Buyer Personas for Small Businesses: an effective guide

This is a complete guide to buyer personas. It’s a process designed for small businesses who want to do their marketing and branding the efficient way. If you want to attract your ideal customers and make them take the next step (read “buy”) then you’re in the right place.

In short, a buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customers.

“But Dragos, I know my customers. These personas are a waste of my time.” I hear you say.

Let’s imagine for a second that you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping without a list. How many items did you forget to buy? Yep, me too! I’m not saying that you don’t know your customers, but our minds like playing tricks on us.

Imagine that your spouse calls you from the store. How many more will she or he forget? Now thinking about this: do all your employees and partners know your clients just as good? Highly unlikely.

Yep, you guessed right, this is where customer personas get the hero role. The good news is they are easy to create – you just have to ask the right questions to the right people.

No matter how well you think you know your customers, you need a system in place to document all the relevant information. A system that will help you extract insights and use them efficiently in your business.

Download your free buyer persona template

Why are buyer personas so important?

Buyer personas help you understand your customers and pass on that information reliably. They help you pinpoint what makes your customers tick and how you can help them tick better, who they are, how they think and speak, where you can find them and lots more.

Once you know all these it will be so much more easier and efficient to create content that gets your customers’ attention, expand your products and services to serve their specific needs.

It’s worth remembering that you’re probably not doing all these by yourself. Being able to communicate these insights to your employees or partners, be them copyrighters, designer or anything else, is critical. It will spare you a lot of time explaining, and it will make sure everyone is on common ground. Don’t get me started about how important this information is in the sales environment.

What’s different for small businesses?

You’re most likely outsourcing projects such as content creation, website and graphic design instead of having an in-house team. While a permanent team learn about the customers and don’t rely on personas that much, an external partner will need all the information possible in order to produce a customer-centric and goal-oriented asset.

Your resources (time, money and manpower) are limited compared to a big company. This will affect the way you collect data from real customers.

Most probably, the relationship with your customers is completely different and much more intimate and long-lasting than let’s say, a fast food-chain. There’s more at stake here than just a poor review on your facebook page if the customer is unsatisfied.

How to create buyer personas

Enough rambling, let’s get to work.

We should first discuss about where to gather the information from. While you must make sure the personas are as accurate as possible, don’t get stuck on it. There are a few ways to fill in the gaps.

1.    Where to get your data from

Educated assumptions if you’re just starting out.

Yep, there’s nothing wrong with guess work to get things moving.

You probably started your business because there was a need for something that you love to do or found a need that couldn’t be solved by what was on the market. Take that passion and turn it into data & insights.

Your current & previous customers

Reach out and ask them a few questions – most people love to help, be heard and give you their feedback.

You might surprise yourself at times with why people chose to work with you and what needs you really meet – it may be far from the reasons you assumed initially.

Don’t just go for the good clients. Bad ones can often reveal important information. Who you don’t serve is just as important as who you serve.

If you keep record of current and past clients in a database (CRM), take a look. Useful trends and patterns might emerge. If you don’t keep a record, you should start.

You might have noticed that I didn’t include a list of Interview questions. Every business is so different that it’s mission impossible. More than that, I’m not a huge fan of putting your clients against the wall and firing question at them. How can you be sure they don’t just tell you what you want to hear? You don’t. Make it happen natural, during your regular conversations. You’ll get way more valuable information compared to “hey, let me as you 50 questions for 1 hours. Here, you can have a candy as reward”.

Your prospects & lost leads

This is where you can validate the guessed personas and find out why people won’t work with you. Are there needs you fail to meet or is it just a communication problem?

2.    What information you should include

Don’t be afraid to do a brain dump at first. Write down everything, we’ll refine it later.

1. Name, photo & tagline

Adding these items makes the persona feel real. On top of this, there’s a matter of practicality:

  • a name makes referring to that specific persona a lot easier when talking to others
  • being able to describe the essence of the persona in just a few words signals that you have a complete understanding of it.

2. Demographics & Psychographics

Age, where they live, education, industry & job title, hobbies.

Don’t overthink it, keep this part short. Too much info here will steer you away from a representative character. Do include, however, all the relevant information to your business and keep them consistent across all your personas.

For example, if you’re advertising or doing content marketing on social media, on which network do your personas spend most of their time? If you’re targeting a certain department of a company, which specific role/job title does the decision maker occupy?

3. Dreams & goals

  • What motivates your clients?
  • Who do they dream of being?
  • What are they trying to achieve?

Think about functional, social, personal, professional, emotional goals.

4. What obstacles stand in their way?

Now that you know what your clients are aspiring to, what’s stopping them to get there?

What stands between them and their goals and dreams?

5. How can we empower the user?

What can we do to help them achieve their goals and overcome the obstacles?

6. Story

You have to be able to summarize your client’s story in a paragraph or two. It makes the persona real and puts him in context. The story must be a snippet of their day or their life. It has nothing to do with your products of services, it’s all about them.

Looking at the client as a whole won’t only reveal marketing insights but also new problems that you can help them with, directions in which you can expand your business.

7. Common objections

Not necessary to start with, but it’s best to keep it together with the other sections. What is stopping your customers from buying from you? What are their anxieties? Documenting the common objections will improve your sales process, as you’ll be able to address them upfront.

3.    How many personas do I need?

The honest answer is: it depends on a crazy number of factors. What’s certain is that you should start small – begin without your ideal customer(s). You can always add more if you feel the need.

In a B2B situation there’s one more aspect to consider: the sales cycle. In the case of large companies your introductory person might not be the same as the decision maker. Each of them might have different needs and problems regarding their job and overall company goals. You need to take all these variables into consideration.

4.    Prioritization

Your clients are complex human beings, with a multitude of problems and goals. Some are more pressing than other, and you can’t address all of them anyways. Also, only by helping them in the critical areas will trigger a buying decision. This considered, it’s time to prioritize.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important are their goals? Use the feedback from your clients.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much can you remove their obstacles and provide a solution?

How to use buyer personas in your business

Wohooo! One more victory – you have your personas. What now? *silently drops them in a folder, hidden in a dark corner of your hard drive*

No, no, no! You didn’t work so hard just to forget about them. Here, let me show you how useful the buyer personas can be:

Everything-marketing

Anything, from big to small & from leaflet to website, starts with good messaging.

But messaging also needs to be effective, not just sound smart. The only way to do this is by going back to your personas and refreshing your view of their goals and obstacles.

Outbound & sales

How many times have you receive a generic cold email? Yep, I lost count too.

I can guarantee those people did not have a buyer persona that represented you – otherwise they would have known what your real problems are and knew how to scratch that itch.

Business expansion

Every time you want to expand or modify your products or services it should be done based on:

  • the changing needs of your current clients
  • the needs of the new niche you’re targeting

How to keep your personas relevant

Things change, people change.

Nope, this is not another COVID/<insert crisis name> speech, the entire COVID situation is somehow easy. The change is swift and obvious, everything is in disarray. You can’t miss it.

You know what’s more dangerous?

Gradual and subtle changes of your audience. Those can go unnoticed until it’s too late and your business becomes irrelevant to them.

Your business is also changing as you’re trying to grow and improve your offerings.

Okay, okay, so what do I do?

Revisit your buyer personas:

  • At least once a year
  • Whenever you change your services or products
  • Expand your business geographically
  • Target a new niche
  • Sudden changes in the economy (recessions, Corona etc)
  • After important industry events (such as trade shows) – new trends can alter the way your audience behaves.
  • After an industry crisis (see the current Zoom and privacy issues) – it may create concerns and needs that your audience didn’t have before.

You should also keep track and document all the questions that you get from your current clients – you’ll start to see patterns over time.

Download your free buyer persona template

Dragos

Dragos

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