Create an Ideal Client Profile: A Step‑by‑Step Exercise

Apr 5, 2021 / By Teresa Riccobuono
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When you take the time to develop an ideal client profile, the clients you really want will simply pop out at you from the crowd—and they’ll pop out for your referral sources, too.

When I start working with an advisor, one of the first things they want me to do is help them develop a personalized marketing plan.

To set the foundation for that plan, we first must determine their ideal client. If we don’t know who they are trying to attract, how can we put a plan in place that will interest their preferred type of prospect?

Developing an ideal client profile

An ideal client profile will include both quantitative and qualitative characteristics. These are ideal characteristics and you will be selecting aspects that most appeal to you.

To get started, think about your existing clients. Categorize them as smiley-face, frowny-face or in-between clients. Go with your gut!

The Step-by-Step Guide

Guide to Completing the Ideal Client Profile Exercise
Here’s a step-by-step guide through the ideal client profile exercise; once you work through it, you will have a template of your ideal client that can be used to focus your client acquisition activities.

Sample Ideal Client Profile
This extensive sample profile gives you an idea of the kind of attributes your ideal client profile may include.
  • A smiley-face client is someone who you are happy to see come in for a meeting. When you see their name on the caller ID, you smile. Your initial thought is, “I can’t wait to see or talk with them.”
  • A frowny-face client is, well, you get the idea. Your initial thought might be, “What are they going to complain about this time?”
  • An in-between client is someone who neither generates enthusiasm nor pain.

Next, analyze your smiley-face clients and note what it is you really like about each of them. There will likely be a few quantitative characteristics that rise to the top of the list, similarities among your favorite clients. In addition, there will be a significant number of qualitative characteristics on the list.

Quantitative characteristics are often easy to determine. They are things like age, amount of investible assets, discretionary cash flow, job title, employed by a particular company, business owner, pre-retired or retired.

Qualitative characteristics are more difficult to define. They are more subjective. Here are some of the qualitative characteristics that often make an advisor’s list:

  • Too busy to/not interested in managing their assets
  • Decisive and likely to implement my advice
  • Has realistic expectations
  • Will be honest with me and fully disclose their assets, values, goals and concerns
  • Willing to pay fairly for my time and expertise
  • Views me as an investment, not an expense
  • Values my time
  • Generally optimistic—it is nearly impossible to make a good investor out of a pessimist
  • Respected or well-known in the community
  • Active in organizations or associations
  • Outgoing and social

Not all advisors develop a long list of attributes or characteristics. In fact, a few may narrow it down to just one or two words.

For example, one of my advisor clients has “engaged” as her ideal client attribute. She says she will work with any client as long as they are engaged in the financial planning process. She knows from her experience that engaged clients are easier to work with and follow the plan, thus are more successful in the long run.

Another advisor has selected “appreciative” as his ideal client attribute. He enjoys working with clients who openly appreciate the work he does on their behalf.

While working with another advisor, I determined that her ideal clients filled in as surrogate parents.

She enjoys working with older clients who are comfortable sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee, discussing family, travel, hobbies and what’s going on financially.

Creating an internal and external version

Putting the one- and two-word examples above aside, I encourage my advisor clients to develop both an internal and an external version of their ideal client profile.

The internal version—for your eyes only—will be a fairly long list of both quantitative and qualitative attributes. You don’t share this list with centers-of-influence (COIs); if you did, they’d be hesitant to introduce anyone to you because they would feel like they didn’t know anyone who measured up to your standards.

An external version, one you can share with people outside of the practice, is going to garner better referral results. The attributes that are noted on the external version will be a short list of attributes that are readily recognizable. One of my colleagues describes them as “yellow sports car attributes.”

Yellow sports car attributes

Transfer this ideal prospect thinking to the search for a new car. If I tell you I am looking to purchase a new (two- to three-year-old) car, every time you pass a used car lot, you will think, “I wonder if there is a car on that lot Teresa would be interested in.” The likelihood of you doing anything about it is unlikely.

However, if I tell you I am looking for a yellow Porsche Boxter, two- to three-years-old, you can easily spot this car when you come across it. When this happens, my hope is that you will reach out to me to let me know you’ve found the car I might want.

If I can articulate my ideal client attributes to a COI so that they can easily recognize someone as a suitable candidate for me, I am more likely to get an introduction.

Being even more specific

You can take this idea a step further. When discussing opportunities with a mortgage broker, ask him to look at his clients’ tax returns to see if they work with a CPA or do their own taxes. If the latter, this client may also be a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to investments and is probably not an ideal referral candidate. But if he works with a CPA, he is open to paying someone—like a financial advisor—for expertise.

If you are speaking with a CPA, have him look to see if there are significant gains without offsets or if the client receives a large refund each year. If either is the case, there may be an opportunity for better investment and cash flow planning.

These are just a few ideas that COIs can recognize as easily as a yellow sports car.

Another way to utilize your ideal client profile

One of my advisors used his ideal client profile to decline a practice purchase opportunity. He determined it contained too many non-ideal clients. On the surface, it looked like a good match.

When he dug deeper, he found this was not the case at all. Although practice acquisition is a big part of this advisor’s growth plan, he wants to grow his practice with the appropriate type of clients. Passing up this particular opportunity made perfect sense.

Putting your ideal client profile to work

Once you have put together your ideal client profile, then you can create a client acquisition plan around it. Here are some ideas for using that plan effectively.

Thus far, I have talked about using the ideal client profile with COIs. However, most of you have a client advocate or two (such as a friend with whom you have a trusting relationship) who should be made aware of your ideal client attributes or characteristics. You can introduce the subject by saying,

Joanne, I hope you know how much I appreciate you introducing me to all of your friends. To help you determine whom I serve best, let me share with you some information I compiled while analyzing my current clients. These are the attributes of my most treasured clients, attributes you possess.

You also have your favorite, smiley-face clients that you would like to replicate. Sharing this information with those clients could be beneficial. Consider saying something like this:

I hope you know how much I enjoy working with you. If my practice were made up of folks like you, I would be on cloud nine. I particularly enjoy the fact that you stay focused on your goals, reach out to me when you are making large spending decisions and treat my team and me as family. If there is ever an opportunity for me to be of service to any of your friends or family members with whom I could form a similar relationship, I would be honored to serve them.

Notice I included a few ideal characteristics in the conversation.

Now, what about those clients who refer people to you, but they are not the preferred type of prospective client?

Sharing the ideal client profile with them will be most helpful. Say something like this:

I will speak with anyone you send my way. I won’t necessarily be able to work with them in the same capacity as you and I work, but I may be able to provide some advice and action ideas. To help you determine who I serve best, let me share with you some information I compiled while analyzing my current clients.

Just a subtle shift to saying “speak with” versus “meet with” can save you time. Until you speak with someone, you don’t know whether they are a qualified prospect or not. After the initial conversation, you can decide whether a face-to-face meeting is the next best step.

I understand that it is nearly impossible to have a practice consisting of only smiley-face clients. However, if we remain focused and discriminating and pay attention to those attributes we most treasure, we can be more selective about who we bring into our practice.

Having a clear idea of who you want to work with will make it easier to develop client acquisition activities that attract those ideal clients.

For more than 20 years, Teresa Riccobuono of Simply Organized has been a practice-management and recruiting specialist to the financial services industry, helping advisors bridge the gap between their existing and their ideal financial planning practice. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but works with advisors across the country. She is a member of the board of directors of the East Bay Chapter of the Financial Planning Association and is currently the chair of the Public Relations committee. She can be reached at

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