3 Rules to follow when choosing your target audience

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You get to choose who you work with.

It’s true. One of the awesome things about freelancing is that you get to choose who you work with. You don’t have to and shouldn’t work with whoever walks in your virtual door.

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But choose wisely.

What you decide makes a huge difference in your chances of creating a sustainable freelance business.

Comedian Louie CK has this hilarious bit he told on Conan O’Brien about choosing the right profession. He says that dancers chose the absolute worst profession—from a financial perspective—because there are so few jobs.

“It’s a massive amount of dedication followed by giving up. Because there’s like three dance jobs on the planet earth. How many millionaire dancers are there? You can dance for like two seconds at your peak, then you’ve got to give up.”

I see the same thing within freelancing. I see designers pick markets that are long-odds to be successful.

You have a choice of who you work with. Pick a group with lots of good jobs and potential projects available.

Don’t focus on your passion when picking an audience

Here’s a thread I saw the other day on Reddit:

“I want to concentrate on designing for local bands. My passion (aside from design) is with music, and I’d love to do most of my freelance work with local bands. How would I approach this?”

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My recommendation:

Don’t.

Don’t approach this at all.

Bands do not have any money!

It will be extremely hard to make any money by working with local bands.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but this will be an uphill fight all the way.

It is fine to follow your passion as long as that passion aligns with a group of people interested and willing to pay money for it. Otherwise, you are going to be in trouble when you put in a ton of work only to find out that no one wants what you are selling, or you are targeting a group that can’t afford what you are selling.

Work with customers who can and want to work with you

“Find customers with money. Professionals don’t work with customers who don’t have money.” – Seth Godin

There are two questions you can ask yourself when trying to determine if a market or group of people is right for you to pursue:

  1. Can they pay you?
  2. Do they want to pay you?

The band example from above is a case of a group of people (local bands) that can’t pay you. Bands, especially local bands, have no money to be able to afford your services. So even if they love your work and value design, they just can’t afford to hire you to do work that will be financially rewarding to you.

The opposite of that is someone who can pay. They clearly have the means to pay you, but don’t want to or don’t see a need to pay you. That would include businesses like lawyers, dentists, or anyone who gets most of their business via referral.

Take lawyers for example. It seems like it would be a good market to target—clearly, they can afford your services—but I would think long and hard about going after lawyers as your target market if you’re a graphic designer.

I used to wonder, why is it that lawyer logos all use that same cheesy “scales of justice” logo? Almost every lawyer uses it in some form.

What I’ve discovered is it’s because they don’t have a good reason to care much about their brand identity when almost all of their clients come via referral.

When that’s the case, it’s likely they (lawyers) feel there’s little to be gained from improving their image.

Clients that come via referral care more about the fact that somebody they trust told them that so-and-so is a good lawyer, rather than what the lawyer’s logo looks like. Lawyers know this and don’t feel a need to pay you to improve something that, in their eyes, isn’t broken.

Same thing with dentists. When you look for a new dentist, you ask around or you go on Yelp and read reviews, and based on others opinions you decide to work with them or not.

When’s the last time you picked your dentist or doctor based on their brand identity?

Probably never.

You’ve got to do a bit of digging to figure out if a group is inclined to pay you or not. But it’s worth it.

Don’t try to convince them

Worse than an audience that wants to have great design but can’t afford it, or can afford great design but doesn’t think they need it, is a group that you answer “no” to for both categories.

You know the places you see when you walk down the street that makes you shake your head at how poorly they represent themselves. The local yoga studio that’s still using the Papyrus font in their marketing materials, or the café using awful clipart on their menu.

You think to yourself, “Why won’t these guys just invest in good design? If I could just convince them…”

And that’s the problem. You can’t convince them and you shouldn’t try.

They can’t afford you, and they also aren’t inclined to.

And that brings me to my next point: work with people who want the service you provide. Don’t try to convince people. It’s a huge waste of time and energy.

Instead, focus on a target audience that has money to pay you and wants the type of work you do.

This is critical.

Takeaway

  • Don’t focus solely on your passion. Instead, ask yourself what talent do you have that you can match to a need in a market. If there is a need that lines up with your passion, that’s great, but if you just rely on passion, what you’ll have is a hobby not a business.
  • Work with qualified customers. That means finding customers who can both afford you and who want the service you provide.
  • Don’t waste energy trying to convince people. Educating prospects can work, but it takes a lot of time and effort. Better to pursue people that are already aware they have a problem that needs to be fixed and are looking for someone just like you to fix it.

Working on narrowing down your audience? Tell me in the comments below what group you are targeting. Make sure you’ve asked the questions, “Can they pay me?” and “Do they want to pay me?”

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About Ian Vadas

Ian Vadas is a designer and the author of Work With Clients You Love. Get the eBook to learn how to select clients that pay well, treat you with respect and allow you to do your best work.

For tips on getting paid and maximising your freelance revenue, join the FREE email course Pricing For Freelancers.

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Comments

  1. This is so true. I was passionate about helping non-profits, till I discovered they all wanted pro bono work. Then it was the construction field, some didn’t think they needed a better web presence, or couldn’t afford it. It was a huge waste of time an effort. Market research is extremely important.

  2. Great article! Thanks Ian… It’s alway great to be reminded of these things.