Thursday, January 31, 2008

Crafting your elevator pitch: what are you promoting?

So, if you're anything like millions of entrepreneurs, you didn't just quit the day job and rush headlong into running your fledgling enterprise. In fact, you might even have a day job right now that pays the bills while you build your business (carefully, at night, and not on company time, RIGHT???). But what happens when you go to a networking event, and people ask what you do? Do you start off with "well, at my day job I wait tables, but really what I do is act and dance?" Or do you say, "actually, I'm an actor. I just finished doing Schindler's List: the Musical off-off-off-Broadway, and now I'm looking for the next great opportunity?"

Okay, well, neither of those things is probably true for you - but still the question remains: do you need to mention your "day job" to potential networking colleagues, or do you stick with what you want to be doing?

Networking maven Ilise Benun mentioned in a recent post, after mentioning that some folks felt compelled to talk about their day job:

You don't have to tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth." While I am absolutely not advocating deception, I do suggest you carefully construct (with marketing in mind) an answer that will lead you in the direction you're headed, and answer that will help you build your part time or freelance business into something more substantial, if that's what you want.

and I agree with her assessment. But I'll also add that in every networking (and even every employment) situation, it's important to remember what you WANT to be doing before you answer the question "what do you do?" Because ultimately, what you SAY you do will always be what you end up getting more of.

Case in point: back in 2002, I was going to school for web design while making money as a) a registrar for the Girl Scouts, b) a busser at a restaurant, and c) a sexual health activist for a local nonprofit (it was a LONG YEAR.) At the time, my resumé was very focused on what I "did" at the time, which was administrative work - and guess what I ended up getting? Administrative work. I didn't want administrative work. I wanted design work.

So, in 2003, I decided to completely redo my resumé, and take out any reference to administrative work - instead, I focused on the 3+ years I had spent doing freelance design on the side, and the work I was doing as a prepress artist and designer for a local printer (and had done for local printers before that). As a result, I haven't done a lick of administration work (outside the work I have to do for the zen kitchen, that is) since 2003.

Was it lying to omit the administrative work from my resumé? Not at all. That work wasn't who I was, and it wasn't who I wanted to be - all omitting it did was put me in a position where I could assert what I was - a designer - and put that information in front of the people who could help me succeed in that.

So the next time you're at a meeting and feel compelled to talk about your day job when someone asks, "what do you do?" don't be afraid to say "I'm a designer," or "I run a business that makes hats for dogs," or whatever it is that you really want to do.


TJ Walker said...

Great points! Also, focus on exactly how benefit from what you do and your elevator pitch will write itself. TJ Walker

Michelle said...

I second that motion, Dani. Great advice. You have to "think big and act big" when representing yourself at networking events. Your example was perfect - it was not a misrepresentation, but a clear focus on *your brand value* - what you wanted the potential client or employer to hire you for - your web experience, not your admin. experience. By thinking big and acting big - you got the bigger jobs that you were seeking.