We took on a client who didn't fit our buyer persona. Here's what happened.


When we embarked on the adventure we call Little Marketing Genius, we treated the HubSpot Marketing Blog as our Bible. It was an invaluable resource for not only navigating the world of Inbound Marketing, but for running an Inbound Agency in general. We clung to every word … every piece of advice … every tip and trick that HubSpot had to offer. We were firm believers in the methodology (still are) and we were able to achieve incredible results during our first year in business by implementing the things we learned from HubSpot.

And then, we made a rookie mistake.

A mistake that we knew was a mistake but did it anyways. We brought on a client who did not fit our target client persona. Eeeeeeek!

This blog post is based on a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.


When we started our agency, we had a fairly clear idea of the type of client we wanted to work with. However, as we went through various Inbound certification and training courses and learned more about target buyer personas, we quickly realized we needed to get way more specific on the definition of our ideal client. And so we did.

We read all the blog posts about creating buyer personas. We downloaded the workbooks and guides and, at the end of it all, we felt very excited about the character we developed. Her name was Pixie and she was a creative entrepreneur … just like us! She understood and appreciated marketing. However, she also ran a bustling boudoir photography business and simply couldn’t do everything by herself. She would hire us because she wanted to grow her business and trusted our tactics for making that happen.

The trust component of Pixie’s persona was critical. We were adamant about working with clients who valued and believed in our professional guidance. We knew that business owners who needed to be sold on the general basics of marketing would be a struggle to collaborate with.

Fast forward to the day we met “Tom.”

Tom was referred to us by a family member who believed his business needed major help in the marketing department. So we set up an exploratory call to determine what gaps we could help him fill.

After a quick review of his website and social media accounts, we saw several amazing opportunities. The family member was right … Tom’s current marketing strategy needed a makeover. We quickly got to work developing a plan and couldn’t wait to share it with him.

Now, nothing in our exploratory call made us leery about bringing Tom on as a client.

However, this is where another rookie mistake happened.

We weren’t using our client intake form at the time. The result: we took on Tom without knowing if he did in fact fit our target buyer persona. The monthly retainer and the vision of doing some really cool things with Tom’s website and social media platforms is all we saw through our rose colored glasses.

The first red flag was when we began the process of gathering content for a series of blog posts we were trying to create. When we reached out to Tom for help, he alluded he was “too busy” and directed us to one of his employees instead. We chalked it up to a busy business owner delegating. And we were fine with that. This employee could be our liaison and get us the information we needed. Well, as it would turn out, he was equally as busy as his busy boss. 🙄


“The monthly retainer and the vision of doing some really cool things with Tom’s website and social media platforms is all we saw through our rose colored glasses.”

After months of what felt like pestering Tom and his employee for content, we realized we had probably made a mistake. However, instead of ending the relationship, we continued to plug along.

The next blow was when Tom’s wife started criticizing the work we were doing on their social media platforms. If she didn’t like one thing or another about a post, she would file her complaint with Tom, who would then relay her grievances back to us. Oh boy! 😖This was really getting out of control. But quitters we are not, so onward we went!

Tom’s company used an antiquated email marketing platform. It was not intuitive. It did not offer design capabilities. It was difficult to pull reports from, etc., etc., etc. We built a strong case for Tom to consider upgrading it. We even sat with him and did a detailed demo of another platform to show him the opportunities he was missing out on by using outdated technology. We came so very close but Tom ultimately decided against it.

Another swing and a miss!

We felt exhausted. The glorious plans we had for transforming Tom’s marketing were falling apart fast. We never finished the blog series because we were unable to get the feedback we needed. We had to nix the email marketing because we were unable to deliver quality content that we were able to report on. We knew we would never be able to provide Tom with the kind of service that we strive to provide to every client. Tom’s lack of support inhibited us from doing a stellar job for him … and we were not cool with this.

As more months passed, we were down to only managing Tom’s social media platforms. We tinkered with the idea of breaking things off with him but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.

The final straw came when we saw a paid Facebook ad come across our feed for Tom’s company. A paid ad that we did not create. What was going on here? When we reached out to Tom and asked him about it, he told us that he ‘lets his SEO guy place ads for him from time to time.’ 😖(The thought of putting the SEO guy in touch with us apparently never crossed his mind.)

It was like that moment in The Sixth Sense. The moment when Bruce Willis looks back and realizes the signs were there all along. He was dead the whole time but just didn’t know it!

Now, when we made our Sixth Sense revelation, we interestingly enough had just returned from Inbound 2018. It was the combination of what we learned in Karl Sakas’ seminar on Speed-Dating Your Agency's Sales Prospects along with the feeling our client had cheated on us with the SEO guy. We were D.O.N.E.

The client wasn’t happy. We weren’t happy. The break-up needed to happen and happen before anyone else got hurt! And so it did. We parted ways from Tom on a professional note. Most importantly, we learned the most valuable lesson any business owner can learn:

Never EVER deviate from your target buyer persona.

As a new agency, we looked at securing any kind of recurring revenue as a big win. What we didn’t understand was the price we’d have to pay for locking in revenue from the wrong type of client.

Based on our experience, here are seven things you can expect when you deviate from your target buyer persona:

  1. Expending time and energy explaining the benefits of your product or service (as well as your process)

  2. Feeling under-appreciated, undervalued, and sometimes downright disrespected

  3. Handling lots of complaints from the customer or client

  4. Chasing down payments you’re owed

  5. Feeling unfulfilled by what you’re delivering

  6. Dreading emails or phone calls from the customer or client

  7. Headaches … lots of headaches

How To Avoid Customers/Clients Who Aren’t A Fit

  • The first step in knowing who to avoid is knowing who is the perfect fit for you and your business. Take the time to research and develop your ideal buyer persona. Need help? Download our Client Persona Builder!

  • If you’re a service based business, create a client intake form. This was huge for us. On the form, ask questions that will clarify 100% whether or not the person will be a good match. To build our client intake form, we followed the advice in this Karl Sakas blog post.

  • Set the right expectations by publishing the type of client you’re looking for right on your website! Start with the value proposition on your homepage and go from there. Be loud and clear about your criteria for clients. This will help move the unqualified leads along.

Over the past couple months, we’ve been developing our target buyer persona even more based on our experiences from Year 1 in business. That’s one of the best things about marketing … it’s all about trial and error. Learning what has worked, what didn’t, and making enhancements that will take your business to the next level.

Best of luck with your persona building!


Create the profile of your dream client using our free Client Persona Builder!

Once you know exactly what your dream client looks like, you’ll never make the mistake of taking on (or marketing to) a nightmare client again. Download our FREE Client Persona Builder tool today.