How to start a business: Define your target clientele

Last week we learnt about the importance of having a compelling vision and business idea. In many ways you have to start with this because it is that which will determine much of everything else. Having completed the exercise of brainstorming the business idea, let’s start the process of thinking through who the preferred clientele is.

Not everyone is a client!
Many people wrongly think everyone is their client. This could not be further from the truth. Not all your clients are the same and not everyone is your client – that is why even in a football stadium different categories of clients pay a different price for different seats. Yes, everyone has come to watch the same game, but everyone has different preferences, means and resources by which they want to enjoy the experience of watching the game. Some just plain and simple want to watch the game in the stadium, no matter how far they are from the pitch. Others want front row seats, and still yet others want to watch the game from the VIP box, over a superb meal and some drinks. In this case therefore the stadium owners need to think through the various categories of clients that they service within that same stadium, and they must expressly serve each one of their needs, no matter how limited or how lavish. The key is identifying your clients, and paying attention to their needs, wants and preferences.

Client segmentation

The same logic runs through the ‘fashion designer’ who claims to produce clothing items for woman, no matter what kind. I say that business model is unsustainable, for not all women are the same. We are differentiated by race, age, income brackets, living standards, work and profession, and a whole range of other variables that could probably fill a book. Starting a business as a clothier for women without undertaking this due diligence is a recipe for calamity. Better to define, at the very least, the following:

  • What kind of woman you are seeking to appeal to with your designs (is it the student? The young professional? The housewife? The mature corporate woman?)? These, I imagine, would inform the styles of your design
  • What age group? What age group are your target clients? Do they cut across a diverse group and if so what is the commonality among them? This commonality is what you will need to respond to purposefully and distinctively. This informs variables such as the style, design, textile and colour expectations of your clients
  • What are the generic values and ethics of the women that you are seeking to serve? The liberal, hippy-like woman has different style needs to the conservative, traditional woman. It’s no good lumping them both in one category just because of their gender – they will have different needs and expectations
  • What income bracket? With this income bracket in mind, what are the likely expectations of your clients in terms of your fabric, design and tailoring quality? You will need to respond successfully to these variables and expectations.

Each category of clients has different needs, and your business would need to respond to all of these needs if you are going to be labelled as a ‘clothier for women. For the business woman in the small and growing business sector, based on the compelling business idea and vision that you have, I would advocate honing in on a particular set of women – this makes it a lot easier to produce/manufacture for one, and it makes it easier (and less costly) to seek to consistently meet the demands and wants of this selected group of women.

Now give them a reason to buy from you and you alone
Having defined and identified your preferred clientele, you then need to give them a reason to buy from you. Your store or your office must consistently exemplify who they see themselves as, as must your service delivery model! Think of the football stadium example. There are many alternative ways of watching a big football match – the stadium itself, a standard local bar, a plush hotel, or even your living room. For the stadium owner, his or her task is to ensure that the experience of the stadium for each category of prospective clientele is so responsive that whenever there is a game at the stadium, the vast majority of each category of client will choose to come to the stadium instead of going to the local bar.

How can he make his stadium responsive? A few examples: traffic control to the stadium, safety and security at the stadium, well planned and well executed car parking at the stadium, cleanliness at the stadium, crowd control, availability of water and soft drinks etc. When all of these are well thought of, planned and executed, it makes the stadium option easier and more pleasant, and it makes is more likely that clients will want to watch local games at the stadium.

So in essence, you are asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why should they buy from you?
  • What will be unique about your own product or service?
  • What will be the brand experience that your target clients receive from your service and product?
  • How will you make this ‘brand experience’ consistent?


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