I’m not sure how it got started; I think initially someone was just making a joke.
But somehow, five or six years ago, a bunch of men that I play basketball with decided to hold a year-end, “Secret Santa” event at our local bar. We had a blast and agreed to make it an annual occurrence.
I’m happy to report that today, just a few short years later, the event has grown from a handful of participants who stumble in with poorly-wrapped crap they found in the basement, to a handful of participants who stumble in with poorly-wrapped crap they found in any number of places.
Past gift highlights include a lava lamp, a mostly empty can of paint, a single work glove, a metal bucket with a hole in the bottom, half a hammer, and a (highly coveted) light up, rotating, disco-basketball.
If you’re not familiar with the Secret Santa concept – and there are many variations – it works as follows:
- Everyone brings a wrapped gift.
- Numbers are assigned randomly to each participant.
- Gifts are selected from the pile, in order and one person at a time, from the lowest assigned number to the highest.
- As each gift is selected, it is unwrapped and shown for all to see.
- When it’s your turn to pick, you can either keep your gift or … trade it for that of anyone who has gone before.
Toss in a few pitchers of beer and let me just say that on a pure, belly laugh-per-minute basis, few activities score higher than watching a bunch of sweaty, middle-aged men posturing over meaningless garbage (insert your own Congress joke here).
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In terms of coming home with the gift you want, however, it’s not all that effective. Any selection process that compels you to choose blindly, without knowing what you’ll end up with, is bound to lead to disappointment.
And yet (here comes the useful business segue), this approach is not far off from the way many solo professionals select clients: We take whatever we can get from the pile, without giving much thought to what’s inside the package.
Many professionals, particularly when just starting out, feel like they can’t afford to be selective. “A client’s a client; I’ll worry about being more focused and selective later.”
The problem, of course, is that later never arrives, and you end up bouncing from one inappropriate (for you) client to another. They’re not necessarily bad people or bad companies, it’s just that by never defining exactly what you want and with whom you work best, you keep ending up with whatever’s in the pile.
So try this instead. Take five minutes, right now, and write a description of your perfect client.
Not some broad and vague industry or demographic group either (e.g., “small to mid-size manufacturing businesses”). I mean describe your perfect client in detail – enough that you can recognize them when you see them (here’s my description, as an example).
Then, start looking for and talking about those people as you attend networking groups, participate in social media, write your newsletter/blog, talk about your work, etc.
Do that and pretty soon, if you’re clear enough and consistent enough, those people start showing up and your client base becomes both more focused and more suited for you in particular.
Here’s the bottom line. With 2014 just about over, this is a good time to think about who in particular you’d like to be working with in the coming year.
You can blow with the wind and take your chances or, you can give it some serious thought right now and bring home that light up, rotating, disco-basketball you’ve had your eye on all night.
Thanks for this message. Thanks for asking who is our perfect client? We obsess over this definition all of the time so it’s pretty clear for us? Our perfect client is one the leader of a profession. They care more about that profession than their own name or income stream. Their following is mostly others in the same profession who look to them for making sure the profession is clearly defined and attractive to practitioners and their customers. When colleagues say “best practices” they are usually pointing to the work that one person has done or led a team to achieve. They obsess over the ethical integrity of their profession as well as the participation of all professionals in some kind of mentoring of those coming into the profession.
Sounds like you’ve given it plenty of thought, Georgia! What kind of work do you do?
Very good analogy, Michael!
Thanks for this. I am working on my perfect client – see http://www.wingstosuccess.com/start-here/
However I am trying to do as you suggest and narrow it down a bit more –
So here is the ideal customer for WingsToSuccess.com:
Alex is 39, a corporate high-flyer. His job pays well – £70k+ per year. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and 2 beautiful kids.
But despite all these external signs of success, Alex has a gnawing problem.
He’s running out of cash. Expenses are piling up faster than income. Kids are getting bigger and more demanding.
Alex is clever and resourceful. He doesn’t want to give up his job. But he wants more control in his life, which means getting a second form of income.
Alex starts looking online at how to make money in his spare time, evenings and weekends. The lifestyle is the crucial part for Alex and thousands like him – it’s not just about money, it is about freedom and control. It is about disillusionment with the corporate world, and a safer escape route than giving it up overnight.
Although he is maintaining external appearances at work, Alex is sick of the bureaucracy and being tied to a job. He’s more interested in creating something of his very own.
Building an online business around his day job is the perfect solution for Alex:
1) Low start up costs
2) Flexible working hours
3) A website can work 24/7 while he is on his day job or whatever – potential to build near-passive income streams
4) It’s sometimes possible to sneak in a little side-business hustle when at the day job [Shhhh!!]
5) Low risk – Alex does not want his wife to worry that he is staking the house and savings on a bricks-and-mortar enterprise
6) Infinite scope for creativity and ingenuity – (Alex loves a challenge, but is fed up of merely exchanging hours of his life to build someone else’s dream, and lifestyle)
Nicely specific, Rick! Sounds like you’ve got a very clear picture of your perfect client.
Worth waiting for and a fitting farewell to 2014! Thank you for your wisdom, humor, kindness and consistency. You are a man among men! As long as there aren’t too many, of course.
And thanks to you, Graeme, for your always enthusiastic readership.
For the record, I am a penguin among men (or a man among penguins?)!
I know exactly who my perfect client is (thanks to you!) – and ironically she was at my house last night as we participated in our annual Girls Night Out Yankee swap — where 20, middle-aged woman laughed and traded meaningless crap from our basements and who knows where else. It was a blast! Did I mention we laughed? It’s great to laugh with your perfect clients sometimes. Thanks Michael. I always look forward to reading your e-Newsletters (which often make me laugh as well)!
Sounds like my kind of event!! And I’ve since been told by my wife and others that our annual game is actually a Yankee Swap and not a Secret Santa as we always call it (what do I know, I’m a Jew).
I’m glad your perfect clients were in attendance!
Michael – I’m glad you’ve been set straight on Secret Santa (where you are a assigned a specific person so you can select the perfect piece of crap just for them) vs. Yankee Swap (where the last to go gets to pick the best piece of crap that was brought in)
Hey Bruce, I’m not a scientist over here!
Well, you know there’s probably a lot of intellectual property tied up in the difference between the two ways to distribute crap from the basement ;^)