When I’m working with individuals on helping them overcome their mental health challenges, I often tell them that it’s okay if doing something healthy makes them feel anxious, to just do it anyway. And that’s also something that successful businesses learn as well, especially entrepreneurs. It doesn’t matter whether you like doing something or don’t like doing something, if it’s one of the actions that’s going to make your company healthy, you have to do it.
It’s difficult to see what those healthy actions are when you’re stuck in your own head. It’s always so easy to think up reasons why you shouldn’t do the things that make you nervous. So get outside of your head and let your customer show you what you have to do.
Doing a series of customer-centered business design exercises can show you what your business has to do to connect with your customer. The Customer Portrait exercise is one of my favourites because it consistently provides so many useful insights to organizations by making their customers real. The moment your customer becomes a real person, it’s very difficult to convince yourself that they’ll behave in the way you want them to. As a business, you have to behave the way your customer wants you to. When you’re an entrepreneur, that can be frightening sometimes because, as an individual, you’ll have to change your behaviors for the sake of your company. Whether it’s calling up a 1000 people and getting rejected by 999 of them, giving up some control of your company so you can get the funds you need to reach your market, admitting your customer doesn’t like your favorite idea, or whatever your fears might be–creating a healthy business is going to require you to throw yourself into your fears.
What’s great about doing the Customer Portrait exercise is that it can give you the confidence to make personal changes to tackle your fears. Personal change takes a lot of energy but if you know you need to make some changes in yourself to meet your customers’ needs, and you’re committed to making your business succeed, those changes are going to be easier to stick bring into reality.
Here’s how you do the Customer Portrait exercise:
- Get 20 photographs of people’s faces. Make sure it’s a diverse group. Spread them out on a table.
- Each participant selects one picture out of the pile and tells a story about why he/she is NOT your customer. Repeat this step at least once.
- Each participant selects one picture out of the pile and tells a story about why he/she IS your customer.
- Each participant takes the photograph they selected and tapes it to a large sheet of white paper.
- On the white sheet of paper, list characteristics of your customer. The characteristics you should focus on will vary depending on what your product/service is. For instance, if you’re building a website, list their favourite websites. If you’re creating a product, list their favourite products. Adapt the exercise to your business and remember to keep things as specific as possible. No adjectives! Here are some things you might want to include:
• Name, age, location, income, education, etc.
• What websites do they use every day?
• What specific tasks do they enjoy doing?
• What specific tasks do they hate doing?
• What are their interests/hobbies?
• If they had 30 minutes free, what would they do?
• What are they good at?
• What are they bad at?
• What kind of news article would interest them?
• What are their favourite things?
• What would they spend $20 on?
• What motivates them?
• What are their values?
- Each participant presents their Customer Portraits. Look for commonalities and discuss new insights that emerge. What assumptions are you going to have to discard? How can you make your branding reflect the aesthetic style that your customer likes? Where are you going to be able to engage your customer? If you have somebody facilitating the session, they can help the group synthesize a Customer Portrait and drill down to specifics. Place that Customer Portrait wherever you do your work and let that customer guide your decision making. When you build anything, ask yourself what that customer needs you to do. And then just do it. It doesn’t matter what you think, it matters what your customer thinks.