This article is about inclusive marketing and shoulder clients, and I’m gonna call myself out here, if either of those terms are scaring the bejesus out of you, don’t worry, we’re gonna define them in a minute.
I want to kind of frame this in talking about inclusive marketing. And some of the concepts I’m going to be talking about are very specific, and maybe even feel exclusionary — they’re not. And that is why the title starts with “Inclusive marketing,” because this is actually a way for you to draw people in. I don’t love the term “client attraction,” because it sounds very magical and woowoo.
But in terms of drawing people in, that is the closest I will probably ever get to client attraction. And you can do this by being very specific in your marketing, and purposely standing out from the crowd so people notice you. That is how you create inclusive marketing, because it allows people to self-select in. It gives your audience the choice. It is not you being persuasive in a scheme-y, slimy way. It is not you telemarketing, cold calling people trying to get them into your world.
It is you saying, “Hey, this is the specific case use of what skill sets I have, what services I have to offer, and the ways in which I can help you.” And then when people identify with that, they opt in by reaching out, by actually opting into an email list. I don’t necessarily mean it just like that. But they opt in to your world, to what you are saying, because you were so specific, they felt called to.
That’s what I mean by inclusive marketing. We’re gonna go over shoulder clients in just a second. But first, we need to talk about what your best client is.
I don’t like the term “ideal client avatar” because it’s an old school marketers term, it sets up walls and hurdles, it makes you sound like you need to use fancy, jargony terms to describe something that really isn’t that hard of a concept. And, frankly, I don’t think we need to do that. You might be doing online marketing, but if you are not an actual online marketer, there is no need for you to use silly, jargony terms like that. So I say let’s ditch the ICA, get rid of the ideal client avatar, and let’s simply call them your best client.
Now, who is your best client?
First, before we get to that, I’m going to briefly go over the four levels of clients as I see it. Client number one, the perfect for you clients. Client level number two is a good demographic match. And this is probably the most closely aligned with the ideal customer avatar. The third level is your shoulder client (and we’ll get to that again in a moment as well). And then finally, the fourth level is everybody else that is looking for the service you offer. Take note: not everybody in the world, but everyone looking for the service that you offer.
So that client number one, that level number one, is the perfect for you client. And this is the person that you can most easily and efficiently help with the problem that they most urgently want to solve. Some people will call that their pain points. Pain point sounds a little bit negative. And it’s not always negative. Sometimes their problem they most urgently want to solve is actually how to accomplish a goal that they’ve long desired, right?
Either way, you are really good at something. And that something is what they need. That is what your best client is. That’s what makes them the perfect for you client at this stage. So keep in mind, people only buy when they have a problem they don’t want, or they don’t yet have a result that they desire. Those are the things that make them your perfect client.
Now I want to quote Seth Godin here. It’s one of my favorite all time quotes. He says, “Average stuff for average people is getting ever more difficult to sell. And if that’s all you got, get something else.” I love that quote because, one, it leads into the specificity that we were talking about with your best client. But I also like it because it kind of calls out what’s happening in today’s world.
Now, I am sure you have heard the Forbes stat/projection at some point. I’ve probably even quoted it on this podcast at some point or another. But the basic gist of it is in the next three years, the digital product, info product, and online course world’s going to explode and be like $300 bajillion dollars. And, you know, go get some. Obviously I’m being a little bit glib and sarcastic, and I’m clearly not looking up the actual amount right now. But if you haven’t heard it, it’s pretty easy to Google.
And the point is, it is happening. The pandemic definitely hastened it. But it was going to happen anyway. And the world’s exploding with online learning, with ways of connecting online in both meaningful and kind of do-it-yourself, self-paced ways.
Now, because of that the market is getting more saturated. Because of some of the online communities I am a part of, I am privy to some stories about quite a few people who used to have no problem running, you know, six-figure course launches a couple times a year, who are now struggling to barely hit $20,000 with those same launches. Offers that used to sell just fine are struggling to sell now. And the reason for that is the market is getting more saturated. Or, to head back to Seth’s quote, “average stuff for average people” is getting ever more difficult to sell. And if that’s all you got, please do go get something else.
That is why we need the best client. That is why the demographic information that the typical ideal customer avatar profile has (you know, 38-year-old female, drives the Toyota, lives in a three-bedroom house, gets her hair done every six weeks, her nails done every four), like, yeah, some of those things are lifestyle things that are good for you to know, I’m not going to argue against that. But that is not nearly enough.
What you really need to know about your best client is dreams, hopes, desires, anxieties, and fears. When you know that stuff intimately, you’ve got your Best Client Profile nailed. And it makes it far more easier for you to offer inclusive marketing as well.
Now, we had already that demographically-matched client as our client number two (I just kind of gave you an example of some of those demographics that people usually quote when they create an avatar). But I would like to pose why that doesn’t work.
Alright, so since I called out the 38-year-old female, let’s just go with that particular energy here, right? Maybe there are 5 38-year-old females that you are currently looking at working with. Are they all the same? That is the question, right? They aren’t. Maybe one of them just totally annoys the crap out of you. Maybe another one of them just challenges everything you say, and you’re like, “I don’t want to deal with that for the duration of our contract. I’m just not into that.” Or maybe not all 38 year olds are actually the same after all. And we can just acknowledge that the ideal customer avatar profile doesn’t work from a demographic point of view if it also does not include their mindset around their actual problem.
This is why we need to go beyond the ICA and dig beneath the surface. So I’m going to give you an example that I’ve actually used in one of my courses in the past. And obviously I made this course when I was two years younger, because I’m talking about a 37 year old. So let’s let’s let’s give you a a fitness-related example, right?
I’ve talked about my spin class multiple times on this show, so let’s use a spin instructor as our business owner here. Let’s say her target demographic is a late-30s female. And that is pretty much all she’s done. She’s phoning it in with the ideal customer avatar because that’s what the online gurus say to do, right? So like I said, of those few people, maybe some of them annoy her, maybe some of them challenge her, maybe some of them just don’t want to put in the work.
But also, there are other reasons why the remaining ones might not be her best client. Maybe one of those people is only at that spin class because her gym only offers one class at that time period and she just she needs the accountability to work out. She’s not really into spin. Maybe she’s there because she used to snowboard and she blew out her knee and it’s the only kind of cardio that doesn’t hurt her. Or, you know, maybe that particular class is the only one that makes her really, really hard and distracts her enough from quitting throughout the class.
If you’ve heard me talk about my spin class before, you’ll know that last one is me. It’s not that I love spinning. I actually don’t. But I do it quite often, because the class is so distracting it keeps me in the workout zone long enough to actually make it through the class without wanting to walk out and you know, keel over and die, obviously.
But there are multiple reasons someone might show up at that class and you knowing which reason your best client shows up for the class is key to your marketing. If you’re just marketing to that middle-aged woman and saying, “Hey, I know you want a class at 9:30am — I’ve got one,” you’re gonna catch some people with it. But are you going to catch your best people with it? Probably not. They’re the ones who are there by default.
Now, that other example, right? Maybe someone there is, you know, spinning because they snowboard and they blew out their knee and now the only cardio that doesn’t hurt is spinning. That’s someone who’s a shoulder client. And that was our third level of client.
So maybe our spin instructor can help this snowboarder — former snowboarder — because they definitely want to be doing cardio. They definitely are at spinning for a reason. But you know, it’s not like her favorite client to work with. So it’s not your best client, but it’s still somebody that you can help with your service. That is the best way for me to describe the shoulder client to you guys.
The shoulder client is someone who’s maybe not your best client, but they still respond to your marketing message, they still opt in, they still self select into your world.
And maybe not everything you do is going to be relevant to them. But you can still help them and they are choosing to ask you to help them. I call them shoulder clients because they’re kind of like a shoulder width away from your actual best client. And because of that, because of how your marketing world is situated, you are going to get a fair number of shoulder clients coming into your world.
And this is where it comes down to inclusive marketing. Inclusive marketing doesn’t mean including everybody. It means calling out your best fit client — that best client, perfect match client — so well that they can’t help but become part of your circle.
Now, at this point, you as a business owner who has good boundaries and knows how you actually work and what you can actually do to help people, you get to decide which level of shoulder clients you’re going to allow into your business.
So here’s another health-related example, right? I’ve seen a fair number of chiropractors in my day. Starting when I was at the ripe old age of 15, we found out I had an extra vertebrae. Yes, I’m weird. I think we already know all of that already. But because of that extra vertabrae, I have more bone in my lumbar region than most people do. And it makes me less flexible and therefore more prone to injury. So I started seeing a chiropractor.
That first chiropractor I saw used a little punch gun tool called an activator. Turns out, that tool just doesn’t do a good enough job for me and my admittedly weird body. And as a result, I moved on to a sports chiropractor. I did that around the time I fractured my hip, and I needed a lot of physical therapy and manual manipulation just to keep my body in check. And, yes, this all happened when I was in high school.
So by the time I left high school, I’d already seen two different kinds of chiropractors, right? One that used no manual manipulation and used a punch gun tool. And then one that was really geared towards sports-type injuries, did a lot of manual manipulation, and it just worked better for my body, right?
They’re both chiropractors. Theoretically, they can both serve people with spinal related-ish injuries, right. But one of them just didn’t do a good job for my body. That doesn’t mean that that person was bad at their job, it just means it wasn’t a good fit for me. So while I started attending that chiropractic clinic and worked with that chiropractor, I was a shoulder client for them. And I ended up self-selecting out — or my mom, I should actually say, my parents, right — they moved me to a different chiropractor because it became obvious I was not getting their desired results with the first one.
So I self-selected out, right? But that chiropractor also could have taken the opportunity to say, you know, “We usually see more results by, you know, month three or four or whatever it was, at that point, why don’t we try something else instead.” They could have taken the opportunity to set some boundaries and say, “This is not for everybody.”
And that does require some good gumption in your business, to look at a person and say, “You know, I don’t think you’re ready for my service.” Or to look at a person’s business and say, “I don’t think you’re going to be best served by this particular skill that I do.” That is our responsibility and duty as a business owner: to, one, stand out from the crowd so that people can see your marketing message, decide whether they are called to it, and come into you. And then, two, take a hard look at that potential client’s business and look and see whether we really, truly can help them or whether we should refer them out to somebody similar to us but does it in a slightly different perspective or or has a different tactic that might work better for that particular person.
Because the reality is, we do a disservice to take clients who aren’t a great fit when they could find a wonderful fit elsewhere. And this right here, in my opinion, is where our marketing world, our online service provider world really needs to start taking personal responsibility. I will tell you guys, I get client inquiries on a semi regular basis that are not a good fit for my business. That doesn’t mean they are bad, it does not mean I am bad, it means we are not a good fit for each other.
If you’ve read my articles with any regularity, you know I’m fairly blunt. I will tell you guys how it is. And if I think something is not going to work for one of my clients, I am pretty honest about that. Now, I’m not mean, but I will be harshly honest if I feel like my client is not hearing what they really, truly need to hear.
The reality is, there are a lot of different marketing tactics out there that are not going to be a good fit for you, and be a wonderful fit for the next person down the road. And I occasionally get people who inquire about my services, I do a little bit of light research on their business, and I realize they are not ready to hear what I want to say. I would not be doing a good job if I took them on as a client because somebody needs to get them to point B before I can take them on at point C. It’s just the reality of the world.
And because of that, you need to know who your best client is, you need to know how you can serve them very, very well, and you also need to know who your shoulder clients are. There might be a couple versions of your shoulder clients. You need to know who they are so you can decide, “I can help this person,” “I can mostly help this person,” and “This other person, I really truly need to refer out to somebody who can serve them better than I can.”
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It is 100% true and regular, real world stuff. And it’s the same and incredibly accurate when it comes to marketing your business as an online service provider. There is a good fit for every client out there. And you just might not be that one right now. And that’s not just okay, it’s good. We need to celebrate the diversity and the variety amongst us as service providers.
We need to recognize that when 20 people show up for a spin class, they are not all there for the same reason. And while a spin class is probably not going to turn people away because they’re there for the wrong reason, you as an online service provider who’s probably only working with a handful of clients per month, you need to do that. You need to actively say, “I can help this person really well. And I’m going to. And this other person, I have a referral pool for a reason.”
Alright guys, I hope that helps. I really want you to understand the crux of this message, which is that when you are very specific and use that specificity in your marketing, you call out people who are attracted to your message. And that is why being so specific about your best client helps you provide inclusive marketing that gives your audience power. It allows them to say, “Yes, this is for me,” or “No, it is not.” It saves both of you time and in the end delivers both of you better results.