recently with a guy who didn’t know his target demographic,” she says. “Then I discovered he was very outdoorsy and liked hiking and camping, and asked him why he wasn’t aiming his services at middle-class people with rustic aspirations who love skiing, snowboarding and the great outdoors. Because, more often than not, your ideal client is someone just like you.”


Six steps to identify your ideal customer

  1. Understand your own core brand values and principles. Your ideal customer may share many of these.
  2. Study patterns in your current customer base to see who is bringing in the most business.
  3. Know your product or service inside and out so you can target the right demographic. There’s no use trying to sell your customised skateboard decks to an audience of over-50s.
  4. Understand the lifestyles and personal traits of the demographic you’re targeting.
  5. Get social media savvy to find and improve your connection with customers.
  6. Keep an eye on the competition to see which customers they are targeting. You might be missing a trick.


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