Defining Your Niche Without Creating A Customer Avatar

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Defining Your Niche without filling out one of those "customer avatar" forms. #smallbiz #marketing #branding

Yesterday I had a meeting with a friend of mine and he said, “When I read your blog posts, I feel like you’re speaking directly to me.” I replied, “I am speaking directly to you.”

More specifically, I’m speaking to people who share a common set of characteristics, challenges, and problems. When you’re clear about these things, amazing things happen:

  • It gets their attention
  • They feel as though we’re reading their minds
  • We earn their trust because we understand what they’re struggling with

The result? We attract the right people to us.

The amazing part is when you’re so specific in describing someone’s problem — they automatically perceive that you’re the one to help them solve it. I’ve written blog posts that inspired complete internet strangers to reach out to me and hire me. There was no drawn-out “sales funnel” or “nurturing the relationship through email sequences” or anything like that. The words resonated, I hit on a pain point, I helped them in some way and they took immediate action.


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It doesn’t always happen like that (how I wish!), but speaking to a niche audience helps you build a brand over time, to become known for a thing and get the right people coming to you.

Trying to address all the things with all the people means they’ll all get confused, and your message will go unnoticed by everyone. You won’t be seen as an expert in any specific area, so you’ll be in direct competition with every other generalist out there

If you offer a service, and you’re looking to attract clients online (versus in your local market), it’s pretty crucial to get specific about which part of that big ocean of people out there you want to attract.

Defining your niche ain’t easy

This is one of those areas where people get stuck, and oh lordy I’ve been there. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and it took me a long time to get real clarity about my niche. The main problem I had was that I love working with all sorts of niche groups and it was hard to loosen my grip on any one of them.

Focusing on just one meant giving up speaking to all of those other groups I adore because their problems are different.

But, I finally realized, I’d never be able to achieve expert status if I tried tackling everyone’s problems. I needed to become more valuable to fewer people. 

And I realized I’d never be able to sustain writing this blog because when you’re writing about generic stuff, it gets real boring real quick. Both for the writer and the audience.

Sometimes the traditional methods of defining your niche aren’t helpful

I have a love/hate relationship with the customer avatar (or persona) exercise. You know the one: you imagine one specific customer from your target audience and fill out a form like this.

Marketing questionnaires and forms and checklists aren’t helpful until you’re ready to make some difficult decisions. And forms aren’t going to help you make those decisions.

At a certain point in the process of creating a client attraction strategy, or a design brief for that matter, creating a customer avatar is useful and practical, and I do use them and here’s why:

  • Thinking about what blogs your dream customer reads, what conferences they attend, what thought leaders they follow, etc. will get your wheels spinning about where you’ll need to go to reach them.
  • Understanding what they do for a living, their gender, their occupation and their age can give you clues about things like which social media platforms they’re likely to be using and how to target your advertising.
  • Thinking about what they’re like as people — what they do on the weekends and what they value — helps you hold a clear picture of a specific person in your mind when you’re creating messages; you’ll more easily be able to start thinking like they think and join in on that conversation.

But. It’s not an exercise that I start with and I don’t introduce if someone isn’t crystal clear about their target audience yet. It doesn’t do a damn thing to help us define who our dream customer should be, and without that clarity — it’s just yet another marketing form you fill out that yields unhelpful, superficial information.

So if you don’t have a customer avatar, or if creating one makes your eyes roll into the back of your head, read on. Here are the things you should think about that are far more important than what kind of hobbies your imaginary customer enjoys on the weekends. But first…

Don’t Be Afraid To Get A Little “Woo Woo”

Listen, I know if you’re struggling to niche down, it’s scary as hell. But forget about market size and profitability and demographics and being “practical” for a minute and take a look at your life and your business from 10,000 feet.

When you envision your “dream business” — what does that look like? Take a pause here, close your eyes, and think about a scenario where you’re completely fulfilled in your work. What kind of work are you doing and who are you doing it for?

And I don’t mean “women between the ages of 25-45” I mean what kind of person is it?

These are the questions “marketing exercises” always fail to address … but to me, they hold the key to everything. I’m not just being “woo woo” here, I’m actually being completely practical.

If you’re not jazzed up and psyched about the work and if you don’t adore your customers, you’re going to have a hard time:

  • Sustaining any kind of marketing initiative in the long run
  • Creating an amazing customer experience, which means your customers will be “meh” and they won’t go out of their way to leave you five-star reviews and rave about you to all their friends
  • You won’t be inspired to “go deep” and develop expertise, skills, and authority

Building a brand that attracts clients means creating a consistent, amazing experience. How you feel, and how they feel matter in that equation.  So getting niche starts by getting yourself a vision for how you want your business to be.

As you think about these things, ask yourself the following questions:

What is the problem you solve?

This can be answered superficially too, so let me help frame your thinking:

What we usually say when we’re asked this question is some version of what we sell. I’m a designer, so I might say, “People need websites, so I build them websites.” Or, “People need logos and business cards, so I design brand identity systems.”

But is that really their problem? Is that what they need? What’s the outcome they’re after? It always takes a bit of digging deeper.

  • Why do they need a website?
  • Why do they need a logo?

People have millions of options to choose from if they’re thinking, “I need a website” or “I need a logo” — but there’s always more to it.

  • Maybe they want to sell books.
  • Maybe they want to attract clients.
  • Maybe they want to position their business as the go-to authority on executive recruitment, family law, or pediatric dentistry in their local market.

“What is the future they want?” is one of my favorite questions — it helps you crawl inside their minds and join in the conversation that’s going on in there. Then, how can you help them get that future?

Don’t feel discouraged if the answers don’t come to you right away.  It may take a bit of ruminating.

Now, who do you want to solve it for?

Now you can start thinking about who you want to solve that problem for specifically. Because if you say “anybody with this problem,” you’re competing with everybody else on the planet who solves that problem. 

I like to start with personality traits because I think it’s important for you to work with people who you really, genuinely get excited about helping. There are loads of potential customers out there, why not work with clients you love?

What groups or categories do they belong to?

Once you’ve decided the problem you solve, the type of person who you can get excited about working with… think now about what groups or categories they fall into.

  • What demographic traits do they share?
  • Do they come from a particular industry? Which industry’s problems do you understand the best?
  • What size is their business?
  • Are they business owners? Decision makers? Freelancers? Bloggers?
  • What values do you share?

Is this a viable market?

Just identifying your ideal customer isn’t quite enough. You want to make sure your target group:

  1. Needs your solution (already knowing they need it is ideal)
  2. Includes enough people who need your solution (getting “too narrow” is rarely a problem, but it could happen)
  3. Can they afford to pay you what you need to charge in order to meet your income goals

If you don’t know, do some research. Find people who fit your ideal customer description and ask them. What they’re struggling with? If you were to create a service, what do they most need help with? What would they be willing to pay for that service?

Once you get some answers on these things, THEN when you open up a “customer avatar worksheet”, you’ll be able to fill it out easily and better understand how to use it.

How To Speak To Your Dream Customers Without An Avatar

It’s enough for you to understand the problem you’re solving and for whom. When you sit down to write a blog post, or a Facebook status update, or an email… think of one specific person (not an imaginary one) who has a problem you can speak to. You should already know enough people who fall into the “category” of customers you’re trying to attract, so all you need to do is start collecting the problems they struggle with and provide the solutions with your content.

If you don’t want to fill out a customer avatar at all… you totally don’t have to in order to start taking action. The whole point of it is to get you thinking narrowly and talking to one person from your target audience (rather than “just anyone”), but that person doesn’t need to be imaginary. You can speak to the problems of real people, knowing that if that person is struggling, other people (like them) will be struggling with it too.

And if you can figure out how to do that without filling out a form, you have my permission to crumple it up and throw it in the garbage and just get going with it. 😜But make no mistake, getting clarity about your niche is one of the most important things you’ll do if you want to get the right people’s attention online.

99% of the Battle for Attracting The Right People To Your Business Is Having The Right Mindset

In my book, The Client Attraction Mindset, I share all of my “Aha!” moments, paradigm shifts, and exercises that helped me go from invisible to visible by getting clear about who my dream customers are and how I’m going to get their attention.

The homework ain’t easy, but you’ll never think of branding (and how you’re going to use branding to attract clients) the same way again.


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