You know how at certain times in your life you keep hearing the same phrases or concepts over and over, as if the universe was pounding you with an idea until you got it? Such ideas drop into the zeitgeist of a particular collective or within the sphere of consciousness of distant individuals, latches on, and won’t let go until you either implement it or drive it away.

Something hogged the lion’s share of my brain’s bandwidth these last couple of years—the notion of the “ideal client.” Segmenting to the power of one. Reducing a market segment to a single individual that’s so precise you can see the avatar, or at least, describe it’s characteristics in exhaustive detail.

I didn’t get it. I couldn’t figure out how I’d distill the giant jigsaw puzzle of personality traits, vertical markets and business needs into a single individual, but I did understand the wisdom of it. Having the picture of your “audience of one” firmly in your mind enriches the substance of every piece of content you produce, and makes it especially meaningful to the person who needs you the most.

But last week, I finally got it. At last, I understood who my “ideal client” was with a burst of insight so powerful and clear that, if I hadn’t been passing a truck on the interstate at the time, I would’ve raised my arms to the heavens and shouted, “Hallelujah!”

My eureka moment was the result of a recent meeting with a potential new client. We were in his tastefully appointed conference room, having an easy, friendly conversation, and my mind simply said, “This. This is your ideal client.”

As I drove home, I was elated. You see, before that day, I didn’t want to pigeon-hole my client base. I had, after all, certain clients with certain needs, and I was afraid to get specific because (I see now) I was viewing it from a place of lack. If I got specific (I thought), really narrowing it down to that one perfect person, how would that be enough to sustain my business? Wouldn’t I be cutting myself off from more opportunity? Sure, some clients are bothersome, unpleasant people, but they keep you in socks and underwear, right?

Wrong. It doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve drawn a line in the sand. No more negative energy vampires. No more putting up with relationships, whether business or personal, that aren’t a pleasing fit. Life’s too short.,

For the ultimate success of your business and the fulfillment of your soul, it’s utterly essential that you be able to identify the characteristics of your ideal client. My friend, Rita Wilkins, a brilliant interior designer, was the first to tell me about the concept of the “ideal client.” A few years back, Rita and her team had pulled out all of her client files and reviewed them, one by one, ticking off the characteristics that made each one of them special, or conversely, heinous, to work with. She scored them and converted the numbers into a spreadsheet. Any clients that did not fit the “ideal client” criteria perfectly were tossed into the bin.

With this manifesto, or public declaration, I am listing the seven characteristics of my perfect client:

Greets me with a firm, friendly handshake; looks me in the eye

This simple ritual tells me at once almost everything I need to know about the person. With this simple gesture, the person is saying, “I see you, and I respect you.” It conveys a knowledge of personal courtesy, a level of maturity, and a respect of others. Polished professionals are the types of people who will respond well to the services I provide. Weak handshakes or failure to make eye contact signal lack of power or confidence (or something else that’s not conducive to a trusting relationship), and I’m instantly on my guard. A grotesque handshake or shifty eyes is the first red flag.

Did his due diligence on me before the meeting

One of his first questions is, “So, tell me about yourself,” but he already knows almost everything about me, because he’s googled my name, checked my website, and read my LinkedIn profile. He already knows I’m qualified, but now that we’re meeting in person, he wants to see the real me in action. At some point, he’ll demonstrate that he’s done his research by mentioning an acquaintance we have in common or commenting on some of my previous work. When he does this, I know that the chances of developing a working relationship are excellent. And again, it shows he’s a polished professional who respects the contributions of others. A prospective client who knows nothing about you before the meeting is, most likely, going to be a difficult client, because either he sees you as a commodity,  or places little value on your area of expertise. Another red flag.

Has a sense of humor

I love to laugh. My whole style is about wit, and humor, and seeing the funny side of things. When I meet a potential client who’s also able to roll with my humor, and even up the ante, it’s pure joy. Since I’m a creative individual who thinks way outside the proverbial box, it’s helpful if the client has a similar sense of taking strategic risks, a fondness of adventure and who loves to not take things too seriously. Of course, the work is serious. Producing excellence and getting results is what it’s all about. But if we can have fun at the same time? What could be better? Because of my line of work (which relies a great deal on one’s imagination and sometimes flying in the face of convention), it’s difficult to work with anyone who seems to have been born without a personality. People who are non-creative or without humor don’t get what I do—at all—and they fight me every step of the way. Which gets me to the next important characteristic…

Gets what I do and why it’s important

So, I asked this prospective client, “What is it that you think I do? What does the term, ‘public relations,’ or ‘strategic content’ mean to you and your business?” He pondered the question for a moment, and then answered with one of the most erudite description of the importance and necessity for public relations and content strategy I’d ever heard from anyone to whom I’d previously asked this question. I swear, I wanted to jump up from the table and do that happy dance right there. Oh, how I love a client who respects the power of public relations and content marketing strategy, feels the urgent necessity of it (because she has educated herself about it or studied it in college), and has allocated a long-term budget for it. If I have to explain in too much depth why it’s important, or defend its importance to a prospective client, then I know I’m not sitting with my ideal client. I love to educate, when the education is craved. But if the prospect doesn’t believe it’s important, I know I’m fighting a losing battle. Time to walk away.

Our professional values are closely aligned

The client says he values service to the community, a collaborative and inclusive business environment, growth, hiring people smarter than he is, customer service excellence and integrity, which are closely aligned with my own company’s core values. Shared values is an important consideration when making the decision to work with a client. The client’s values will set the tone for every future interaction, and will be tested when times are challenging. I recommend to everyone in business that you have clearly thought through and articulated your mission and core values before you begin your business development process. People will choose to work with you, and vice versa, based upon the mutual attraction of shared values and not upon price. These types of alliances can last for years and years.

Personal interests are aligned, too

Isn’t it fun when it turns out your client likes the same sorts of things you do? Is a Game of Thrones junkie… is a musician… likes being healthy and maintaining physical fitness… reads books… has the same taste in movies or a love of wine… is self aware or intent on personal growth… you get the idea. Isn’t it great when your best clients are also your friends? That’s a match made in heaven. When I can contribute to my friend’s/client’s professional success, it’s sweet satisfaction and not worth living without.

Have you identified your “ideal client?” What characteristics to you look for, or value?