Article | How do I find good customers?

How do I find good customers?

Helpful research tips and tricks for creating a powerful marketing list of high-potential prospects

by Misty Williams with Carol McCrary

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I looked around the room at the earnest faces staring back at me. I had given the How Should I Market Myself? presentation earlier that morning, and during the afternoon breakout session, the attendees were starting to “get it.” Their new understanding was bringing up a lot of questions, and one woman decided to speak for the group.

“This is the thing we are all struggling with, and we feel stuck here. We don’t know how to determine this, and based on what you’ve been teaching us, this is our missing link. Until we figure this out, we aren’t going to get anywhere in our businesses.”

They were right. And the elusive missing link? How do we figure out who our customer is so we can build a list and market to them?

Simple, yet profound.

In my experience, the people sitting around that table are no different that most of the infopreneurs I talk to on a regular basis who are struggling to get traction in their businesses. The majority of the time, they don’t know who NEEDS what they offer. Frankly, what good is a flashy website or fabulous marketing materials if you don’t have a pool of prospects you’re marketing to? If you don’t know who your customer is, you can’t proactively target them, right?

Picking a niche can be scary because you don’t want to “limit” yourself, but it’s not likely that you have the time, energy or money to target the whole world with your offerings. You need to concentrate your efforts on a specific group to get the most bang and traction for your marketing buck. The process of defining your customer is time-consuming, often taking weeks or even months; there’s a lot that goes into figuring it out, but I’ve noticed a few universal questions that have proven effective in helping us guide our clients to their ideal customer.

Ask yourself:

  1. Who have I enjoyed serving most? Who has given me a particularly profound sense of joy , contribution and fulfillment?
  2. Is there a group or industry that seems drawn to my work?
  3. Who is giving me the most referrals? Why?
  4. Do I have professional and / or corporate experience in a field or industry that would benefit from the ways I want to make a difference?

There is no fool-proof road map to uncovering your ideal customer, but there are some things you can do to begin to identifying where in the marketplace a pool of great prospects exists for your work.


Associations. One of the first places we want to explore is the Association Market. Associations are basically professional affinity groups, and there is an association for every kind of profession and professional imaginable. When you’re contemplating a certain customer profile, sometimes it can be helpful to learn what associations are acting as a hub for these people; then, you can find out what opportunities might exist for you to network and showcase within them through local meetings, national events and trade shows, industry publications, etc.


Carol McCrary, library and information scientist and retired librarian from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is our resident “information junkie.” Carol has been indispensible to helping our clients build their marketing lists and discover opportunities in the marketplace to promote their platforms (She can find in 3 hours what it would take us days or weeks to uncover!).


Carol suggests three resources that might help you find the association(s) you’re looking for:

  1. American Society of Association Executives and the Center for Association Leadership – Directory of Associations – www.asaecenter.org/Directories/AssociationSearch.cfm. This resource is easy-to-use and updated daily. Carol recommend using the “Association Name Contains” search feature. This resource will show you the associations, but not their email or web address. You will have to search the web with the association name to find the requisite URL.
  2. Weddles Association List – www.weddles.com/associations/index.cfm. This list is broken down by subject or industry, and will link you directly to the corresponding website. There isn’t a feature that allows you to do a search of the entire database. You will need to select from their industry categories.
  3. Concept Marketing Group’s Directory of Associations – www.marketingsource.com/associations/order/online. This is a subscription-based service, with a 30-day subscription available for $165 / month.

One resource may or may not give you the information you need. It can be helpful to find a prominent resource website for an industry, and to follow their links to trade associations and journals. Many associations conduct their own market research, and the information is available, but will cost you thousands of dollars. You can often find a synopsis on an industry association’s website that can be useful, however, at no charge.

The Encyclopedia of Associations (available only in libraries) features a huge list of associations, their annual events and budgets. You can access this information at your local library. If you have a library card, some libraries will let you access their resources online with your member number.

Conferences and Conventions. Go to the local or state convention bureau to see what conventions are happening in an area. For a list of convention bureaus, check out www.ConventionBureaus.com and www.ExpoWorld.com. You can also check out a list of Convention Bureaus at www.boogar.com/resources/associations/convention_bureaus.htm. You might have to use the search functionality on the website to find the city or state convention bureau that you’re looking for.

Demographics. You can also research demographics, government stats and population growth statistics to find out what kind of opportunities exist in a particular geographical location (industries, labor statistics, etc). The best resources for this are government websites: www.Census.gov of www.BLS.gov (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Many states have economic outlooks, so you can go to a state’s government website and search for labor statistics, industry outlooks, etc. “You won’t find this information by just Googling,” Carol asserts. “Go to the state’s website and search.”

Psychographics. If you’re starting with a psychological profile (or “psychographics”) rather than an industry, American Demographics magazine (which was acquired by Advertising Age in 2004) can be a good resource and link you to other resources:

  • http://adage.com/americandemographics/. Click on the “Advanced Search” link to search the archives. “Articles from Business Journals can be really revealing,” Carol says. “Check out www.bizjournals.com to search through different business journals. If you want to go industry-wide, you can look at industry journals.
  • Yahoo has a good directory of business journals and segments the different industry offerings (associations, magazines, journals, etc): http://search.yahoo.com/dir. Yahoo’s search engine offers the best searches on industries. “The tricky thing about using Google is that it gives you a sense of false security that you have what you need to make key decisions. Google doesn’t segment the data for you as well as Yahoo, and you can miss a lot.” Keep in mind that some industries give good overview and market info; others don’t. You have to search a little to find out. Sometimes, you can go to a government resource for good info.
  • General Research. Librarian’s Internet Index, www.lii.org, is a great resource that librarians use for research that is constantly updated. It has great statistic and industry resources, and typically only indexes journals and research that are trustworthy. At some point, it makes sense to hire a research librarian to help you find the information you’re looking for. There are so many places and ways to search, and it is impossible for you to know how to find the information, especially if you aren’t used to doing it all the time.

Industry Trends, Etc. www.Inc.com and www.Entrepreneur.com have a plethora of great articles. Perform article searches for your industry, trends, etc. “Just because you haven’t found the information on Google doesn’t mean the information doesn’t exist,” Carol says. “Knowing how to put your search strings together can really improve your search results.” There are a few good online tutorials for learning how to conduct effective online searches.

  1. Purdue University – http://owl.english.purdue.edu/internet/search/index.html. This resource includes general tips for searching the internet as well as an introduction to Metasearch Engines, Search Engines as well as Catalogues and Indices.
  2. Ohio State University Libraries – net.TUTOR – http://liblearn.osu.edu/tutor/les4/. This resource includes a good introduction to formulating a search strategy.



Misty Williams is the founder of Strategic Marketing Solutions (www.MyStrategicMarketer.com), and author of How Should I Market Myself?. She works with solo-preneurs (speakers, authors, coaches & consultants) to develop a Marketing Gameplan to grow their businesses.


Contact Misty: 615-266-6231 or Misty@MyStrategicMarketer.com.

Follow Misty: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn


Carol McCrary is the founder of McCrary Research. You can contact Carol, mccraryresearch@comcast.net or call 615-331-0169.

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