Vincent Nguyen

November 14, 2013

So I'm a Drug Dealer

Or at least my Mom used to think so.

I struggled with talking about what I do. It can sound complicated to someone unfamiliar with the jargon.

Since I never talked about what I did, my mom genuinely believed I dealt drugs. She dropped hints and and worried about “what I’m doing with my life.”

Really?

I never drunk more than 10 ounces of alcohol in my life. Jumping to the conclusion is silly.

People tend to make their own assumptions when you’re not clear what keeps you busy.

How often do you get asked what you do for a living only to nervously stutter and find yourself at a loss for words?

It seems like a pretty easy question to answer. I mean, it’s your career and you do it on a near daily basis.

The issue comes when you’re asked to explain a complicated field from someone who doesn’t understand it. If you make your answer too general, then you downplay what you really do. If you’re too specific, it might sound like you’re out of touch or talking down to them.

I won’t get into elevator pitches to score your next meeting with venture capitalists. That’s not what we’re about here.

I want to share with you exactly how you can talk about your responsibilities to someone who exists outside of the world of entrepreneurship.

No more being speechless when a friend or family member asks what it is that you do.

Jonathan Mead has a simple formula for answering that with confidence.

I help _______________ (who you serve) do ______________ (how you help them) so they can ______________ (results they get).

So for me, I would say…

I help small companies [find] new creative ideas to increase revenue while simultaneously doing more of what they like to do.

Mine isn’t necessarily a full-fledged elevator pitch because I keep it vague. Keep in mind, this is for people who aren’t in your industry and won’t understand certain concepts. If you’re talking to a potential client then you’ll want to be way more specific.

What do you do if they ask more?

1. Keep your ego in check.

You may be an awesome entrepreneur who does 1,000 different things and you’ll be dying to tell them about it all. Before you do, ask yourself if you need to.

Is what I’m saying relevant? Can I tell this person about what I do without going into the fine details?

It feels good to talk about all the cool, successful entrepreneurs you regularly have dinner with, but do they need to know that? Some people are touchy and they might think you’re just showing off.

Keeping things concise is usually the way to go.

2. They might not understand your jargon.

Terms like “SEO” and “SaaS” may seem obvious to you and I, but others might not have a clue what those mean.

When you spend most of your days surrounded by other entrepreneurs you begin to forget that not everyone thinks the same way you do. They also don’t read the same material you do, so they’re not familiar with Tim Ferriss or Eric Ries.

Simplify your explanation when you can and don’t assume they’ll understand everything you say.

3. Take them on a journey.

The importance of storytelling. Executives use it, successful companies with solid branding use it, and you can too! Okay, that sounded like an infomercial.

People enjoy stories and there are several scientifically backed reasons. According to Leo Widrich, our brains are evolutionally wired to enjoy stories.

Why?

Stories make us relate. They activate our brain’s language processing parts and light up the areas that normally light up when we’re actually experiencing those events.

Basically, our minds are living the events as they’re being told.

When you’re telling people about what you do you don’t want to make it a flat, boring story. They won’t remember because they’ll tune out before you even finish.

Give them solid examples instead.

“I help small companies find new creative ideas and increase revenue while simultaneously doing more of what they like to do.”

“Oh, that’s interesting,” says the stranger. “What sort of creative ideas?”

“Well, I recently worked with an entrepreneur that was having issues getting noticed in a crowded market. He had a lot of traffic coming to his site but saw that not too many people were buying his product.

I taught him a little about the importance of copywriting. No, not copyrighting which has to deal with movie or music licenses. The copywriting that has to do with using words to persuade the reader to take an action.

Anyway, I showed him that good copywriting could be the difference between getting .01% of your readers to buy and 25% buying. Then I showed him some good resources that beginners can dive into to get a feel. So I apply my knowledge to take a look at the existing gaps I see.”

The initial pseudo-elevator pitch I gave is vague enough to satisfy someone asking what I do, but it doesn’t give all the answers. When asked for examples, I told a story that showed a specific instance of me applying my skills.

It’s good to think of a simple example from your field. Remember, they don’t have the same background knowledge you do so cut out the use of jargon and shortcuts. You don’t want to lose them. Also, don’t use their curiosity as a way to show off how awesome you are.

Keep these stories in mind. Some people will be satisfied with your vague description, but more often than not, they’ll demand more.

There’s plenty to be said about how crafting your story can be great for growing your business, but I’ll leave that for a future post.

In the meantime, what tips can you share to help explain your business to people outside of your industry?

Photo Credit: Rachel Haller / Flickr


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Discussion
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  1. Hi Vincent,

    Hope your settled in after your adventurous trip !!

    I tend to feel that if your trying to tell people outside your area of expertise what you do, its often easiest to just simplify. I use o use this approach. inject relevant terms. But now I just say I build websites. The really interested ask more the rest walk on by..

    Ofocurse if your talking to somebody with more business knowledge then this is a solid approach.

  2. Kevin Cole says:

    I love this approach, Jonathan Mead’s formula is the perfect way to state what you do in a simple and non-braggy way. It’s also fantastic because it’s specific enough that it opens the door for an actual conversation based around your work.

    The story telling is also really solid. Taking someone through a story is much better on all fronts than trying to explain the intricacies of conversion rate optimization.

    Looking forward to implementing this man :)

  3. Jessica Sweet says:

    Hi Vincent! This is really helpful – no matter what industry you’re in. I think that we can often get swept up in our own industry stuff as you suggest and forget how to talk to people outside our industry. For me that’s a real problem, because almost all of my customers are coming from other industries. It’s a fine line to learn how to talk about things without sounding like you’re “dumbing them down” – it’s really about being able to be a good teacher. It’s harder than it looks! Thanks for the pointers!

    • Hey, Jessica! Yeah, you definitely want to avoid talking down to them. Sometimes I’m a bit too conscious of what I’m saying because I worry about it coming off as bragging. Going the storytelling route is much better and people freaking LOVE stories, so there’s no worry about talking down or anything. :)

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