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June 25, 2007

Have You Defined Your 'Ideal Client?'

If you are a solo practitioner and have not defined your 'ideal client' you are setting yourself up for problems such as a misguided, scatter shot marketing plan(s) and clients that depress you and compromise your bottom line.

Defining your ideal client isn't about creating a list that gets published to the client or others.  It is part of your business model for profits that satisfies certain criteria you deem critical to your professional success and personal satisfaction.

When I first started out, I had just completed a dissolution with a client I really liked.  I remember saying to one of my partners at the time, "we should give an award to our best client for being just that, the ideal client."  I didn't appreciate at the time that this was the genesis of how we fashioned a plan to actively seek out more clients like her.  We wanted this type of client.  If we kept getting this type of client we would be financially successful and feel career satisfaction.

The ideal client is not a luxury.  It's a mandate.  If you are running your solo practice and you have not created this 'template' of the perfect client it is time to start. (You may even have to fire existing clients.)

How do you do this?  Start culling your files for the clients you enjoyed working with the most.  Why were they your best client?  Was it the area of law?  The issues presented?  Was it their ability to pay without question and the ease of collection?  Was it that they actually listened to your advice?  (This is a very real issue that comes up with my clients when we go through this exercise!).  Did they enthusiastically refer clients of the same caliber?  Is it a demographic ideal such as a certain net worth, or gender-specific or a political issue?  Is it a group of individuals that share similar hobbies or interests regardless the area of law?  Is it a group of individuals that share a similar complaint?

Start determining who your ideal client is or was and go through their files to find hints about how you can get more clients like them. For example:  If you are a family lawyer, you've gotten financials on the individual.  You know their gyms, kids private schools, tailors, work history, income, whether they go to Starbucks, where they vacation, their financial institutions, grooming, the car they drive....do you see where I am going with this?  No matter the type of law, their files provide the clues.  And write it down as a reference, especially when you are on the fence about taking on a new client that maybe doesn't quite fit the criteria.

The point is, whatever the criteria, if you do not do a forensic analysis of your past and existing clients to determine why they are your 'ideal client', you will never be able to fashion a short or long term marketing plan to attract similiar ideal clients.  You will just be spending money mindlessly through generic advertising mediums because 'everyone else is.'  And you will be accepting any client. Invariably, this frustrates your marketing efforts and compromises your practice and the overall pleasure you originally derived from choosing to be a solo.

As a new solo, you may only have an idea of what your ideal client may be because you haven't actually serviced your ideal client yet and that is okay.  This ideal can change as you get new clients but it is a start.  It's kind of like being thirteen and fantasizing about the qualities of your perfect mate.  When you start the actual dating process, the criteria may change, but you have to start somewhere.

Would love to hear if you have defined your ideal client and how and when you did it in your journey as a solo.


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