How Your Brand Chooses Your Clients

With every decision and action you take, with every message you communicate, you build your brand. Those decisions, actions, and messages will appeal to some more than others and in so doing will determine who your clients will be. Ultimately it’s your brand decisions that choose your clients.


A few days ago Seth Godin published one of his usual short, pithy posts, Choosing your customers. The essence of the post is:

Yes, you get to choose them, not the other way around. You choose them with your pricing, your content, your promotion, your outreach, and your product line.

You’re choosing your customers or clients with how you brand your business.

Pictures framed and hung on wall

My Retail Experience

A number of years ago I worked in a picture framing shop. I remember one day a woman walked into the shop who was a royal pain in the you know what. She was making a lot of pointless requests and expecting me to jump through hoops to meet those pointless requests. I didn’t. I treated her well, but wasn’t willing to do the hoop jumping thing, instead politely declining.

When she left I figured she wasn’t going to be a return customer. At first I thought about whether or not my boss would be upset with the way I handled the situation. I didn’t treat her with a “customer is always right” attitude, but rather a “this is how we do things here” attitude. Again I was always nice and polite. It’s simply that I didn’t bend over backwards to do things in a way different from how our shop worked.

I started thinking more about it and thought that for every person who might not come back to our shop because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, there was probably someone leaving another shop in town because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted there.

If we treated customers in accordance with how we wanted them to be, over time more of the customers we wanted would become customers of our shop and more of the customers we didn’t want to deal with would be customers of one of the other shops in town that catered to that type of person.

By each shop sticking to its brand the customers in town would slowly redistribute themselves to the stores who’s brand most aligned with their individual personalities and shopping habits.

Customers in line at New York City Apple store

There are Enough Clients to Go Around

Most markets have different submarkets, niche markets, each with customers with different interests, needs, and wants. When you make decisions about what your brand will be you inevitably target different groups of people within the overall market. Your brand will appeal more to some and less to others. Ultimately it’s you that chooses who your business appeals to.

You’ve probably heard the expression about time, price, and quality (fast, cheap, and good). You can get 2 of the 3 when hiring someone, but not all 3. If you want something done fast and cheap, don’t expect it to be good. If you want something good and need it fast, expect to pay a hefty price. If you want something good and inexpensive, understand it will take some time to complete.

As a service provider you can also realistically pick only 2 of the 3 as part of your brand. Which you focus on is going to determine the kinds of clients attracted to your business. Do you want to be the business that’s inexpensive with a quick turnaround or the the business that produces truly great work for a price? Neither is better or worse for your business. They’re just different in that they attract different kinds of clients and require different details in your business model.

When you research a market to choose a niche or decide how you’ll differentiate your business from the competition, what you’re ultimately doing is choosing who your customers will be.

Most markets have plenty of potential customers. There are usually enough to go around. Web design is certainly no exception. Many, many people have or want websites and they need to hire someone to create and maintain them. You don’t need all of them to hire you to have a successful business. You only need a handful and you get to pick and choose who that handful will be by how you build your brand.

Build your brand to appeal to the type of client you want to work with and let some other web designer pick up the clients you prefer not to work with.

To do list for personal branding

There are two components to brand:

  1. The sum of all associations, both positive and negative someone has with your business.
  2. The number of people that have associations with your business.

The second component above is reach. It’s how far your brand has spread. When most of us think about brand we think about large companies that everyone knows. These companies have a large reach. We all know them and have thoughts and feelings about those companies.

For example if I mention Apple, Microsoft, and Google you know who I’m talking about. On the other hand if I mention McGuckin Hardware you probably don’t know who I’m talking about unless you live in or near Boulder. McGuckin’s reach is mostly local.

To me the more important component of brand is the sum of all those associations. This is especially true for small businesses and freelancers. Our reach is never going to be that of Google. It doesn’t need to be. What’s important to us is that those people we want to reach have a sum positive association with us and our businesses.

What’s also important is that we’ll never be able to get everyone to have a positive association with us. No matter what price you set for your services, some will think it fair, some will think it overly expensive, and some will think you’re underpricing yourself. You can’t please everyone, which is the whole point of this post.

Don’t try to please everyone. Try to please the kind of people you want to work with. Identify who those people are and understand what they want and need. And then build your brand around those things. By doing so you’ll be choosing your clients instead of them choosing you.

Using tattoos as a way to brand yourself


It may sound strange at first to think we get to choose who are clients are, but we really do. We choose our clients with the choices we make in building our brand. Our choices will inevitably appeal to some people more than others.

If you align your choices about price, content, marketing, quality of services with the wants and needs of the people you want to work with then it’s you choosing them instead of the other way around. If you’re not attracting the type of client you want look to your own decisions and think about who it is you’re targeting.

You choose who your clients will be by making your business the obvious choice for them. It may seem like they’re the ones making the decision, but ultimately it’s you making the decision for them.

Ask yourself who you want to work with and what would make those people hire you. Then be that person, that business that they want to hire. Don’t wait for the right clients to find you. Be the brand the right clients for you will choose.

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  1. Thanks for sharing, I currently work in re-tail as a salesmen whilst studying at uni. And I think the same when I get customers, but there are some real annoying ones that keep returning with the same issues. 😛
    But again, Thanks for sharing!

    Tom, From inspirationhut.

    • Thanks Tom. That does happen. I’ve worked a lot of retail jobs myself and some customers can be very annoying. I don’t think you idea is to make sure they all leave and never come back of course.

      It’s more about making decisions about how your business runs in order to attract the kinds of customers you want. Sometimes the annoying customer is inevitable and sometimes it’s just someone having a bad day.

      But there are ways you can attract more of the customers you want to work with and less of those you prefer would shop elsewhere.

  2. Great article! Sometimes it can be challenging to brand yourself as anything but middle of the road. This makes great arguments for sticking to your guns and delivering on an excellent product or service without compromising your company’s integrity. Make me proud to have a company that doesn’t compromise our brand.

    • That’s true Reed. I think you have to try. If you are middle of the road why should someone choose you? There really isn’t any compelling reason.

      Good point about sticking to your guns. We all have to make some difficult choices at times. Do we hold to what we believe or do we compromise for the money. It’s certainly not a question that only affects designers. I like holding on to what I believe too. I understand the realities of needing to put food on the table and paying the mortgage, but I still tend to hold on to my integrity, even if it means sacrificing in other areas at times.

  3. Thanks for the excellent article Steven. It is very pleasure to read.

    Although I don’t consider myself an Apple fanboy, I must admit, Apple is always the example that comes to my mind when speaking of branding. They have a very clear business perspective. They believe in what they do and they stand by it regardless of many criticism from the press. And I think that’s how every business should be.

    Life is short. Choose the people you want work with and the work you want to be a part of. It’s important to have fun in what you do, and have a good sleep at night 🙂

    • Thanks Vinh. I am more of a fanboy I suppose and I do agree with you about Apple. They don’t please everyone or try to, but for a certain segment of the overall market they’ve built an amazing brand. The idea that their customers are considered fans is impressive when you think about it.

      Isn’t that what we all want to have happen with our brands? Having our customers out there telling everyone how great they think we are and doing our marketing for us?

  4. I am trying to think of a brand for my sites (I have two that are closely related) and most of the brands I come up with are so bland.

    I always think I am too small for a brand, but it appears to be more important than ever.

    • You’re not too small to have a brand. Smaller companies aren’t going to have the same reach as larger companies, but your brand will be out in front of those people you can reach.

      • I wish I wasn’t small. I would like to grow larger…perhaps one day I will. So many marketers I listen to keep saying ‘get a brand’ so that’s why I researched it.

        Thanks Steven

        • There’s nothing wrong with being small. There are even some advantages to it.

          If you haven’t seen it yet, you might find my post on branding for small business helpful.

          Big companies have an advantage in reach. They have more money and resources to reach a larger audience. However small businesses can better target who they attempt to reach and build a brand in front of the people most likely to become clients and customers.

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