"So, what do you do?"
For those of us who have chosen to forgo the 9-5, avoid stuffy job titles, and craft our own path towards income and impact. . . that can be a loaded question. "I'm a superhero?" "An idealistic vagabond?" "A social entrepreneur who loves media and art and travel and all things creative and just wants to make a positive difference in the world in whatever way I can."
Yeah, that can leave your acquaintance regretting that they ever asked. Or feeling obligated, as a followup question and politely nod while their eyes glaze over. We don't want to come across desperate; or needy; or pushy; or uncertain. We also don't want to be that guy, fluttering around the room like a deranged fairy, tossing business cards like fairy dust at all his unsuspecting victims.
But any time we are asked that question we should take it as an opportunity to introduce ourselves to potential partners, clients, or collaborators.
1. Know Your Purpose
Think about your audience and what you want them to take away from this exchange. The clearer you are on your purpose, your mission, and your vision, the clearer this "pitch" will be. Think about the opportunity you want to present to your listener: do you want them to do business with you, make a referral, become a partner, collaborator, advisor?
2. Don't Stop at What You Do
Too often, when people ask what we do, that's exactly what our answer is. But what your counterpart really wants to know is, "What do you do for your customers?" So take their question a step further, and answer that question instead.
3. Don't Get too Cutesy with Your Title
I'm guilty to this. In an effort to shun all things Corporate America, I used to avoid traditional titles like the plague. It felt suffocating, and it didn't really describe everything I did or intended to do. But if you make up a title like "Chief Explorer" or "Head Nerd", don't be too disappointed if no one else knows what that actually means. Coming up with a slightly more conventional title will help you clarify what it is you do in your own mind, so you can effectively communicate that to others.
4. Start with Service
A great way to formulate your answer is to start by saying "I help . . . " and describe your ideal customer. That way your listener instantly knows a.) if they could potentially benefit from what you do, and b.) if they know anyone who might benefit from what you do.
5. Get Super Specific
When you describe who you serve, get super specific. Saying you help "mankind" simply isn't enough. It's not going to trigger anyone's feelings or memory. But if you say you help "unsatisfied professionals who want to take escape the 9-5 and turn their passion into their profession", it's both memorable and instantly triggers the other person to sift through their mental rolodex to see if they know anyone who fits that description.
6. Talk About Results
Once you say who you serve, discuss the problem you help them overcome. If you sell widgets, the result isn't the widget, but it's how the widget makes the person feel once they start using it. You don't want to dwell on your audience's problems, but how you can help them overcome those problems.
7. Tell a Story
Facts engage logic, but stories engage emotion. According to the great poet Maya Angelou, people won't remember what you said, they won't remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. And if the story you tell about who you serve, and the problem you solve, triggers an emotion they can connect with, they will remember you, your vision, and your mission.
8. Include a "So That. . ." Statement
You've said who you serve. You've explained the problem the face and the results you help them achieve. So what? "So that . . . " they can make an impact in their own world. This part of your explanation explains why someone would really want to work with you or buy your product or invest in your service. You don't have to literally use the words "so that", but make sure you include the why. Author, motivational speaker, and organizational psychologist Simon Sinek explains that the greatest companies succeed not because people buy what they do, they buy why they do it.
9. Identify Your Purple Cow
What makes you stand out? Marketing genius Seth Godin, refers to this X factor as your "purple cow". If you do something fairly common, it's like you're standing in a field of a thousand cows. But if you were a purple cow, people would take notice. What makes you different? You can even think about framing it like "unlike [the competition], I [key differentiator]."
10. Keep It Short
Most people conceptualize this brief explanation of what you do as an "elevator pitch". That is because it has to be crisp, concise, and creative enough to leave an impression. Don't tell your life story, your hopes and dreams, or every product you sell and service you offer. Keep it short, sweet, and succinct.
11. Have a Call to Action
They asked you a question. And you are giving them a response for a reason, right? This is where you get to customize it based on your audience and the context. If you're talking to someone you already know might be a good customer, you could say, "I'd love to schedule a meeting with you and talk more about this!" And if it's a stranger, maybe try, "Do you know anyone who . . ." Either way, know your ask, and make it.
12. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The only way to get better at anything is PRACTICE. Write it down if you have to. Read it out loud. Try it in front of friends and family. You will absolutely feel awkward at first, but that's a good thing! You're stepping outside of your comfort zone, and that is where all the magic happens!