This is the third in a series of posts about how to leverage The 7 Systems of Influence to become a better author. If you want to start from the beginning or find links to all the posts in this series, go here.
Who’s your audience? Who’s your ideal audience? (Note: In this post I use the words audience, reader, client, and customer interchangeably)
Hint: It isn’t “everyone” and it isn’t “anyone.”
Recently, I was coaching an entrepreneur and asked her who her ideal audience was.
“It’s the chief marketing officer, the CMO,” she responded.
“At what size company?” I asked.
“Oh…I guess they’d need to have at least 50 employees.”
“Would you rather work with the CMO of a company with 50 employees, 200 employees, 2,000 employees, or 10,000 employees?”
“200 would probably be our sweet spot.”
“Is the CMO the one who usually finds your company? Or are they just the decision maker?”
“They’re usually just the decision maker, usually it’s someone else who finds us.”
“Would you rather be found by a CMO, or found by that other person?”
“Well, it is better if the CMO finds us, because it’s easier to get buy-in and move quickly.”
“Why would this CMO be looking for you, or your company’s services?”
“Probably because they just got hired and they had an agile marketing team at their last company, but the marketing team at their new company is a traditional one, and they know they want to move towards agile marketing and they know they need an outside consultant to help them.”
From this excerpt from our conversation, you can see how her first answer was too broad and we needed to dig a lot to get to this client’s truly ideal audience.
At the end of our coaching session, we created this statement about the client’s ideal audience:
We work with CMOs who have just switched to a new company and want to transform their traditional marketing team into an agile marketing team.
This allowed her to become much more targeted with her content and get a more dramatic response from her audience when they saw her content. Finding your ideal audience is like finding your genius zone in that once you have it, results come to you like magic.
In 2013, my agency almost went out of business. Things were bad. We only had three clients left, and our monthly revenues weren’t enough to cover paying my team to get the work done and still give me a salary. I could have shut my business down and gotten a “real” job, but I didn’t want to give up yet. In my head, I had a vision that someday my business would become a large, international firm.
Around this time, I was invited to write for Forbes magazine. It seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up, and I hoped it might help my business.
During the first few months I wrote for Forbes, I published dozens of articles. They were mostly about entrepreneurship and how to run a small business better. I shared lots of stories about my struggles and lessons I had learned. People liked my articles, but the attention didn’t help my business. Since my business was struggling to survive and needed all the time I could spare, I couldn’t justify continuing to write articles without a financial return.
What to do?
It seems obvious now, but one day it occurred to me, “Maybe I should write articles for people who want to hire a marketing agency.”
That was my ideal audience, and knowing it changed everything.
Following ideas popularized by books like Youtility by Jay Baer, They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan, and #AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuk, I began to write articles to answer questions my ideal audience (people looking to hire a marketing agency) were asking, and my agency began to get leads. I can track over $5M in revenue directly to the articles I wrote in Forbes (and over $10M to my thought leadership system as a whole). Combining my genius zone with my ideal audience saved my business and allowed us to open offices around the world.
When you identify your ideal audience and focus on them and only them you’ll also get dramatic results. Here’s how to do it:
STEP 1: START WITH THE AUDIENCE YOU’VE GOT
Do you already have a customer you wish you could clone 1,000 times? How could you get your book into the hands of more people like that customer? Often, the clues to your ideal reader can be found in the ideal customer you already have.
Below, write down everything you can about your ideal customer/reader—not just what makes them ideal, but everything you know or can gather about them. Include their name, age, title, family status, hobbies, interests, beliefs, income, location, language(s) spoken, roles, communication style, hangups, professional circumstances, goals, fears, and personality traits.
Write down everything you can about your ideal customer/reader.
STEP 2: LIST POTENTIAL IDEAL READER FACTORS
What stands out to you as relevant from the description you created above? Write those factors below. Then, write down more—as many more as you can think of. Ask yourself what are all the types of people who may be interested in you and your superpower? Who needs you (or your business) and what you have to offer? What pain are they feeling that you can cure? What problem are they experiencing that you can fix? Who are you, and who would it be easy for you to relate to? List characteristics, titles, locations, languages, roles, desires, goals, fears, and challenges. Think broadly and make a big list.
Write down potential ideal customer/reader factors.
From this large list of potential factors we’ll zoom in to find your ideal audience factors.
STEP 3: CHOOSE THE TOP IDEAL READER FACTOR
Which ONE of your potential audience factors from above has to be part of what creates your ideal audience? For example, if your vision was to get a new job as a project manager, your primary audience factor might be “Looking to hire a project manager.” If you sell consulting services to people who work in marketing, the primary factor might be “marketing.”
Write down your most important audience factor.
STEP 4: WHAT OTHER FACTORS ARE IMPORTANT?
What other audience factors are important? List at least two. Just as with the genius zone, it’s in the overlap of multiple factors that the magic happens.
Write down other important audience factors.
Before you go any further, The Big Mistake almost everyone makes at this point is they don’t dream big enough. They get stuck in “reality” and place unhelpful limits on themselves that prevent them from even trying to do what they are truly capable of. It may sound strange but sometimes to dream big, we have to think small.
Imagine Charlie owns a company that sells marketing software. He believes his ideal audience is anyone who’s a marketing director.
Can you spot Charlie’s limiting belief?
Charlie is holding himself back because he believes he needs to target every single marketing director in the world. He’s afraid if he gets more narrow when talking about his ideal audience, he’ll exclude too many opportunities. The truth is that by trying to appeal to everyone, he appeals to no one. On the other hand, if he narrows his focus he’ll find a niche he can own and defend against competitors.
When listing details about your ideal audience, get much, much more specific than Charlie by considering these factors.
8 FACTORS OF THE IDEAL READER
To find your ideal reader, search out the individual who:
1. IS LIKE YOU
It’s easier to relate to and write for people who are like you. “Like you” might include age, location, occupation, language, culture, education, training, or hobbies.
2. NEEDS WHAT YOU HAVE
Your ideal reader needs the information you share in your book. For example, during the summer of 2020, my wife published a book about homeschooling written for parents who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, were considering homeschooling their children. Those parents needed to figure out what they were going to do, so they were highly motivated to buy her book. Of course you can build a booming business around wants and desires, but ideally we’d rather have customers who need what we have vs. those who only want it.
3. WANTS WHAT YOU HAVE
Despite what I just said about needs vs. wants, sometimes needing isn’t enough. A potential reader may need your book but not know it. People are more likely to buy what they need and want.
4. HAS THE MONEY
Don’t let me confuse you—I don’t mean your ideal reader needs to have enough money to buy your book, I mean they need to have the money to do what you want them to do after they read your book. College students may be convinced by your book that they need and want your $10K/month leadership coaching, but targeting CEOs as your ideal type of reader may work out better for you.
5. REQUIRES MINIMAL EDUCATION
All other things being equal, would you rather have a reader who, if they turned into a prospective customer, would be hard to reach, need lots of additional education before buying, and want you to visit them on-site, or would you rather work with the one who reads your book and then reaches out to say, “I read your book, I’m ready to buy, send me a contract.”
6. ENERGIZES YOU
Otherwise you’ll burn out. The last thing you need is readers who you dread interacting with.
7. COMMITS TO THE LONG-TERM
Would you rather have a reader who turns into the kind of customer who pays you once, or who subscribes to your service and pays you every month for twenty years?
8. SPREADS THE WORD
The only thing better than a great reader is the one who raves about your book to other potential readers.
Note: These ideals should not be taken as absolutes, but as ways to potentially both expand and focus your thinking about who your ideal reader may be. In your case, the ideal reader may be quite different from you, or perhaps your ideal reader doesn’t energize you, but it’s worth it anyway.
Don’t trap yourself into thinking “I’d like to work with more customers like Customer A, but there aren’t enough of them,” or “If I only work with Customer C, then I’m leaving too much money on the table!” In reality, there are probably more members of your exact, ideal audience out there than you could hope to work with in a lifetime. So why bother pursuing anyone to read your book who is less than ideal? As they say, “The riches are in the niches.”
Now, go back and look at the audience factors you wrote down above. Do you feel confident you’ve found your ideal audience/customer/reader? If not, how can you refine your criteria until you do?
BONUS: CREATE YOUR PERSONAL BRAND TAGLINE
You now know what you want (System 1: Vision), you know why you’re the person to make it happen and what your superpower is (System 2: Genius Zone), and you now know who your ideal audience is (System 3: Audience). Now we’ll put them together into a concise statement that helps you focus your attention on where you will make the greatest impact, as well as quickly and easily explain to others who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.
To create your personal brand tagline, fill in these blanks:
I help (this is where you put your ideal audience)
to (here you explain the problem you solve, or the results you deliver that solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity).
Here are examples of personal brand taglines from authors:
- “I will teach you to be rich.” – Ramit Sethi
- “I’ll help you figure things out.” – Marie Forleo
- “I teach hustlers how to day trade attention.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
- “I’ll help you achieve success through a morning routine.” – Hal Elrod
- “I’ll give you the confidence to write.” – Ann Handley
What’s your personal brand tagline? You may find it helpful to work this out on a piece of scratch paper, adding and crossing out words until you find the right combination that resonates with you.
Pro tip: Focus on accuracy and detail first, and make it sound good later.
Write down your personal brand tagline.
We’ll use your personal brand tagline later during this exercise, but some places you can use it immediately are:
- As the title for your LinkedIn profile
- In your email signature
- As an answer whenever someone asks “So, what do you do?”
And of course, there’s a good chance your personal brand tagline is going to become what your book is about.
PONDER, ACT, & ASK
Think about what you have learned from System 3: Audience, and consider what you can do with it. Answer the questions below:
- What are the most meaningful things I learned in this section?
- What will I do as a result of what I learned in this section?
- What questions do I have about…?
SYSTEM 3: AUDIENCE — ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Tribes by Seth Godin
Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
Killing Marketing by Joe Pulizzi
Superfans by Pat Flynn
Ask by Ryan Levesque
Youtility by Jay Baer
The Membership Economy by Robbie Baxter
Choose Your Customer by Jonathan Byrnes and John Wass
WEEKLY BOOK COACHING
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