Business Myth: You Need a Client Avatar

client avatar

client avatar

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: We often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Rachel Allen shares her (expert) take on why your client avatar is useless, and what you need to know to really resonate with your readers, instead.

Every industry has its must-have tools. And while those change pretty frequently in the fast-paced, online, small business world — “Webinars are the future! No, Periscope! No, Facebook Live!” — one that’s held steady since the beginning is the client avatar.

You know how it works: You sit down, sketch a stick figure, and write out whether they’re a cat person or a dog person, what they like to do on the weekends, and of course, what their favorite breakfast cereal is.

Just one problem…

When it comes down to it, you still have no idea what to say or how to sell to this person. Funny enough, knowing someone’s cereal preferences doesn’t help you communicate with them in a way that really resonates. Because, just like you, your business, and your brand, your clients are complicated. Multi-layered. And very, very human.

The truth is, most client avatars are absolutely useless.

They’re intended to give you a clear idea of who you’re working for, but they almost always give you a sanitized, surface-level, pod-person version of your audience. And you’re not working with pod people, you’re working with people people, those contradictory, irrational, gloriously-difficult-to-pin-down beings.

It was never about the breakfast cereal.

Client avatar exercises ask you questions about the surface level things in a person’s life as a way of getting at the deeper things about them. But somewhere along the way, the search for that soul-level stuff became conflated with the surface-level stuff — and we started thinking that knowing whether someone owns a cat or a dog can somehow give you insight into what they want, when very often people don’t even really consciously know it themselves.

Why client avatars don’t work

When you do a classic client avatar exercise, you’re primarily focusing on demographics — those quantifiable, external things about a person. But when people fall in love with branding, become a fan of your business, or make a decision to buy, they’re doing that from a place of identity, not logic, and certainly not demographic indicators.

...and that’s why you need psychographics

If you really want to get someone’s attention, develop a relationship with them, and make them want to buy from you, you need to approach them in a way that confirms their perception of their identity. (Which is such a powerful force that people will actually act against their self-interests rather than do something that goes against their identity. Homo economicus, you’re out.)

And to tap into a person’s identity, you need to get a sense of their psychographics — their beliefs, feelings, and assumptions, and why they have them.

Sounds great! So how do I figure all that stuff out?

It’s not as easy as going through a checklist, and there’s no foolproof, six-step template for it (see: “not pod people”).

But that doesn’t mean that you have to fly blind, trying out thing after thing until you finally hit on that magic combination of words and ideas that light your people up…because they’ll tell you, if you know how to listen.

Start with some empirical research

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in trying to figure your target market out is doing it in a vacuum — this guarantees that whatever you come up with is going to be biased towards your own perceptions. Instead of working from the inside out, starting with your own guesses about your clients and learning the hard way whether they’re right or not, start with some objectively verifiable data.

Find out where your people hang out, both online and offline, go there, and <em<listen

And by this, I mean where they actually spend their time. Not relatively general Facebook groups, not generic Twitter chats. Find places that are going to be incredibly specific to them because of their industry, their problems, or where their clients hang out — because chances are, you’ll find them there too, pitching.

Once you’re there, don’t fish for business, or post things like “Hey XYZ-type people, I’m doing some research on my client avatar, what are your problems?” Just listen to what’s being said both explicitly and implicitly, and track any topics you see coming up again and again. This is not a one afternoon thing — you want to do this for at least two weeks to gather enough data.

Once you have an idea of the lay of the land, analyze your repeat topics through three questions:

1. What is this really about?

Try to get below the surface and figure out what this topic is really about for your people. For instance, if you’re constantly seeing people post about wanting a VA, is it because they feel overwhelmed, or because all their business friends are getting one, or because they think they need a VA, when really they need an accountant? What’s the bottom line of both the reality and the belief behind this issue?

Knowing this will help you figure out the language you need to use to share your message and services with them, and makes a great starting point for an about page.

2. Where does it come from?

What beliefs, assumptions, and needs underlie these issues? Are they actually true? If so, where do those needs overlap with your message and your services?

This gives you insight into their beliefs, the chance to debunk false assumptions (and show off your expertise), and guidance on how to tap into your clients’ aspirations.

3. What are the stakes?

What happens to your people if they solve this issue? What happens if they don’t? What do their life and business look like next month if this issue persists? What about next year? And how do you fit into that equation?

Knowing this not only helps you focus on the things your people really need help with, it also gives you a starting point for talking about these issues in sales copy.

It all comes down to this

Genuinely effective business communication is a balancing act between your message and how your audience needs to hear it. To figure that out, you need to know your people inside and out.

It takes time. It’s not a simple process I can upsell you in a 45-minute webinar. But it’s worth it. Because ultimately, you don’t need a client avatar. You need a human-to-human relationship -- and there’s just no way to get that from a stick-figure sketch.

Business Myth: Always Be Pitching to Grow Your List + Business

One Woman Shop business myths

One Woman Shop Business Myths

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: we often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Amanda Berlin shares her (expert) take on why "always be pitching" isn’t exactly the right advice -- and how to effectively pitch yourself for the most impact, instead.

You’ve got the training. You’ve developed the programs. You’ve got a great website with excellent content. And you’re working with clients. You just need more of them. Now what?

Get your name out there. Start pitching yourself for interviews and guest blog opportunities. You’ve heard it before, and that’s why we’re here.

Here’s your myth:

You need to constantly be pitching yourself for guest blogs and interviews to grow your list, get your name out there and convert like-minded audiences into fans and clients.

Here’s the truth:

You need to be pitching. But instead of constantly pitching willy-nilly and saying yes to every opportunity, you need to be courting the right kinds of outlets, describing yourself in the right way, delivering the right kind of content, and following up in the right manner so it reflects positively on you and your business.

Let’s back up. First, what do we even mean by pitching in this context?

The best pitches sell an idea for a story or interview that’s really valuable to the reading, listening, or viewing audience. Great pitches also incorporate your expertise to showcase the value you can bring to people you work with and to the ongoing conversation on a particular topic in your industry.

Mini-Myth: Cast a wide net.

Quantity over quality. Pitching is a numbers game, right? False. You don’t need to cast a wide net when you’re pitching. You need to find outlets that are strategically aligned and offer the biggest bang for your pitching buck.

Sites that syndicate their content will enable your article to have the biggest impact and offer you the greatest return on your time investment. To figure out if a site syndicates its content, look for bylines that indicate the content came from a different site. For example, if you’re on The Muse, you’ll see there are pieces that offer the author’s name and a different site that he’d written this piece for, often Inc. or Mashable. You can even see an examples of a syndicated One Woman Shop article, here on Levo. When you see this telltale sign, this means the site you’re on has a content sharing relationship with the site mentioned in the byline.

When you place an article on a site that syndicates its content, your article has the potential for expanded reach to more like-minded audiences.

Other sites that will have a big impact for you are sites with very specific demographics that you can uniquely speak to.

To find outlets that serve very specific demographics, look within yourself to where you’ve been, what you’ve done in the past, professionally or personally, where you are now in your life, your interests and passion, and figure out to which of these audiences you might be able to tailor your message. Then go after them. For example, if you teach people about how to better organize their closets, and you have a passion for fitness, you could take your expertise to a website that speaks to health and wellness and talk about keeping all your workout wear organized and in good condition. Your content will resonate because it’s been developed specifically to serve this very precise audience.

Mini-Myth: You need to sell yourself.

It actually doesn’t matter to your pitch how awesome you are. Your idea is really what you need to sell. And then you need to sell yourself in the context of that idea. Answer the question: Why are you perfect to be delivering this information? This will help you dive into your past personal and professional expertise and pull out only the details that are relevant to explaining why you’re a valuable resource for this information.

Mini-Myth: Once you’ve delivered great content, you’re done. Watch the results pour in.

Great exposure can do great things for the size of your list. Hit a well-trafficked site with excellent content and, BAM!, you’ll have them streaming in and signing up for the list. Sure -- it can work that way.

But, you can make it even more attractive for people to sign up by offering a free giveaway or something unique and useful to that particular reading, viewing or listening audience.

For example, I did a training for jewelry designers on how to develop their brand voice and implement it on their websites and social media. To make the most of my opportunity in front of that audience, I created a free giveaway on how to write product descriptions (in their new-found voice). I knew from my partnership with the team leading the training that product descriptions were something their audience has been requesting. With that insider information, I could easily fulfill their need and provide something useful. As a result, I received about 60 new sign-ups for my list.

Deliver great content, but figure out a way to engage the audience to the point where they want to come back to your site and see what else you’ve got, either in the way of more informational articles or in the way of giveaways that are perfectly relevant to their unique challenges.

The more “pro” you become at pitching, the more you realize it’s about more than just coming up with ideas and selling yourself. Pitching successfully is about finding outlets that will maximize your efforts and connect you with the right people who will truly appreciate what you are putting down.

So tell me in the comments below: What’s your biggest challenge in putting yourself out there?

PS (from the editor) -- Want more on pitching yourself with the greatest impact? Check out our One Woman Shop Chats With... Live episode with Amanda!

Business Myth: Investing In Yourself Is Always a Good Idea

One Woman Shop business myths

Business Myth: Investing In Your Business is Always a Good Idea

Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: we often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Ashley shares her take on why “investing in yourself” isn’t always a no-brainer.

It’s commonly stated, and widely believed, that “investing in yourself” (aka buying a course, program, membership, etc.) is the best thing you can do for your business.

There’s a lot of wisdom in that advice. After all, you are your business, and the more you improve your skills and abilities, the better you’ll be able to run the show and the better your bottom line will look.

While I do agree that the right training can allow you to leapfrog ahead of where you’d be if you figured everything out on your own, I don’t necessarily agree that plinking down money for the program or course dancing in front of you is a no-brainer.

The value of learning

I don’t for one second want to give the impression that there isn’t value in identifying an area of weakness (or finding a new entrepreneurial front to move into) and then strengthening your skills in that area. In fact, there’s a lot of value in courses, coaching and programs, and I’ve taken advantage of quite a few myself.

Here’s the beef: “investing in yourself” this way is only going to pay off (making it a successful “investment”) if it’s the right education at the right time:

  • when you’ve hit a roadblock and this will get you through it;
  • when you need a new skill and taking a course will enable you to leap-frog;
  • when you’re just starting out and totally green and lost;
  • when it makes strategic sense and you can afford it.

Basically, investments need to pay off. That’s pretty much the definition of a good investment. And when you sign up for every new opportunity without really looking at how it supports your long-term strategy, you aren’t necessarily making good investments.

A justified distraction?

Often, a new course or program can be a dressed-up form of distraction, also known as procrastination.

As an entrepreneur, there comes a time when you need to stop learning and start doing. When you don’t feel confident landing new clients, for example, it’s easier to take a course on landing new clients than it is to start digging, marketing, pitching, and bracing for rejection. So instead of doing the hard and scary work that leads to actual dollars in your pocket, you sign up for one more webinar, join one more program, or study one more blogger’s advice.

In my experience? Not a winning strategy. You’d likely be better served by pitching and asking for peer reviews.

Pretend-productive procrastination?

Fear -- of failure, of rejection, of success. Boredom. Intimidation or inadequacy. Shiny Object Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome. Habit. Envy. Lack of vision or strategy. These are just some of the reasons so many of us reach for our wallets when a new opportunity to learn something comes up.

If you’re considering a new personal development program, take a hard look at why you want it in the first place. If it’s to fill an actual knowledge gap you’ve identified, have at it. It’s another thing entirely if you’re telling yourself this is “the thing” that will “get you there” -- wherever “there” is.

Know what your goals are, be clear on exactly how this new investment will serve you and your business, and commit to following through. That’s the only way it’s going to pay off. (See definition of investment, above.) Anything less is just procrastination… potentially expensive procrastination.

Rationalized overspending?

There's also the case where you may sign up for the next big thing without really considering the financial impact. Tune into your business for a minute, first.

Taking advantage of these opportunities indicates that we expect them to lead to a lot more money down the road. But before we get to the “down the road” part, they cost money now.

Money going out has a direct impact on profitability. Too much money going out could mean that you lose your profitability, and that’s obviously not good for business.

Learning how to run your business well and level up in your craft is important, yes, but so is operating without burying your financial future under the crushing weight of your friends Visa and MasterCard. Staying right-side-up matters! Possibly more than that $997 membership with $4,000 in bonuses! Know your business, and whether or not you can handle it.

Just be smart

There are many times when paying for personal development products is exactly what you need for your business -- but with so many of these opportunities cropping up all the time, it’s easy to get swept away. Pay attention to how you’re putting these investments to work, keep an eye on your bottom line, and don’t let the idea of “investing in yourself” become such a no-brainer that it ends up getting in the way of real growth and development.

Ultimately, when you’re the boss you’ve got to manage all your resources -- including money, time, strategy, and yes, your personal and business growth and development.

Tell me: how do you make the decision on what to invest in for your biz?

Business Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

business isn't one-size-fits-all

Ever feel like every business guru, expert, or ninja wants to sell you on the idea that there’s one solution to all of your solo business issues?

Here at One Woman Shop, we don’t believe that business - or life - is one-size-fits-all. Though we’ve slipped, we try to always steer clear of using phrases like “you need to,” “you should,” or “your whole business will fall apart if you don’t…”

For example: we believe your daily schedule is all your own. Maybe you wake up at the crack of dawn (we both do!) or maybe you sleep until 11am -- because you can.

We’ve run a post called One Woman Experiments: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, but the post is exactly that: an experiment. Not a rule or a requirement, just a neat little look into one woman’s adventure with waking up earlier. Nowhere in the post does it mandate that you, too, need to set your alarm clock for two hours earlier from now on.

Why? Because business is not one-size-fits-all.

Just like your schedule, your marketing strategy is all your own. We’ve got a post coming up about why Cristina is an Instagram convert. Will we encourage you to reconsider Instagram as a marketing platform if you’re staunchly against it at the moment? Heck yes. But will we say that your business needs an Instagram strategy or that you’re making a fatal error by not using it? Nope.

Why? Because business is not one-size-fits-all.

Likewise, how you choose to structure your business and the clients you take on is all your own. Firmly believe that picking a very specific niche is important for your success? We’re here to help you brainstorm the specific characteristics of your ideal client, down to their bra color and favorite movie. But if you’ve made a proactive decision that niching isn’t for you (you little multipassionate, you), like Carlana and Sara have, we’re going to support you, too.

Why? Because business is not one-size-fits-all.

The people you surround yourself with -- and the community you build -- through your business is entirely your choice. If you’re looking for a business coach who will yell obscenities at you (no seriously, some people want this), we’ll direct you to that kind of tough-love personality. If you’re looking for a more gentle, hand-holding approach, we’ve got you there too. Either way, we think it’s about knowing yourself and your preferences.

Why? Because business is not one-size-fits-all.

You didn’t start your business to live up to someone else’s expectation; to be someone else’s employee; or to run it the way someone else tells you you should. Make it your own.

What one-size-fits-all-businesses myths have you been told?

Business Myth: You Have to Pick a Niche

One Woman Shop business myths

Welcome to Business Myths. Here's the deal: we often hear business "truths" and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We're chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Carlana shares the story of how she learned the hard way that focusing in on a niche isn't for everyone. 

Give us a bit of background on your business

It’s 2010 and my virtual assistance practice is all I dreamed it would be. Things were so great that I occasionally found myself in the position of being able to turn away work. It seemed like all the hard work I had put in since I started in 2007 was netting great results. I was happy, business was thriving and I kept busy with a range of marketing and business support services I was offering.

Sounds great...what happened then?

As a consummate learner, I was on so many lists and following so many people that at times the message was conflicting and quite confusing. Then I listened to a webinar with a marketer that I greatly admired; this marketer was advocating niching. She felt that it was the best way to grow your business and preserve your sanity. Hmm….. It seemed as of late, everyone was talking about niching. Maybe the universe was sending me a signal? I was spread a bit thin at times providing a range of complementary marketing services when most people seemed to be focusing on just one area. I spoke with other colleagues who had decided to niche after years of being what at that time seemed to be a dirty title- a Generalist VA. They felt that it was the best thing they could have ever done for their business.

So you decided to pick a niche?

I mulled it over and thought that niching was probably the best thing to do. After all, if others were succeeding at it, why wouldn’t I? I released some clients from their contracts, stopped taking on certain work and just focused on a specific niche.

And then I saw my business take a terrible tumble. You see, it never dawned on me at the time to follow my gut or do what I felt was right for MY business. Everyone was advocating niching because some felt that it appealed to clients who liked to work with someone that had mastery in certain skills and felt that a Jill-of-all-Trades Virtual Assistant really did not bring value to their business. I never stopped to consider the fact that my clients loved having their entire needs met under one roof- apparently they never got the niching memo.

I struggled for almost a year in my niche. I felt very lost and frustrated. The clients were coming but oftentimes they were not my ideal client. I felt like the joy was being sucked out of my business. I mean, I was supposed to be doing what the experts advocated and it should be working. The sad reality is that I failed to look at so many factors that went into making such as drastic move. It’s almost embarrassing now when I consider just how naïve I was to not carefully consider such a move.

Oh yikes! So what did you learn and how did you turn your business around?

Now I know that niching is not cracked up to be all that it’s supposed to, at least for me. After struggling and being unhappy with my business for almost a year, I decided I needed to have a second look at what went wrong in my business. They say tough times call for tough measures and I took some tough ones. First, I took my website offline for almost 5 months. Not having to look at it helped to clearly catch a vision of the type of business I wanted to re-launch. Secondly, I stopped listening to every guru and pundit in the blogosphere. I started unsubscribing in droves from lists I had been following and stopped buying so many business books.  It was time to shut out a lot of the noise and messages and listen to my inner voice. I was confident that I had the skills, the savvy and the know-how to reinvent my business again and I promised this time I would do it my way. I’m not saying that I don’t take advice or consider the contributions of others, but I don’t have to take them on board.

Great advice. So how are things now?

Fast forward 2 years and I have managed to rebuild my business to something I am proud of and that is distinctly me. I seriously just follow my own rules. I don’t tweet or do social media as everyone advocates or thinks I should considering the services I offer but I spend my times in online communities where I prove my value and consequently find clients. I don’t blog unless I have something I feel worth sharing. I just do ‘me’ now and I have found it works even better than before my big crash. I’m blessed that I am in a position to work with people who I feel are a good fit for me while embracing my various skills and passions. The fact is I am a multipassionista. I have many passions and interests and they often cross over in the work I do and the services I offer my clients. What I discounted is the fact that many clients appreciate a multi-pronged approach to their business. They don’t want to hire a specialist for each and everything and they are happy to not have a specific label for me, rather choosing to see me more in a partner role.

Carlana charles virtual assistantCarlana Charles is the Principal of, a virtual assistance practice that provides a range of marketing and business support services as well as freelance writing and blogging. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, her business hub or her book review blog.