When you start your business, they usually ask you to visualize your ideal customer:

Tell me about your ideal client,” some stuffy suit-wearing desk jockey will say. He looks down at you over his thin-rimmed “I’m better than you”-brand glasses, which he wears only for effect to distract you from the crumbs on his tie and the fact that he hasn’t owned a business in nearly 20 years. “What age are they? What race? What’s their third-cousin’s first-born’s name? What movies do they like to see? Would they be OK with being 1/3rd of a Vin Diesel sandwich, or would that get weird?

It’s a useful exercise, to be sure (particularly that Vin Diesel part – that can save you a LOT of headaches). But ultimately it’s bullshit. You know how to recognize the people you want to sell to – because they’re just like you. Some will argue with me about this, but they aren’t Nick Armstrong, now are they? H8rs can STFU.

You created a business to solve the problems that bug you. That’s why you created a business – not to fill a need or serve a target demographic or for the cool new nameplate you could put on your desk… (ok, maybe for that, too). You had a problem, you wanted to fix it, so you built a solution. Your target demographic is you.

Don’t believe me? Identify the top strengths and weaknesses of your current recurring clients (if you don’t have any, the one that stuck with you the longest). What are those traits you hated about them? The traits you loved? Do you share at least 75% of them? I know I do. (For the record: my clients are wicked creative, all of them have a wonderful sense of humor, they’re generally in a good mood, and they deal with stress really, really well. I <3 my clients.)

So maybe that system isn’t so foolproof. There are plenty of people who look and sound like me, but have the combined values of all the folks on this list (that’s right, we have so many, we needed our own page. Go America!) And the worst part? You never know they’re crazy until they’re dining on your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. We’ve all had clients like that, it’s just part of doing business.

That being said – you absolutely must find the jerks. Not the psychopathic “gnaw off your fingers” kind of jerks, but the regular plane-jane variety of Jerk. It’s vitally important to your business that you do, because every time you find a jerk, you learn how to identify them before you’re beholden to them.

Let’s be honest: every once in a while, when things are real slow, we take on work that we really shouldn’t. We say Yes to every opportunity because the gaping void in our wallets where money should be demands it. And then, most of the time, we regret it (usually by the time it’s too late to issue a refund).

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a form of Jerkdar? An early warning system of some sort, so we’d know that the tingle we feel from landing new cash and a new project is actually a signal from our “hey, you’re about to be this psychopath’s dinner”-sense?

Find the jerks. Hone your warning system. Try not to get murdered. Good luck.

This post is part of the Word Carnival series, hosted by the masterful Word Chef – Tea Silvestre. I’ve participated in two so far, and you can read more about them here.

(Header photo: Biting The Dust)