You have customers… people are actually buying what you have to sell. But so far those sales have mostly been luck because you don’t have a clear picture of how those people found you in the first place. Or maybe you do know where they came from, but you aren’t sure what all those people have in common. You’re putting your message out to the world, but you’re not entirely sure who you’re speaking to.

So let’s figure that out by doing a profile of your existing customers and identifying who is part of your target audience.

First, let’s define what I mean by “target audience.”

Target audience is a specific, narrowly focused, group of people within a larger, general market group to which a product or marketing message is aimed.

Your target audience group shouldn’t be confused with your avatar or “ideal customer” profile. That would be a profile of a single person who embodies your perfect customer. We’ll chat about identifying your avatar in another article. Stay tuned…

You might be asking how you figure out how to identify your target audience and build a demographic profile of that group of people. The good news is that you probably already know the answer. The bad news is that you probably don’t know that you know the answer. So that’s where I come in, we’re going to work through a list of questions that will help you narrow your focus on your target audience.

If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have any customers or clients, then use your best educated guess and lots of research to answer these questions. Don’t forget to use market research and the resources available to you from your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office.

In this article I’m going to assume you have been in business for a while and have a list of your past clients or customers already. It doesn’t need to be a huge list. But let’s begin by gathering that customer list and printing a copy of it for this exercise. This exercise assumes you know your customers at least on a surface level and have some type of relationship or knowledge about them.

Print a complete list of your past customers

Now it’s time to start categorizing those customers. Quickly go through your list and identify, from memory, the customers that you loved working with. Then quickly go through the list and identify the customers that were especially difficult and you hope to never have future customers like them again. What’s left should be a list of neutral customers — those that you didn’t love, but also didn’t dislike.

Categorize your customer list into three groups: love, dislike, neutral

Now let’s do some profile work. Take each group of people and try to identify as many characteristic and demographic traits as you can. If you have detailed information about these customers, that’s great. But ideally, you want to go through this exercise using your gut-reaction and current knowledge. Here are some traits to look for:

  • Age
  • Gender & race
  • Marital & family status
  • Occupation – blue collar vs. white collar and self-employed vs. employee
  • Income level
  • Education level

If you know your customers well, it’s also a good idea to record some narrative about this group. Yes, it’s time to get emotional about your customers. Why did they make it to the “love” category, what made them a dream customer to work with, and what makes them so special that you want to work with them again?

And the same for the “dislike” group. Be honest about why you never want to work with them again. What was the problem with the relationship – was any of that problem your contribution (taking responsibility is the professional thing to do).

Now think about that neutral group. These are people that you didn’t love and didn’t dislike but if they came to you again you’d work with them. Your goal isn’t necessarily to go out and find more of these people but if they come to you and you have time in your schedule, you’ll work with them again.

Create specific profiles for your target audience categories: love, dislike, neutral

Once you have a solid profile of the “dislike” and “neutral” category of people it’s time to set them aside. Now that you have them defined, you’ll recognize them when they come to you again and you’ll know how to react. Folks in your “dislike” category will be turned away so you can focus on your “love” category. And folks in your “neutral” category will be evaluated based on their project and if you have time in your schedule to take on their project.

Learning to say no is a skill that will take practice. It is hard. Harder than I ever realized it could be. But once you start focusing on serving an audience of people you love working with, you’ll begin to shape your business into something that reflects your passion, skills and strengths. Once you say no to the wrong client for the first time you’ll feel more empowered to do it again. Focus on saying yes to the right people so you can grow your business into something you love.

Your audience has a problem

It’s your job to solve your audience’s problem… so let’s define it so you recognize it when it comes your way.

What are their problems? What are they struggling with? What problem can you solve for them? It might be an ongoing problem like work stress or finding willpower to live a healthy life. Or maybe it’s a business related problem like struggling to generate new leads and increasing revenue. In the case of our running coach from a previous example, the problem her customers have is that they want to become better runners and finish marathons.

Maybe you have a nice-to-have type of product or service (artwork, music album, magazine subscription, funny t-shirts). The problem you’re solving might be less obvious, but you are still bring joy and entertainment to someone’s life with those products.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Try to think like they think. What are they struggling with? What actual questions, terms, language are they using when they talk about their problems?

Not sure what problems there are to solve? Pay attention, people talk about their problems all the time. Do a search on Twitter for phrases like “I wish that…” or “I hate when…”  Add a keyword related to your business and start listening.

Where Do They Get Their Info?

Next, it’s time to figure out where those people are getting their information.  Here are some questions to think about as you begin to develop the profile sketch of your audience:

Where do they hang out? What physical locations do go to when gathering with friends who have the same problems?

Where do they spend their time online?

  • Do they spend time on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram – somewhere else?
  • Which website do they spend the most time on? Reddit, Pandora, YouTube, CNN, Amazon, Wikipedia – somewhere else?

What do they read, watch, listen to or consume?

  • Do they read newspapers or blogs?
  • Do they listen to the radio, buy CDs, streaming music live or go to concerts?
  • Do they watch television or YouTube videos?
  • Do they buy courses online or take community education classes?
  • When looking for reviews on products similar to yours, who do they trust?
  • It’s important to know where your audience finds their information because eventually, you want to be in those places so you can provide them the solutions to their problems.

Don’t assume you know the answer until you do the research to find out the most accurate answer you can find right now. As you begin your marketing efforts, this answer will become more and more clear, but you need to have a place to start and you want that starting point to be the most effective avenue you can identify right now.

Who Do They Trust?

This might seem difficult to answer, but try to gather as much information as you can about who your audience trusts when they make decisions about the problem they are solving. Do they look to friends and family or do they turn to experts in the industry? It could be celebrities, trusted brands or maybe product reviews by complete strangers.

If a member of your target audience were to buy a product or service similar to the one you’re offering – who do they go to and ask advice about which product to purchase? Are these impulse buys or do they spend time researching and gathering information first?

Put it all together into a target audience profile

Now that I’ve asked a million questions about your target audience, it’s time to put it all together and develop a basic audience profile. Write down all the information you’ve gathered about each group and keep this information handy. Next time a customer approaches you with a project, pull out your profiles and try to fit them into one of your three categories before you decide to work with them.