Consultant to Creatives
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The Clarity Journal

Tactics, Tools, and Truth for Creative Entrepreneurs

5 Reasons You Aren't Getting (Enough of the) Right Clients

It’s extremely frustrating when you work with the wrong kinds of clients. They push back on your contract, pricing, or process. They don’t have enough money for you to do your best work, or they don’t value your work enough to spend it. Or maybe their personality, aesthetic, or timeline just don’t work for you.

This is a tough love moment: I want you to consider whether the problem is not the clients, but you. I want you to consider whether, perhaps, there are things that you are doing – whether intentionally or unintentionally – in your business that are causing you to seem irresistible to the wrong kind of client and passable to the right kind. In other words, is the outcome that you don’t like related to choices you have made along the way?

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are five possible reasons you aren’t getting the right clients.

You don’t know who the right clients are.

I get it. Some of you are in a position where your “ideal client” is anyone that will pay you. Maybe you just started out, or maybe you’re in a serious lull and are in need of cash. 

The challenge is, if you don’t know who your ideal client is, attracting the ideal client just becomes dumb luck. You need to know exactly who you are targeting so that your marketing and sales process attracts the right people, and vets out the wrong ones.

If you feel totally lost, make a list of your three best clients/projects from the last 12 months. Then, brainstorm all of the factors that made these clients great to work with: the budget, the type of work, the aesthetic, the personality, the industry, etc. Look for common threads.

Thankfully, honing in on your ideal client doesn’t have to be a one-and-done task, but it can be a gradual, iterative process. I suggest you revisit the concept once per year until you have clarity.

Your branding is connecting with the wrong audience.

I recently worked with a freelance graphic designer who was in the process of expanding her team to be a full-service studio. To make this work, she had to start attracting larger brands that could justify larger, retainer-based projects. One of the big “aha” moments that we had together was that if she was going to successfully get bigger clients, she had to gear all of her marketing to that person, and not to the clients she worked with in the past.

If you know who you are targeting, your branding should speak directly and appeal directly to that person, and that person only. Is the tone of your website and your social feeds overly personal or casual versus polished and professional? Are you spending time on the right social media platform to attract your ideal client? Does your portfolio include work that is relevant to the target client? Make sure your brand isn’t sending mixed signals about who your company wants to work with.

You’re offering too many services.

Full disclosure: I recently realized I was guilty of this. 

My consulting background includes a lot of different kinds of work. I’ve done strategic planning, financial planning, team health evaluations, staffing plans, board/investor communication, and a whole host of other things that are absolutely useful to my ideal client. In theory, I can offer this variety of services as part of my portfolio, but there are some serious problems with this approach. 

The first problem with this is that I don’t have the time or resources to market all of these things effectively. If you are trying to communicate and educate people about a host of different services, the message gets muddled and is ineffective.

The second problem with offering too many services is that it confuses people. Prospective clients are confused because they don’t know what you do or how to work with you. Furthermore, your friends and contacts are confused about who they should be referring to you. 

Your list of services needs to read as a clear and cohesive set of things that are your specialities. You need to be known for something. Prospects need to look at your website and think, “this is exactly what I need,” not, “maybe this could work.”

You rely solely on referrals.

Don’t get me wrong, word-of-mouth referrals are a GREAT thing. It’s always nice when other people do your marketing for you, for free.

But, it’s only a great thing if the referrals are right for you. Are you getting the projects that your fellow creative business owners don’t want? Or, are you getting the friends and family of the clients you didn’t enjoy working with? Are your well-meaning relatives, who don’t understand your business at all, trying to help you by referring you people who are terrible fits?

Don’t put yourself in a position where you are sitting by the computer waiting for prospects to knock on your virtual door. You need a proactive marketing strategy that consistently brings quality leads into your business.

You aren’t saying no to the wrong clients.

You can’t make room for the right clients unless you say no to the wrong ones. To do this, you need a reliable vetting process to make sure that the clients coming into your business are right for you.

You can customize your vetting process to meet your needs. For instance, one of my interior design clients recently put a two-step vetting process into place. The first step, a 15 minute phone consultation, is for big-picture questions like type of project, budget, and timeline. Within the first two days of having this process in place, she was able to vet out two potential clients that were not good fits. She didn’t have to waste time going to second step of doing an in-home consultation.

If the idea of saying no makes you feel panicky, read my post How to Say No to Work.

Need Help?

A foundational part of my Thrive Program is honing in on your ideal client, core services, and marketing messages to consistently attract your ideal client. If you feel you need some support in this area, applications are open for the January-June program!