Do You Need a Target Market?


Article by Joan FriedlanderA bit of a trick question with just one answer — yes! — but it often meets with varying responses. Some business owners don’t want to choose one, and others had never really considered it (shouldn’t I be willing to work with anyone who is breathing and wants my help?).

Some have come to understand the importance of having a target market and identified it, while others work with diligence to figure it out. It’s one of the most important questions for service professionals to tackle, and often as hard to put your finger on as Jello.

Choosing your target market is like whittling away at a fine piece of wood until you uncover its true essence.

When I first started coaching, I had some idea about the kinds of people I wanted to work with and some of the concerns they would have. I wanted to work with people in career transition, and specifically those who wanted to leave the corporate world and start a business.

As it turns out, my first clients were primarily people in the corporate world who wanted to do a better job of being more productive and effective at work, work fewer hours, and improve their overall quality of life. And, a few of those were considering leaving the corporate world, but none ever did.

So one day, I decided to take a branding class and for three or four months I dwelled in the question of what my brand is: who I serve, what they count on me for, and even what colors and catch phrases would appeal to them.

A specific exercise in which I evaluated the psycho-demographics of my favorite clients was quite revealing. Though I thought I wanted to focus on working with people in alternative healing businesses, I discovered the clients I most enjoyed working with were (primarily) professional, married women in business for themselves, who wanted something more. They wanted a more balanced life, they wanted stability in their business and they wanted to make a difference. Suddenly my target marketing changed from “new age” to professional. That was about three years ago.

Since then I’ve continued to refine my target market, but the foundational piece is still the same. It’s taken another three years to claim and understand my niche and specialty in order to address the specific concerns my clients have in business, and how I help them solve them. This evolution, I’ve discovered, is fairly normal as I’ve seen similar experiences with my clients and colleagues.

Identifying your target marketing is a process

Most entrepreneurs and professionals in service businesses will tell you that your target market evolves over time. It will evolve and change as you change, as your own interests change, and even those of your clients change.

For example, many people start working with clients in the industry they came from, especially those who start a business after years in corporate positions in a specific industry. This is often a relatively easy and wise choice. Then, as time marches on and they become more comfortable in their business, they have more freedom to widen or change their target market, especially as new interests or experiences reveal themselves.

Common fears and concerns about choosing a target market

The most frequently named fear is that declaring and choosing a specific target market would exclude some people from using your services. Well, yes and no, and — so what? (See the next section to learn why the opposite is true.)

The other fear, less frequently named, is that of having to choose! I’m fairly certain this is based on a misconception that if you choose today, you’re stuck with it forever.

Why choose a narrowly defined target market and niche?

When you identify a specific target market, you minimize the time, costs, and efforts required to attract prospects to your services. Consider the two ideas below. Once you understand them, you’ll have a much easier time with this task.

Identifying your target market is much more about how you direct your outward marketing efforts, and much less about limiting the people you work with.

The more specific you are about who you serve, the more attractive you’ll be to everyone.

Benefits of choosing a specific target market

  1. You feel good! Having clarity and certainty is empowering.
  2. You can make better decisions about how to spend your time and money in networking and other marketing activities.
  3. You increase your ability to be seen as an expert to those you serve. They will trust you more and it will be easier for people to refer to you.
  4. When you’re seen as an expert, and actually are one, you can make more money because your expertise will be valued.
  5. Even those who are not part of your target market will appreciate your expertise. They can become your fans and perhaps, one day, their needs will change and you’re the person they’ll think of.
  6. It’s easier for you to refer prospects to others. You become more generous and this can only be good business karma.

NOTES

The terms “target market” and “niche” are often used interchangeably. For the sake of simplification and understanding, I give the following definitions to them in this article:

Target Market — The specific group of people you serve.

Niche — The issues, challenges, or concerns these people have, and the specific way(s) your services address them.

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