Casting a Wide Net Could Tank Your Business: Don't Appeal to Everyone!


When it comes to marketing your services, I (and all marketing professionals worth their salt) will want you to focus your efforts on a target market or an ideal client. Small business owners are often concerned that by narrowing their marketing to focus on their ideal client, they might also exclude potential clients. Casting a wide net catches more fish, right? So why wouldn't it catch more clients?! What most first-time business owners don't realize is that by trying to be appealing to everyone and attempting to cast a wide net, they actually appeal to no one and that can easily kill a business. It's also very expensive to cast a wide net, whether it's in the time you spend on marketing or paying for advertising. Here's why it makes sense to focus your marketing, ditch the wide net so that you appeal to your ideal client, and don't miss out on the clients you deserve!

Why Appealing to Everyone is Dangerous

Don't piss off your barista by not knowing what you want to order!

Don't piss off your barista by not knowing what you want to order!

A wide net might work for fishing, but it's not a winning strategy for marketing. A better analogy for marketing would be that you're at a restaurant and the waiter asks for your order. If you say "food" they're gonna be like, "yeah, so I'll come back when you're ready." If you're marketing basically conveys "I want clients! Any clients!" then the clients are going to walk away just like that waiter. (Though, the waiter is likely to come back; the clients are not.) A wide net is not specific enough to connect with your potential clients. If you try to appeal to everyone, you will connect with no one, and that's a very dangerous situation for a business to be in. 

Why Appealing to Everyone is Expensive

If you're engaging in paid advertising, you're paying to put your message in front of people. If you could choose to put your ad in front of 100 people who are just like your ideal client, or 100 people who have never thought to use a service like what you offer, which would you choose? Members of the 100 people who are just like your ideal client are FAR more likely to become clients than the other group. If you don't know who your ideal client is, then you won't know how to select an advertising strategy that will target your ideal client.

Even if you're not paying for advertising, the same principle applies. If you spend an hour of your time networking, or an hour of your time perfecting your website's text, those hours are an expense and you want it to be worth it. Your networking should target your ideal client and the message you convey during networking should speak to your ideal client. Your website's text should be designed to speak to and capture your ideal client when they come along. Time is money and all the time you spend trying to get clients should be focused on that ideal client or else you're wasting time and money!  

Being Specific Doesn't Turn Away Clients

Obviously, no business owner wants to turn away clients. But the thing is, targeted marketing doesn't actually turn away clients. Remember the waiter from my restaurant analogy? Who turned away because you weren't specific enough? That analogy continues to apply when your marketing gets very specific. 

At a restaurant, if you order something and they don't have it, you get to try again. The waiter will ask you for a new order, not kick you out of the restaurant simply because they're out of something. Similarly in marketing, if your marketing message is received by someone who is not your ideal client but is still looking for your services, it's still likely that they'll receive your message and potentially become a client anyway. Marketing messages are rarely so opaque that potential clients would be able to identify concrete aspects of your ideal client like age or gender. Rather, potential clients see the intrinsic aspects of your ideal client that you wish to connect with that are also true for them. And these intrinsic aspects are far more compelling than generalities. (And sometimes potential clients don't even see the intrinsic aspects and are interested in your services regardless of if you're a "good fit!") The point is, in marketing you have two choices: order "food" and get nothing, or place an order and get something. You will turn away more clients by being generic than being specific. 

How Specific Is Specific? 

Hopefully by now you're starting to believe me that being specific is important. Now we get to the next hurdle: but *how* specific. Your ideal client should be extremely specific; there is no such thing as an ideal client that is too specific. It should be ONE person. If you have a past or current client you feel is ideal, interview that person to get to know your ideal client. If you haven't met your ideal client yet, imagine them like you were writing a character for a movie/tv show/book. Give them a complete backstory, hobbies and interests, and reasons why they do what they do (and why they're interested in your service over those of other practitioners.) 

When it comes to your marketing message and marketing efforts this is where your ideal client becomes less obvious, but should still be very present. Your marketing message doesn't need to be so specific that it literally reads "hey, you! 29 year old woman who works in the local civic bureaucracy but wants to recapture her love of punk music and is interested in learning ukulele! I want to teach you ukulele!" But by knowing the interests and motivations of your ideal client you can write something that *speaks* to your ideal client without ever naming them.

These kids are ready to ROCK!

These kids are ready to ROCK!

For example, a simple ad directed at that ideal client might read: "Learn to rock out on the ukulele like Amanda Palmer!" This ad is directed at that ideal client and would speak to her. But if you're still a little concerned that you need more than one client, here's the other truth: it would also happen to speak to all Amanda Palmer fans and anyone who appreciates her work and people who like music similar to hers, plus people who wants to "rock out." My ad would *actually* connect with a group of people. If my ad were "Learn ukulele! It's fun and easy!" Amanda Palmer fans would gloss over it. Along with all other fans of any other artist and anyone who has their own unique drive to pursue the ukulele (i.e. EVERYONE.) This is an example of: if you try to appeal to everyone, you will connect with no one. 

The specificity of my ad is likely to alienate people who hate Amanda Palmer or don't want to "rock out." And this is true. Some people will not find this ad appealing. If this ukulele teacher loves working with people who love Amanda Palmer, then they will thrive by not having to deal with Amanda Palmer haters. Like my metaphor from before: order "food" and get nothing, or place an order and get something. And this instance "something" is VERY palatable! What a great BONUS!

No matter how specific you make your ideal client, your marketing message and marketing strategy will never be so specific as to alienate all but a single person. You might alienate people that you didn't really want to deal with in the first place, but you will actually be successful in attracting people. Plus, they'll be people who you WANT to work with. So skip the wide net with big money leaking holes and focus on an ideal client. That's what will fill your business with, not just clients, but the best clients!