Create an avatar of your ideal customer is Step Five of the ten-step series How to Start a Business After 40. There is great advantage in knowing who your customer is before you start your business. It focuses your offering and it informs your sales and marketing activities.

Sidewalk pedestrians in time lapse blur
mauro mora

Getting to Know You

In his most recent book, Beyond the E-Myth, Michael Gerber talks about the early days of starting his business The Michael Thomas Companies. He and his commissioned sales people went door to door to every small business in the city where they lived and posed to every owner the same series of questions that essentially asked, “Who are you?”

From these interviews, Gerber learned more about his customers – small business owners – than “anyone else on the planet.” He knew their problems, their frustrations, their weaknesses, and what and how they thought.

That was in 1977 when face to face interactions were commonplace.

Customer Avatars

Today, there are many other ways to learn about your customers. Some of them are still face to face, such as focus groups. One of the more popular methods, though, is to create an avatar, which is essentially a profile that coalesces all of your customer’s characteristics, preferences, and needs into a multi-dimensional but virtual person.

In her Maturepreneurial podcast episode, Johannah Barton, founder and principal of Confetti Design, passionately relates the process she took herself through in order to identify her customer.

“I wanted to define exactly who this person was that I wanted to work with, even down to the values that they stood for. So, I went into a lot of detail around their personality, where they lived, what they did, what was important to them, what their fears were around this kind of service I was wanting to offer, what problems they had, and how that service delivery could be absolutely perfect for them.

You can do really amazing things that make people stop. I wanted to hone in on that kind of experience for my customer. So, understanding what their pain points were and how I could make that experience really fantastic was an important part of this process.”

Michaela Jedinak’s approach was less formal and more organic, but just as effective. As a young professional working her way up to more senior roles, Michaela recognized “there was hardly such a thing as good clothing for senior business women.” After years of working in and around fashion, Michaela identified her ideal customer to be the business woman who was senior in her role, more mature in age, or (frequently) both.

When Michaela founded her fashion house she did so with a very specific woman in mind. At that time, there was not a lot of clothing available for the serious professional woman that would accommodate the demands of her particular lifestyle. Such women needed clothing they could wear to the office that could also be appropriate as evening wear for events that took place after hours but required no less professionalism.

Michaela’s customer, focused on career, did not have the time or, often, the inclination to spend a lot of time shopping for clothing and caring for it. She needed clothes that would give her confidence without requiring a lot of attention. Senior business women, frequently leaders, also needed clothing that would accommodate and enable them to highlight their unique and special body strengths.

Know Your Customer, Know Your Business

For Michael Gerber, the door-to-door interviews he and his staff conducted provided the foundation of his business offering. From the insights he gleaned, Gerber the solutions his customers were seeking without even knowing it.

For Johannah, there were different benefits.

“It started out that I was going to be selling websites and branding services to women in business but as I progressed through I realized that actually, 95% of all household purchasing decisions are made by women. So really, I wasn’t just wanting to target women as a customer. I wanted to target anybody that wanted to sell more to women. Because they were being underappreciated. They weren’t being shown that they were understood in a marketing experience”

In addition, Johannah’s customer avatar, she says, gave her confidence and “gave me real, proper actions to take. So, when I went to my marketing, I knew where to go to find my customer because I’d defined that person so well. When I put any marketing or social media posts or anything that I did in terms of putting myself out there and saying, ‘Hello, here I am. Here’s what I can do for you,’ I knew exactly the tone and the language and where to position myself because I’d done all that original work.”

In Michaela’s case, “A woman who is in a senior position, she spends a lot of time to become an expert. So it’s important that you’re expert as well about yourself.”

Today, Michaela offers 90 different dresses in over 400 different fabrics. Michaela’s business, Joy of Clothes, is one of the leading personal style websites and it she has cultivated a loyal worldwide following.

Woman looking up
Tachina Lee

From these few examples, as well as many others, the lesson is clear: in order to be successful, you need to know who your customer is, you need to know what matters to her or him, and you need to provide solutions to their problems, sometimes when they don’t even know they have one or they themselves couldn’t tell you what the problem is with any accuracy.

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