Why I Don’t Have An “Ideal Customer”

I couldn’t tell you who my ideal customer is–because I don’t have one.

You may have heard that having a niche is important. Knowing your customer allows you to market directly to them–it allows you to be an “expert,” which allows you to charge more for your services and makes it easier to grow your business. When you’re first starting out as a freelancer, everyone tells you to choose who you want to work with and to define your target customer. There are a TON of articles out there on specifically how defining your ideal customer will benefit you and even how to do it.

But personally, I think it’s a bit overrated. Why?

>> You can’t know what you love to do until you’ve done it.
Look at all the college students who go to school for one thing, just to find out their true passion is something else entirely–”The key to anyone’s success is first and  foremost knowing one’s strengths, abilities, interests, even, of course, weaknesses and shortcomings,” writes Dan Bernardo on Factoidz.

When you first start freelancing, your experience is pretty limited. By intentionally not defining your ideal customer right off the bat, you allow yourself to learn.You get to work on different types of projects (web copy writing, marketing materials, press releases). You get to work with different types of companies (corporate bigwigs, retail stores, soloprenuers) and learn about different industries (photography, pets, psychotherapy, hair salons).

Who knows? You might find and fall in love with a market niche you didn’t even know existed.

>> Working on a variety of things allows you to be better at each of them. Experiencing different things allows you apply knowledge learned in one industry or on one type of project to another. It helps you think outside the box. It was my experience writing for pet retailers that gave me the insight to discuss how freelancer writers can create freelance pricing tiers. Experience working with small businesses in different industries makes me wonder how tactics used in one industry can be applied to another, which makes for unique article ideas, marketing tactics and advice that benefits my clients.

New freelancers should experiment. But at a certain point, defining your niche and figuring out your ideal customer becomes essential.

>> Once you have some experience, defining these things allows you to grow.
Natalia Sylvester aka owner of Inky Clean, which creates writing and editing to make you look your best, is a perfect example of someone who allowed her business to reach this tipping point naturally. Then, she rebranded her company with a stronger message in a way that has allowed her to grow her business significantly in recent months. Instead of seeing herself as a writer, she began to see herself as a business owner.

>> I emailed Natalia to ask about her experience.
She responded: “I don’t think I would’ve been able to define my client if I hadn’t had the chance to work with so many different types of clients in the first place. It’s kind of like gen ed courses in college. We all complain about taking them because we’re set on our major (why do I need to learn oceanography if I’m going to be a physical therapist?!) until we stumble upon this one random topic that we didn’t even know existed and it changes everything. Once I’d worked with a good amount of clients, I started giving a lot of thought to the projects I enjoyed most, and I realized, why can’t I enjoy all my work this much?”

“I think my rebranding was inevitable… The biggest indicator was that I’d been getting a lot of work coming my way that really wasn’t a good fit for me, sprinkled in with the occasional project that I loved. I know ‘a lot of work’ sounds good, but I noticed that once I tried to take it to the next level, going for bigger clients, they wanted more proof that I could do their thing.”

“I realized that to make this work I’d need more consistency. It doesn’t make sense to build on something you don’t enjoy, so I decided to build on the type of work that I enjoyed (and did) best. From there it was just a matter of filtering out what wasn’t a good fit and concentrating on what was.”

I’ve been freelancing since January. For now I know I want to work with small businesses, but I haven’t chosen one industry or type of project. And that’s okay. I’m learning and I’m experimenting. And I firmly believe that will make me a better freelancer in the long run.

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