The 3 Rules of Target Markets

Every month I give a seminar on target markets to budding young (and old) entrepreneurs at the Self Employment Business Program.

And every month they hustle in the door expecting some boring speech on determining the basics behind your target market complete with charts, graphs, and who knows what else. At the end of the two hours, I have a sky-high stack of evaluations with remarks like “ooh, who knew target marketing could be fun!” and “holy crow, I can’t believe I didn’t think about this before”.

So it got me thinking – there are probably a few readers who may not know some juicy morsels about target marketing either. I gathered my notes and handouts and boiled the 2+ hour seminar into these three rules.

RULE #1: Your market is not everyone with a heartbeat

The first thing I always ask the room to do is tell me their target market.

The usual suspects always show up.

“I’m building a construction business, so my target market is everyone who owns a home” and “I’m a hairstylist, so my market is men, women, and children who live within a 20 mile radius who have hair”It makes my teeth itch. 

When your target market consists of too many different types of people, it’s impossible to please them all.

Think of it like this – have you ever been a part of a Secret Santa? Buying a gift for your best friend that you’ve known since Kindergarten is easy – you can provide a list that’s a mile long of things that will make her jump for joy. But try to buy a gift for the weird dude in the cubicle opposite yours and you’ll be lucky to have enough faith to pick out the right gift card to a store he may or may not like.

RULE #2: No one buys because they’re short

The next thing I ask the room to do is tell me everything they know about target markets.

The whiteboard comes alive with details like gender, marital status, family, and location. After five minutes of picking their brains, the red marker comes out to cross out every little thing on there. Because none of it matters.

Sorry kitten, I’m not going to buy your crackers because I live in Windsor, or because I drive a white car. Nope, emotion is what pries my wallet open.

Then I do this fun exercise where everyone gets to be a CEO of a cracker company and they have one minute to come up with something that will get me to buy their crackers over their competitors. Most fail the assignment, but it gets the point across easily enough.

When you get inside their head, you figure out what makes them want to buy from you.

For example, if my cracker CEO’s knew that I’d pay double the price to ensure my food didn’t even peek at that Monsanto building for fear of the gunk (yep, that’s a technical term) that may or may not be inside of them, then they’d have a really good idea on how to shine the light on their product to make sure my dollars went into their pocket.

RULE #3: Make your own choices

The room usually comes alive when I tell them that they can choose to kick some customers to the curb. “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and draw yourself two circles on a piece of paper. Make them big and be sure they overlap in the middle. On the left, write in your newly defined target market. On the right, write everything you want in a customer.

Curiously enough, I get a lot of questions about this exercise because as business people, we’re not used to being able to choose who we work with.

When I started my business, I took every customer that rang my virtual door bell. The thought of turning someone away – throwing away perfectly good money – was dreadful. The problem was that I was left doing work that didn’t light me up for customers that sometimes made my skin crawl.

Go ahead, make a list of your dream customer. I’ll give you a head start – my customers don’t fret when it comes to my rates (because they know I’m worth it). They’ve been in business for awhile or at least know something about the online business world. No ‘stick in the mud’ folks allowed here.

Where those two circles meet is not only your pot of gold, it’s your true target market.

What target market rules do you follow? Which ones are you going to ditch?

{Image credit: Tom Fishburne}


Dawn Martinello

Dawn is a superhero disguised as a VA for entrepreneurs. Devisor of kick ass answers. Magikal Maestro of Reiki energy. Plant-loving, crunchy mom to a clever 7 year old.




  1. Janine

    Hey Dawn,

    Fantastic post!

    I love the sound of your workshop – creative approaches are one of our core values and we like to use playful activities as a learning tool whenever we can (as well as seek out and find women like yourself who are doing the same!)

    It’s an exciting challenge to transfer over these types of approaches to the online space isn’t it? After years of working in adventure-based, experiential learning my biz partner Jo and I are having fun creating ways to offer a similar experience online, in front of a computer screen.

    Your advice on target markets is brilliant – since we have got clear on this stuff our marketing, reach and impact has increased 10 fold! I’d also add that for us, our target market and niche has evolved and developed over time, as we have got clearer on who we are in business. The increased clarity we have now is wonderful but even so, we are still refining (sometimes it is so hard to let go!) We’re ok with this and see it as a natural part of our journey.

    Interested to hear your thoughts on it.

    Looking forward to learning more about you and your work.

    • Dawn Martinello

      Janine – businesses are living breathing things so it’s natural that your audience is going to change over time as your business expands and pushes new boundaries. Most start ups are so afraid of turning down business that they unknowingly shoot themselves in the foot by casting their net too wide. It’s a survival instinct and it’s definitely hard to let it go.

      Push on!

  2. Jo Foster

    Great article. I’ve heard this before but love the way you’ve made it so simple and actually somehow you’ve made it feel easier to go and narrow down our niche! Off to a meeting with my biz partner now to do just that!


    • Dawn Martinello

      Glad you found it helpful Jo! Sometimes a new spin on an old tale makes all the difference.

  3. Nicole

    I LOVE this article. Great tips!

  4. Mary Collins

    I love this! Thank-you! I’ve always been confused about this. I can choose my own target market? How nice. I love that. It gives me energy. Makes me feel creative. Thanks so much!

  5. Dale Coykendall

    really helpful, thought provoking. many thanks


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