For a while now, every time I’ve talked to someone about the importance of narrowing down their target market, I’ve gotten this feeling. You know that anxious feeling you got in high school when you got home after curfew, and you didn’t know if your mom was up to catch you? Like you are on the verge of getting caught? That’s the one.

If I could boil it down to one word, it would be this: hypocrite.

Hypocrite: A person who pretends to be what she is not.

Okay, I’m probably being a little harsh on myself. But the truth was this: I told people—every day—that they should narrow down their target market. That by getting a really narrow, well defined target customer persona, they could speak so directly to that person that it would make marketing and growth strategies simple and effective.

Every time I said those words to someone else, I knew that I wasn’t taking my own advice. I cringed inside. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the importance. I clearly did. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to narrow down. I did. I just could not, for the life of me, figure out which market made sense.

It sounds ridiculous. I know.

I was very clear about the kind of person and company I wanted to work with. Passionate. Craft-driven. Someone who started their business because they cared so much about the thing they were doing, that they couldn’t imagine not doing it.

That’s not really a target market, though. Not the kind of narrow, well-defined market I asked my clients to choose.

Finally, last week I was writing a blog post (on unique value proposition) where I had to talk about target market again. I was working with my #bizbestie, Amanda. I stopped the timer we were using to keep ourselves on track with our writing. I said:

“How long can I keep talking about target market and not narrowing down myself, before people will stop taking me seriously?”

It was hard, but I had to acknowledge it.

Like a true #bizbestie, she set aside her blog post, got out a notebook, and we went to work. She started asking me all of the questions we ask our clients when we are asking them to narrow down. She pushed me to answer honestly. She asked “why” dozens of times, to all of my answers, to get down deep to the heart of the issue.

And like a phoenix rising from the ashes of my busted up ego, a market emerged.  Education and development.

More clearly—and publicly, officially stated for the first time:

I want to work with organizations that focus on educating and developing individuals of all ages.

It’s still pretty broad. I know that. It encompasses both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. It encompasses organizations working in education, across the spectrum, from early childhood development to university level. It includes organizations working to help adults be more successful in the workplace. There’s a lot there. But it is so much clearer and more narrow than before.  

The wording could still be finessed to fully articulate what all is included. It will continue to evolve over time, like everything else in business.

Just to be clear—for existing or potential clients who don’t fall into this group—it doesn’t mean I won’t (or don’t want to) work with other kinds of companies. What it does mean is that my marketing will be focused on education and development going forward. I will still work with any passionate, craft-driven business owner who aligns with my philosophy of doing business and wants to work with me.

Now, the feeling I get when I talk to people about narrowing down their target market: warm fuzzies all over. Happiness. Contentment. Relief. Excitement about moving forward with organizations that are doing incredible work and making an impact.