What do you do?

How to Answer the Question: What do you do?

Tomorrow morning I am speaking at the Santa Barbara Business Expo about how to answer the question “What do you do?”  I have been working on my speech for the past few days. I also posted a question on Facebook asking how people answer this question. I was surprised at the variety and number of answers. You can see that conversation here. How to answer this question definitely seems to keep people awake at night – whether they are employed, stay-at-home parents, entrepreneurs or unemployed.

As a coach, one of the things I do is teach people how to improve their marketing. This is always an inside-out process. If ind that there is always mindset shift that needs to happen before we begin to create an effective marketing plan. Most of my clients need hep clearly articulating their unique brilliance and defining their personal brand.

The biggest shift begins to happen when clients realize that they have been trying to sell to people before taking the time to connect with them in meaningful ways and that this selling was making them uncomfortable – they want to connect with their prospects but also need to make sales. This seems like a marketing quandary, doesn’t it? The chicken before the egg or the egg before the chicken?

Another shift happens when we look at how their marketing is “me-focused” rather than “you-focused.” When someone asks you, “What do you do?”, they aren’t looking for a sales pitch, they are trying to connect with you and understand two things: can you help them and can they help you. The question is meant to invite conversation and pique people’s curiosity.

As I was working on this presentation and reading people’s feedback on Facebook, I realized that we don’t necessarily need to agonize over our answer. Perhaps we need to ask a different question. Some suggestions might be:

  • Who do you work with? Who is your favorite client?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you love about our work?
  • How do you spend your days?

We struggle with the answer to this question because our identity is so deeply enmeshed with the “work that we do.” If we don’t work, we feel judged. If we don’t have a “fancy” job title, we feel judged. If we don’t know what we want to do, we feel judged. Or perhaps we compare ourselves to others, thinking their work is better, more important or more profitable than ours. This question tends to bring up our insecurities and fears.

My talk tomorrow is aimed specifically at entrepreneurs and small business owners. Because we tend to do a lot of networking, we do need to have a simple and effective way to answer this question with clarity and confidence.

I want to invite you to think differently about this question than you have in the past. When someone asks you what do you do, the most common response is to reply with “who I am” not with “what I do”. When you say, “I am a business coach” or a “I am a graphic designer,” it doesn’t tell people how you can help them.

Instead, follow this simple formula for answering the question, “What do you do?”

1. Name who you work with

2. Mention the problem they are having. Be very specific in describing the situation or problem.

3. Say the “what” of you do as it relates to their specific problem.

4. Finish with “so that they…” which identifies the solution they will experience once their problem is solved.

Here is my example that I often use: I help women entrepreneurs (who) who struggle with their marketing (problem) create simple marketing plans that help them attract more of the right clients (solution) so that they can make more money in their business. (result)

These tips were inspired by the work of Kendall Summerhawk in her fabulous program Niche Breakthrough Secrets, available here.

How would you answer the question of “who do you work with” using this simple 4-step formula? Leave your feedback in the comments below.