What do you tell people when asked what you do? Many small business owners and independent professionals repeatedly miss great opportunities to generate new business or develop leads by answering the “what do you do?” question with a poorly crafted or completely unplanned answer. If your answer does not regularly start a conversation about your business you need to change your answer.
What response do you get when you tell people what you do?
If your answer draws blank stares and looks of confusion or causes the topic of conversation to change you are likely making one of the common mistakes people make when telling others what they do. Here are some tips to help you transform a question into a an opportunity.
Do Not Describe What You Do with a Label
Describing yourself with a label makes you vulnerable to people’s preconceived notions of what your label means. By using a label to describe yourself you effectively set yourself up to be stereotyped. For instance, imagine a lawyer who tells people “I’m a lawyer” when asked what he does. By doing so he risks being associated with the less than glamorous “lawyers are sharks” stereotype. We’ve all heard comedians make fun of lawyers. But if a lawyer helps fledgling entrepreneurs set up their companies and remain in compliance with regulatory statutes he’s certainly no shark. By simply telling people he’s a lawyer he risks constructing a wall between himself and a potential lead or client.
Labels also often lack specificity. If I simply tell someone “I’m a consultant” I reveal no detail about who I help or the benefit I provide my customers. Instead, I tell people, “I help small business owners and professional services providers attract more clients and grow their business”. It amazing how often I am asked, “Really? How do you do that?” When I get such a response I know right away I’m one step closer to making a sale.
If you use a label to describe yourself you can improve your marketing right now by deciding to never use it or any other label again.
Do Not Give a Vague Answer
People often give answers to “what do you do?” that are too vague and don’t effectively communicate who they help and the benefit they provide. I once asked a new acquaintance, Bob, what he did. He told me he owned a software company so I asked him what type of software his company develops. He said, “financial software”. Still not yet knowing quite what Bob’s company was really all about I asked, “Who uses your software?”. To which he replied, “Hedge fund managers.” Now we were getting somewhere. I eventually was able to tease out of him what his software does but I shouldn’t have had to do so. If I wasn’t as curious and persistent as I am I would have never known what Bob’s software really does and why people use it. Bob, on the other hand, would have missed a terrific marketing opportunity as I was able make an introduction that led to a business relationship.
Another reason not to reply to “what do you do?” with a vague answer is that vague answers can be perceived as disinterest in what you do. When Bob first told me he owned a software company it almost seemed as if he couldn’t care less about owning the company. After I nudged him to talk more specifically about who his software helps he became very animated in describing that his software helps hedge fund managers save money by reducing transaction costs and the risk of making poor investments.
Avoid vague replies and you will develop more business because more people will perceive you as being enthusiastic about what you do.
Do Not Describe a process
When trying to generate interest in what you do (which IS the purpose of telling someone what you do) avoid describing any process or system you may employ. People become interested in your product or service because they perceive it as something that will help them solve a problem or fill a need. By describing a system or process you detail mechanics, not benefits.
Describe the results you provide and who you help and you will find yourself having more high energy conversations about what you do.
Move Your Marketing Forward
Are you guilty of answering the “what do you do” question with one or more of the “don’t do it” responses listed above? If you are guilty you can dramatically improve your chances of generating new business by replacing your current answer with a compelling marketing message.
A great marketing message speaks directly to your target market, clearly states the benefit of your product or service and most importantly, generates interest in what you do. Even if you are not speaking with an ideal client answering the “what do you do” question with a compelling marketing message is a smart and savvy tactic you can use to generate new business. There is always a chance that the person with whom you are speaking knows someone who can benefit from your product or service. By clearly stating the benefit you provide and who you help you create the opportunity for people to associate you as a solution to a problem. Take the time to develop a great marketing message and you will improve your ability to transform a common question into a valuable marketing opportunity.
One of the first steps to creating a great marketing message is to focus closely on why your clients use your product or service. One of the best ways to get this information is to simply ask them. You may ask them on the phone, in person or with a survey available at your web site. The answers they provide will have the information you need to craft a message that speaks directly to the value they seek.
Being asked what you do happens frequently. Don’t squander these marketing opportunities by answering with a label, a vague answer or a description of your process. Instead use your marketing message to generate interest in what you do.
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The author, Jeremy Cohen, helps small business owners and professional service providers attract more clients and grow their businesses with his marketing services and Free Marketing Guide, "Jumpstart Marketing: More Prospects, Clients and Success." Get the guide and learn about his marketing services at: