Once upon a time, I used to give Target Market seminars to local entrepreneurs through the Self Employment Office of the Ontario Government.

Every seminar started the same way – people thought they knew what they were doing and this was going to be 2 of the most boring hours of their life.  Every seminar ended the same way – people coming up to me afterwards telling me that I actually made figuring this shit out fun.  One gent exclaimed that he couldn’t believe that he didn’t know this before.

This isn’t going to be a brain dump of my 2 hour sessions, but it’s the 3 cardinal rules that you have to know if you’re going to get started in the right direction.  And my dear, most of you are NOT doing this right at all.

RULE #1: Your Target Market Isn’t Everyone With 2 Feet and a Heartbeat

My opening line in every seminar is a question – who is your target market.  Hundreds of entrepreneurs have gone through this seminar, and every-stinking-one had the same answer.  I’m a roofer, so my target market is anyone who owns a home.  I make baby clothes, so my target market is families with small babies.  

Telling people they had it wrong sets the tone for the entire day because from the minute they walk in, I’ve told them that they’re doing it wrong and it’s affecting their bottom line.  People sit up and listen.

It’s impossible to please everyone.  You know this already even if you don’t own a business.  But did you ever consider that you’re failing yourself if you consider EVERYONE as your target market?

There’s too many diverse groups in those markets, you’ll never figure out what they all have in common and you’ll never learn how to talk to them.

Look at it like this – think about being part of  Secret Santa at work.  You need to buy something for the dude in cubicle 12 that you’ve passed in the hallways and said hello to in the coffee room.  He wears blue shirts almost every day so you figure he must like blue and yesterday, you saw him watching cat videos on his phone.  You have $20 to buy him a good gift he’s going to love – can you do it?  It’s way different than taking the same cash and buying your BFF-since-kindergarten a gift, because you know her like you know yourself.

Rule #2:  Absolutely No One Buys Because They Have Pink Hair

Traditionally, we look at target markets in terms of demographics.  Where do they live, what do they make, are they married, how old are they.  Those are the things that filled the whiteboard when I asked the seminar attendees to tell me what they know about target marketing.  Every time the room got quiet, I’d ask – what else?  When they had nothing left to offer, I told them I was going to circle the most important ones they needed to know – and I’d proceed to stand there.  Why?  Because none of that matters.

I’m not going to buy a new pair of jeans because of where I live or because of the kind of car I drive.  nosireebob.  Emotion is the only thing that’s going to pry open my wallet.  Sure, some things are done out of necessity – like putting a new roof on because you have an indoor pool.  But why do people choose a particular company or a particular shingle.  Dig down far enough, and it’s all emotion.

When you can figure out why people buy things, then you can market directly to what they need and why they want it.  You can’t get inside of the head of your target market if they’re “everyone”.

I used to break out the coloured pencils for an exercise we did.  I gave them my answers to the demographics they thought were important that were listed on the whiteboard, then told them to design a cracker box that would make me want to buy their crackers.  Even though they had all the answers to the things they thought were important (demographics), they knew nothing about what makes me tick and would make me buy anything (psychographics).  Everyone always failed that assignment, but it drives the point home really quickly.

Rule #3: You’ve Got a Choice

By this point, people are usually pretty despondent to the whole marketing thing because they’ve realized they don’t have a clue how to market to people so Rule #3 always perks them up.  It follows the old adage, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.  Everyone has those special few people they’ve had as customers that they can’t stand working with.  Good news – that’s OK, and it’s even better when you kick their asses to the curb.

Here’s a quick exercise you can do at home.  

Grab a piece of paper and draw 2 circles – make them big and be sure they overlap in the middle.  In the left circle, write down everything you can think of in terms of your newly defined target market.  In the right circle, write down everything you WANT in a customer.  Where those 2 things overlap is your sweet spot.  Your perfect, ideal customer: the person who wants what you have and the person you want to work with.

When I started my virtual assistant company, I took every customer that was willing to work with me.  The thought of turning anyone away was too much because I needed that money.  I ended up doing work that didn’t light me up and sometimes, even made my skin crawl.

Business is like dating – don’t settle for any old dude that’s willing to take you out to dinner – choose to be picky and wait for the perfect guy.