The Weekend Solopreneur

Issue 22.36

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Image by Aaron Huber on Unsplash

What you do is infinitely more engaging than what you are

Today I would like to show you the difference between:

  • what you are (your profession), and
  • what you do.

Get this right, and your ability to attract, engage and convert leads to clients will improve more than you can imagine.

Let’s start with a couple of examples, then I will show you how to construct your own.

First example

Imagine you meet someone at a networking event. One of the first questions we usually ask is “what do you do?”

Now imagine your new acquaintance says:

I’m an accountant.

Each of us have a unique world view, coloured by our education, experiences and expertise. When we hear “I’m an accountant”, we immediately form a picture of what the person does. Your picture may be more or less detailed, more or less favourable, all defined by what we already know about accountants.

The person we’re speaking to has has left it up to us to picture what they do.

Almost immediately, you “know” what that person does. And based on the picture in your mind, you will be more or less interested to pursue the conversation.

Now imagine that same person says:

I help smart people cheat the tax man legally.

Now what do you think?

First, there’s a smile or a giggle. But most importantly, you’re interested. You want to find out how this person does it and (more or less) who they work with. And because you think of yourself as a smart person, you wonder if they can help you too.

Now you want to find out more about how they do this, and the conversation continues.

Second example

Same networking event, different person. This time, when you ask the person what they do, they say:

I’m a life coach.

Again, our pre-conceived notions of what a life coach is, and what they do, make us form an immediate impression. But we still don’t know what that person does, or who they work with.

But imagine they say:

I help emotionally wounded women deal with narcissistic spouses.

Whoa. Your first reaction is probably going to be to go quiet for a moment. This is hugely emotional stuff. Powerful.

Do you see what just happened there? You know exactly who they work with, you know exactly what problem they solve, and chances are you know someone who is struggling with that problem.

So quietly you ask them “Do you have a business card? I have a friend…”

How to create your own

Clearly, telling people what you do is a lot more compelling than what you are. The structure of this sentence is what makes it powerful. Here it is:

I help [emotional] [target] (deal with) [negative problem or positive promise]

There are three things at work here.

1. The emotional trigger

In the two examples above, the [emotional] word or phrase is:

  • “smart” (for the accountant)
  • “emotionally wounded” for the life coach.

Simply adding an adjective before the target immediately gets the listener to respond with their emotions.

2. The target

The target identifies who you work with. From the example above:

  • “people” (for the accountant)
  • “women” (for the life coach).

Note that you don’t have to tell them everything—just enough to elicit a conversation. The accountant could say “smart business owners” which further qualifies who he works with; in most cases, brevity is your friend.

3. The negative problem or positive promise

When we describe what we do, we also want to make sure the people we’re talking to understand that the problem is bad one, or that there is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

  • In the case of the accountant, we have a positive promise: “cheat the tax man legally”. Humorous as well which makes the accountant more approachable.
  • The life coach uses “narcissistic spouses” as the negative (bad) problem. If you’ve ever been around someone who suffers in this respect, you will know how bad it can be.

These three elements work together—but they are guidelines, not rules. Break them if you feel you have a better way of telling people what you do.

A last example

I could tell people that I’m a business coach. What I do tell them, however, is:

I help overwhelmed solopreneurs have a business AND a life.

When you hear that, you immediately know:

  • who I work with (solopreneurs)
  • the problem I solve (overwhelm)
  • what I promise (have a business AND a life).

When you ask someone what they do, note how many don’t answer the question. In most cases they tell you what they are, not what they do.

So next time someone asks you what you do, tell them what you do. Not what you are. It’s a lot more fun and you will be surprised at how engaging it can be.