I find one of the most challenging situations I face as a freelancer is telling people what I do. I have a “portfolio career” (many different careers at the same time), so when I am asked, “And what do you do?” I don’t have a straight-forward answer, like “lawyer, doctor, or football player.” I feel that this can be an advantage, if approached properly. Therefore, in this article, I discuss this definition dilemma, ways to attack it, and pose some questions that can help direct those of us who love living a freelance life.
Avoid labels. Mark Sanborn, a successful entrepreneur/speaker told a group of us an interesting fact about using a label for what we do. He said that if we say we are a consultant, doctor, speaker, lawyer, banker, etc. right away whoever is listening not only jumps to an incorrect conclusion about us, but often has some preconceived notion – good or bad, but many times bad – about our profession. He suggested that if we feel we need some description on our business card, pick an all encompassing, non-specific title. For example, his was “Small Business Resource.”
Develop a short, unique sentence that will whet others’ interest. This exercise will not only help you get attention from others, but will also help you to define who you are, who you work for, and what you do. If you are at all like me and other freelancers, you probably have many skills and talents, but have trouble narrowing a description down to a short, punchy sentence. The first step is to decide what it is that you love doing the most and want others to know about. Then, ask yourself who would benefit from this activity/work and for whom would you prefer working. What groups do you already have a working relationship with? Finally, determine what this target group needs the most.
Now, it is time to formulate you opening sentence. Mine is: “Everyone has a compelling story. I help small businesses and non-profits tell their stories to the people who need to hear them.” In other words, I use my writing, storytelling, communication, and web site design and development skills to help small businesses and non-profits with their marketing. I think that you would agree that the first sentence is more interesting and leads to more questions.
Practice and test your defining sentence. There is only one way to find out if your new definition works. First of all, write it down, tape it and practice saying it until you feel comfortable and the sentence becomes second nature. Now it is time to find out if it works. Attend as many meetings and networking events as possible. After you ask someone what he or she does and have listened with obvious interest, that person will ask you what you do. Hit them with your unique sentence, and watch for the reaction.
Not everyone will enthusiastically ask for more information, but if several do, you are on your way. Now, it is time to tweak and polish, and then work on follow-up answers to others’ questions. The more often you use the words, the more natural and fun the process becomes. Be prepared to feel a bit awkward in the beginning, because your answer isn’t the standard, expected answer. As you get good feedback, however, you will start enjoying the whole process and start increasing business and your potential client base.