Lesson 6: Finding Customers

What You’ll Learn: Finding a steady stream of high-value customers and clients is the golden ticket of the creative world. Unfortunately, it’s far easier said than done because, in this connected world of ours, the latest and greatest is always just a few clicks away. Hopefully, when you’re done with this lesson, you’ll have a few more proven ways to fill that pipeline.

Finding Customers

“It takes months to find a customer, seconds to lose one.”

~ Vince Lombardi       


You’d think that creatives would be natural salespeople and that the world would beat a path to their door. But this is rarely the case, as most creatives have been told over and over again that their talents and skills aren’t valued or that nobody in their right mind would pay for a series of paintings of penguins with balloons and chainsaws.

And yet, that’s what artist Greg Stones makes a living doing. His paintings are both social commentary and humorous. Sometimes he paints a dozen canvases a day and earns a living selling the originals and prints online and at art shows in New England. He found his niche and a faithful following.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Vincent Van Gogh. He was prolific, too, turning out 900 paintings during his 10-year span as an artist. He only sold one, The Red Vineyard, during his lifetime.

The lesson here is that your work, no matter what it is, can find an audience, and even more so, a paying audience that becomes a lifelong patron, customer or client. Van Gogh may have been brilliant as a painter, but as a salesperson, well, he was no Greg Stones.

Getting Started

As a creative, it can be hard to understand what customers are looking for and how they want to interact with you. Forming a business is an excellent way to start this process. For some reason, customers feel more comfortable dealing with a business, even if it’s still just you cranking out stuff you love.

Years ago, I was heavy into event production. I would pitch grandiose, themed events to clients for their annual meeting or employee gathering. It would include sets, entertainment (I was one of the cast), staging and audience participation. Other performers would ask me how I could snag these events, including one that took 10 of us to Puerto Rico, all expenses paid. The gig lasted three hours on the beach, but as payment, the client put us up at an all-inclusive resort for four days and paid the airfare.

The secret, of course, was that I ran a business. If I had contacted these giant corporations as an entertainer wanting a $20,000 budget, they would have kicked me out the door as some kind of loon.

But with a business, I was one of them. I could speak their language and could offer them a solution that matched what they hoped to accomplish. Plus, I had liability insurance and all the other perks of being a corporation. This is what flipped the pitch and made the sale. The product would have been the same either way, but the client felt safer knowing that I was one of them, another business person doing business.

I know this sounds a bit silly. But in the 20 years I ran a creative services company, it opened doors to some really big clients, all because I was seen as an equal, not some flaky creative with a crazy idea.

By adopting a business mentality – demonstrating that your creative, be it a product or service – meets their need in some way is essential.

Finding Your Ideal Customer

It’s easy to think that everyone could be a customer. A wider net means more prospects, right? Unfortunately, that is both a waste of time and money. There is a finite audience out there for every creative and their work. Just because you are a painter and like to work in multimedia doesn’t mean someone who loves oils in the style of the Masters is ever going to buy your work.

Know your audience and let them get to know you.

It may be helpful to look at the different customer segments. Hopefully, you will see one or more that would be open to your creativity. Stack rank them so you can see who you should focus on first, second, third and so forth. There will be some segments that you want to ignore totally.

Then think about each specific customer segment. What do they want? What are their hopes, worries and fears? Where do they gather, both in the real world and online? Are they in a particular profession? What would make their life easier or fulfill a void in their life they may not even know about? Is there a place they want to belong in this world that your product, service or work can get them there? Where do they shop, and who do they hang out with that influences their purchases?

Customer segments

  • Mass market: This model doesn’t break customers into segments. Instead, it focuses on the general population or a large group of people with similar needs, such as people who like to decorate their homes with original works of art.
  • Niche market: This is focused on a specific group of people who have something in common, such as luminaries who need a ghostwriter for a book project.
  • Segmented: This would be a market that has slightly different needs, allowing you to create various groups from the main customer segment. For example, you may be an artist who dabbles in sculpture and paintings, or ceramics and recycled art.
  • Diversified: Just what it sounds like, a segment composed of customers with very different needs (corporate clients that need a new website and some copywriting is an example).
  • Multi-sided: This model serves interdependent customer segments with different products or services.

As you can see, there are many different types of customers, each with its own desires, needs and preferences. As you think about your own business, think about your current customers. What do they have in common with each other? What are they looking for? Is it something you offer? And where do they gather, socialize, share information and shop?

Now that you have segmented your customer base some more, it’s time to think about what kind of relationship you want to foster with them. Obviously, you want to take their money, but a relationship can be much more than a one-time transaction. A lifelong customer, or at least one that is long-term, is far more profitable than many new customers who buy from you once or a couple of times. The reason is simple. Finding a new customer costs time and money, precious resources that would be better spent on a current customer who may have even more projects waiting in the wings for you.

Here are some of the ways you can think about building a long-term relationship. Remember, a customer is a person who likes to do business with people they trust. They don’t buy from your company; they buy from you because they have built a relationship with you.

  • Personal assistance: This may come in the form of a customized piece of work for a customer or a commissioned piece. The result is a shared vision between you and the client, and if the client likes working with you, they will return.
  • Self-service: An online store of your products would be a good example. A customer could look at your collection of goods and purchase them. They may find one particular work they like in and order across categories, such as ceramics, t-shirts, prints and pillows. While they can help themselves, you are available to answer a question or provide support.
  • Automated services: A video game or videos are good examples. The files can be delivered electronically or digitally, and the transaction itself is handled in the same way. There’s no need to have direct contact unless the customer wants you to do something customized.
  • Communities: Customers help one another solve their problems or address their needs. Gaming forums are a good example where you serve as the connector of these relationships and build an audience that will purchase other products or services from you.
  • Co-creation: Customers are involved in the creation of the product or service. YouTube would be an example of a relationship that is co-creative. Other creatives post works to a community, and revenue is generated either through subscriptions or advertising.

If the relationship is unclear, a journey map may help. It will help you identify the various stages customers will go through when interacting with your company. It will also help you get a sense of how you will acquire, retain and expand your relationships with your various customers.

Customer revenue streams

We touched on this in more detail in Lesson 4, but here is a quick summary of a few of your options. Every customer segment offers one or more ways to monetize your creativity. These include:

  • Asset sales: Selling the ownership rights for a product or service to a buyer.
  • Usage fee: Charging the customer for using a product or service for a specific term.
  • Subscription fee: Charging the customer for using a product regularly and consistently.
  • Lending/leasing/renting: The customer pays for the exclusive rights to an asset for a specific period of time.
  • Licensing: The customer pays to use the company’s intellectual property.
  • Brokerage fees: Revenue is generated by serving as an intermediary between parties.


The sales lifecycle

Every sale begins far in advance of the actual till ringing up a sale. As you think about finding customers, remember that there is no magic pill. Every creative pursuit and every market is different. We could literally spend a lifetime going over all the possibilities and options. But we’ll reduce it down to one word: experimentation.

Following are the five stages of selling to a customer:

  1. Awareness: The customer learns about you, your offerings and your value proposition through advertising, marketing and sales.
  2. Evaluation: The customer evaluates your product/service and forms an opinion.
  3. Purchase: The actual acquisition of your product or service.
  4. Delivery: When and how the product is delivered.
  5. After-Sales: Supporting the purchase with technical and customer support.

It is imperative that your sales lifecycle has all five components. Often, creatives will think that the purchase is the whole point of the exercise and that once that’s completed, there’s nothing left to do. But a true business person remembers that the selling continues long after the sale is rung up. How you deliver and follow up after the sale is made will determine whether your customer ever buys from you again and, more importantly, whether they will recommend you to people in their networks.