5 Simple Steps to Get Clear On Your ICA

As a creative business owner, you know you need to get crystal clear on who your ideal customer is, but you’re not sure where to start.

Isn’t ANY customer an ideal customer?


yes and no. 

Up to a point, you’re probably happy to take money from almost anyone who wants to invest in your offer.

But eventually, you’ll encounter those red-flag clients – especially if you’re in the service industry– that you’ll wish you had turned away or filtered out. 

Knowing exactly who your ICA is can protect you from those “not-so-ideal” clients because you’ll be clear about who you want to work with and feel empowered to protect those boundaries!

And sure, even when you know your ICA inside and out, and have your messaging dialed in, you still might find yourself selling to people who fall outside of that persona some of the time.

But if you try to market to everyone, you’re likely going to find yourself with a watered-down message, wishy-washy brand identity, not-right-for-you clients, and worst of all… inconsistent, unpredictable sales. 

So, how can you figure out who this “perfect” person is and how you can best serve them? 

Here are 5 simple steps you can use to create an ICA for your business so you can focus your marketing efforts and resources in a meaningful way.

Step #1: Define The Basics

As a creative entrepreneur, you’ve probably encountered business coaches who encourage you to identify your ICA by listing out a bunch of general qualities:

Gender: Female

Location: Austin, TX

Job: Interior Designer

Income: $60k

Blah, blah, blah…

But if you haven’t noticed— I’m not like most business coaches…

And while they aren’t WRONG per se,  where they often stop, I think the ICA work is just beginning!

While you COULD jump in and start making assumptions about your ideal customer and call it a day, I highly recommend you take a moment to reflect first. 

The people you work with are so much more than just their profession, gender, location, income, or age. 

And while you will want to capture this information, there’s more to it than numbers, birthdates, and GPS coordinates. 

Instead, start by asking yourself, “Who do I enjoy working with?

Consider some of your best client experiences. What made these projects or opportunities so enjoyable for you? 

Can you identify a common thread or quality between these experiences? 

Maybe they have, indeed, all been women or perhaps you notice that they all live in a specific region of the world! OR maybe it’s the way they approach their work, their communication style, or shared interests that make working with them ideal for you. You may find several of these commonalities, and they can all be helpful clues to the people you CAN and WANT to serve through your offers. 

New to your business?

No worries if you don’t have clients at this point or haven’t experienced working with your dream client just yet.

You may just need to do some soul-searching and trust your gut at first as you envision who you think you’ll enjoy working with the most. It’s an educated guess at this point, which means that it’s okay if it changes as you gather more data and experience.

Once you put your assumptions into action, you’ll be able to gauge who you do or don’t like working with and be able to re-calibrate from there. 

After all– you never know until you try! And while the internet is borderline obsessed with encouraging business owners to niche-down ASAP (don’t get me wrong, niching IS important), don’t rush yourself! 

You’ll get there with some time and experience!

When you give yourself the opportunity to work with different types of clients in your creative business, you may find that people or groups you thought you’d love working with you actually DON’T, and the ones you never expected to enjoy could actually end up being the most rewarding and fulfilling!

Let yourself be surprised!

It may take some time and trial and error (like kissing a bunch of figurative “frogs” before you find your ICA “prince!”) but you’ll thank yourself later for being open to new opportunities!

Last but not least…

Whether you reflect on past client experiences or make an educated guess, be sure to document the qualities you’ve defined for your ICA and keep them handy as you further craft this persona so you can easily refer back to them!

Step #2: Dig Deeper

Now it’s time to go beyond the adjectives.

While most business resources out there will encourage you to identify these demographic pieces, they often stop there.

This step is all about getting in front of your people and talking to them so that you can pinpoint their pain points, goals, habits, and values. 

Sure, general demographic information can help you gain clarity around your audience, but once you have a general sense of your ICA, it’s time to start talking to real people!

I recommend you…

→ Interview your current and past clients

→ Survey your audience via email (I love using Google Forms)

→ Post polls on social media (IG Stories are great for this!)

The information you’ll collect by doing this will help you get more granular as you further clarify your ICA and begin to bring them to life. Instead of just relying on surface-level details, this information will be based on real data directly from the source. 

You will be able to confirm general information you collected earlier like gender, age, location, income level, and location. 

But I find the best ICA research digs beneath the surface-level demographics. 

When you go right to the source in these ways, you’ll be able to learn more about things like… 

  • where they spend time online (to inform your content marketing strategy)

  • how they like to consume information (this can help you decide between blogging and creating a YouTube channel!)

  • what their biggest challenges are (so you can create custom offers to support their greatest needs)

  • what their hopes and goals are for the future (to help you showcase the benefits and the transformation your product or service provides) 

  • and so much more!

Step #3: Understand Your ICA’s Options

This starts with checking out the competition.

You need to be plugged into your industry so that you are familiar with the choices your audience is presented with as they decide whether or not to work with you or purchase your product. Understanding your competition can help you define your role in the market, allow you to get clear on your offers, and help you gauge your pricing.

But before we go any further, a word of caution.

Just because everyone else is doing something in your niche, doesn’t mean you should too (and vice versa)! In fact, sometimes taking the road less traveled will help you stand out as a true leader and innovator in your field.

However, even if you decide to march to the beat of your own drum, you need to be aware of market norms!

Collect data on similar creative businesses such as:

  • The types of offers they promote
  • Who their ICA seems to be
  • The language they use to speak to their ideal audience
  • Where they show up online
  • How much they charge for their offers
  • What their offers include (or don’t include)

Notice trends and see if this information is reinforced by the ICA research you’ve already done. This final step may help you identify your brand’s “unique selling proposition” or USP (aka – what sets you apart from the crowd)

All in all, researching your competition and collecting this data will help you make more confident business decisions since you will have a better understanding of your ICA, your offers, your business, and even your pricing strategy.

Step #4: Pull it All Together Into an ICA Profile 

Now it’s time to gather your research in one place so you can actually USE it!

  • Give your Avatar a Name
    It may feel like a silly exercise from your college creative writing class, but giving your ICA a name can be beneficial. First of all, it humanizes this persona. Even though it’s a made-up person, it’s important that you feel connected to the avatar you’re selling to. Plus naming them can help you keep this person top of mind as you’re writing copy for your business or developing new offers. In the future, you may even develop a variety of ICAs for different offers or aspects of your business. 
  • Highlight Important Demographics
    Identify their general information like occupation, location, age, income, and any other relevant data you’ve defined. You may even identify things like where they consume information or pop culture references that appeal to them. While some of this information can feel a bit restricting at first, remember this person is just a symbol or a representation of a potential buyer, not the be-all, end-all!
  • List Out Challenges and Pain Points
    Capture your ICA’s biggest roadblocks and the things that keep them up at night. This is where you’ll want to be as specific as possible. As you consider their challenges, really tap into what that looks and feels like in their life. For example, if your ICA is a “busy mom,” don’t stop there! Describe what they’re busy DOING (folding an endless supply of laundry, picking up loose Cheerios from the floor, and shuffling kids from dance lessons to soccer and home) and how that is overwhelming to them (leaves them feeling like they don’t even have a spare moment to take a shower and sleep feels like a distant luxury).
  • Identify Goals and Values
    Reference your client interviews to pull out common desires your clients have. Ask yourself, “What do they want?” and then take it further and continue to ask, “What do they really want and why?” For example, maybe your ICA wants more time in their business. But more time for the sake of more time isn’t exactly the goal. Maybe what they truly want is more time for their family or more time to pursue a different aspect of their business that they’re passionate about!
  • Pinpoint Objections
    You’ll use your market research to help you here! Since you already looked into your industry competitors, you’ll likely have a good idea of what solutions your ICA has already been presented with so that you can position your brand and your offer in a unique and strategic way. This will help you overcome objections and anticipate their reservations about investing in your offer so they can feel confident and comfortable, knowing your offer is the best for them. Ultimately, your goal here is to make it a “no-brainer” for them to say yes!

COO Tip: As you flesh these pieces of your ICA profile out, remember, this isn’t a guessing game. Rely on the data you’ve collected in Steps 1-3  to ensure all of this information is supported by what REAL people have shared or demonstrated. And if you still aren’t clear, dig deeper, make more connections, and ask more questions! 

Be sure to keep this information all together in an organized, easy-to-access place. You can also add your own creative flair to the process as a way to ensure you engage with your ICA profile more often. For example, some of my clients have done creative writing exercises to bring their ICA to life while others have even created watercolor renderings of their ICA!

Step #5: Integrate Your ICA Into Your Creative Business

At this point you’ve…

→ Collected valuable demographic information about your favorite customers and projects.

→ Completed a deep dive into your audiences’ most prevalent needs and wants.

→ Analyzed customer and competitor data to help you clarify your offer suite, positioning, and pricing.

→ And built out the features of your ideal client avatar.

You have a ton of valuable information in the palm of your hand. 

But without taking the time to put a system in place to ensure you use this information regularly, it likely won’t do you or your business much good.

Most of my clients come to me having done an ICA exercise at least once (and some have done them more times than they can count). But this isn’t about just going through the motions and then leaving all that work to collect dust in some long-lost Google folder. 

You have to use it.

The next step is to keep your ideal client top of mind at all times and especially when making decisions for your business. Plus, you’ll want to test and refine your ideal client over time to ensure your offers are still relevant and you’re still in touch with your ICA. 

That’s why the last blog in this mini-series will focus on how to bring your ICA to life by embracing your creative nature! It’s time to stop doing it the business-y way, and start doing it in a way that is fun, engaging, and authentic to you!

Keep the learning momentum going

Want to get to know your audience on an even more personal level? You can prep for your ICA research by reading this previous blog post all about learning how to get meaningful feedback from your clients that can help you tune into their challenges, goals, and successes!


Let's Connect!
Follow Me  @erincantwellco