How to Choose Your Customers

Bad customers – we’ve all had them. They suck the joy out of your work and make you wish that instead of being a creative professional you were some type of low paid menial laborer. (Actually, working for bad customers usually means you are a low paid menial laborer)

On the other hand good customers are a joy to work with. Your creativity can shine and is appreciated. The work you do feels meaningful and perhaps even stretches you a bit. Projects for good customers are usually profitable too, for them and for you.

What’s standing in your way?
A lot of creative professionals, agencies, and freelancers would love to be picky about what projects and customers they take on, but instead have to take whatever work comes their way.

Why is this? Why do you spend so much time working on stuff that stresses you out and is unfulfilling? I believe it primarily boils down to two things:

1. Lack of Vision
To gain direction, you have to answer these two questions: Who is your ideal customer? and, What is it that you can be the very best at? For most people these critical components aren’t clearly defined. If you don’t know what your goal is you won’t reach it.

2. Lack of Discipline
Staying on task – moving towards your vision will not (I repeat, will not) be easy. You will have to practice saying no often.

Here are a few secrets I’ve learned that can help you overcome these obstacles and choose the customers that are best for you.

Know what you Want
So what does your ideal customer look like? Most people I talk to don’t really know; they just mumble vague generalities. Who do you want to work for/with? Write down exactly what your ideal customer looks like:

  • What type of personality do they have?
  • What ideas do they get excited about?
  • Do they operate methodically or fly by the seat of their pants?
  • Are they fun loving or serious? etc.
  • What is their industry?
  • What is their business model?
  • How big is their budget?
  • What size is their company?
  • What does their team look like?
    • How big is their team?
    • What types of people are on their team?
    • What is communication and bureaucracy like?

Knowing the answers to these types of questions will help you define your vision and give you a litmus test for evaluating clients and projects.

Know What you Do
A lot of people, especially in the web and creative worlds, seem to present themselves as a Jack of all trades. Having wide knowledge is extremely important, but it’s only humanly possible to be great at a few things. What are those things? If you aren’t doing what you are really good at you will probably struggle being happy doing it over the long term.

Patience & Persistence
Finding your ideal customers will take time. You have to say no frequently, when a customer or situation clearly doesn’t support your goals. You will also have to endure your share of bad customers as you refine your goals.

If you can’t put food on the table it’s pretty hard to pass up any paying project regardless of how bad the client is. Sometimes you just have to do what it takes. But if you really want to move towards having only the right type of clients in the long term you will need to achieve some stability.

  • Build up savings – these can carry you through the dry periods and extend your runway.
  • Stay lean – keep your overhead low
  • Recurring revenue – nuff said.

The perfect customer is out there, you just have to find them. It’s critical to build solid relationships with great people. Once you find an ideal customer you should look around at their friends. Awesome people usually hang out with other awesome people.

Watch This
Ramit Sethi and Chase Jarvis did an incredible segment on how to earn a living as a creative professional. You should definitely check it out.