It has been happening for some time now, probably since I shuttered my design business, definitely since I quit acting, but the polite and puzzled apologies that "I don't know exactly what it is that you do" have escalated to a point where I can no longer shrug, laugh or otherwise play them off.
"I write and I talk" is true, but coy. It's good for keeping myself clear on my priorities, but is far from useful to anyone else.
"I do marketing consulting for solopreneurs and very small businesses" is true, but leaves out a lot. Like me, for instance. I mean, please, do I look like a marketing consultant? (For that matter, do I write like a marketing consultant?) By which I really mean, "Do I do anything that looks like a descriptor you'd find in a drop-down list titled 'Employment', wedged between 'Manufacturing' and 'Media'?" I do not. At least, I hope not.
My attempts at self-description have been many, but ultimately disappointing.
First, because not being able to succinctly describe what it is that I do is embarrassing, to say the least, a whole lot of "physician, heal thyself" going on there.
Also, it's ungracious. It's confusing, which wastes everyone's time, ungracious! (Worse, it makes some people feel stupid, like they're missing something, and that's beyond ungracious, it's so mean as to be unacceptable.)
Finally, it makes me a lot less money. Because as any graduate of Marketing 101 knows, given you can deliver the goods (the "All Things Being Equal" Rule), to be easily categorized is to be easily recalled, recommended and other good things that begin with "r". Like "rich," which seems like it would be delightful, if only for the possibilities it promises regarding the equitable (i.e., by me) redistribution of wealth. Although to be able to fill up the car without feeling faint, visit the doctor as necessary, and at least occasionally buy the good tea wouldn't hurt, either.
* * * * *
What has sustained me throughout my feeble, murky swipes at self-promotion has been this: the great reward of doing at least some of what I love every day; and the equally great (and incredibly humbling) reward of being appreciated for it. Getting hired despite my laughable inadequacies around making myself hirable is the most tangible, not to mention remarkable, form of appreciation, but the support of readers throughout these six-plus years I've been slinging hash on the interwebs has been no less important.*
If you take nothing else from this post, that would be a good thing to take: You must in some small way always provide your own source of joy through some kind of work, whether it's things or ideas or self-improvement or self-understanding. And if you do it with all your might, chances are good the universe will throw a bone your way.
* * * * *
Here's how I have talked about myself that might serve as a starting point for wrestling this bear to the ground:
- I help creative people sell themselves effectively in the postmodern marketplace. (on Biznik)
- I provide creatively-minded people with the tools, ideas and practices they need to share their awesomeness with the world. (on my current "hire me" page)
- I help entrepreneurs get clear on their core truth and assist them in finding the best ways possible for putting it out there. (on LinkedIn)
- Better living through content strategy.** (on Facebook)
Each falls short in its own, special way. The LinkedIn one falls so far short that if it were a person, he would have cracked its chin open on the curb and been rushed to urgent care for stitches.
But they are the truth, if a little lackluster and faint of voice. They can't touch my mission statement*** for awesomeness and other things that get me up in the morning, but they are a place to begin.
* * * * *
I will eventually, as the Brits say, get this sorted. In the meantime, I'm going to do something radical (for me): not worry about it. Nope. I'm going to go about fixing things, here and there, tweakity-tweak, again, just as I advise certain clients to do. This is an iterative process, getting clear on who we are. And, given the current and projected future rate of change, will probably continue to be so. Over the past week, I've added:
- clearer "contact me" info (because really, I was kind of a jackass about making people hunt it down)
- social sharing buttons on each post (because really, "ditto" for making it harder for people to share my work)
- dedicated "consulting" and "speaking" buttons in the top navigation (because what? I want to make it HARDER for people to hire me?)
It's scary, and it's fun. And it's good for me, because this is the kind of stuff I help other people do, and the more I understand exactly where, how and why it's scary, and come up with ways of handling it so it's fun, simple and sustainable, the better off we'll all be.
P.S. If you're reading this in email, I'd love for you to click through and take a look at that top navigation. And if something looks hinky to you, or is in any way confusing, to let me know in the comments or privately, via email.
P.P.S. If it isn't obvious, this is one of the most excruciatingly painful posts I've ever written. I wasn't kidding about that embarrassment factor, above. On the other hand, for some of us, excruciating pain is the only thing that will move us off the dime. So here's hoping!
*It is one of the chief reasons I encourage writers to blog, the other being a weird kind of accountability it creates. And this doesn't even get into that other "hot" reason, the author platform.
**I didn't realize that this was a "thing" until about a year ago, when my friends at Mule Design assigned it to me in a bio for that year's BattleDecks. The Mules are nothing if not articulate, and I find much to emulate in the way they move through the world. They've been particularly astute over the last several months about intentionally raising their profile, executing each move with style and grace, and, in a way that deeply satisfies me, reinforcing the truth of The Three Behaviors. Which is good, because they're all over my presentation. Anyway, since discovering this magical thing of "content strategy," I've been devouring books and other, uh, content on the topic. As it turns out, much of what I do could be summed up fairly well as being content strategy. Expect more on this topic, including a series of book reviews, in the coming months.
***"To be a joyful conduit of truth, beauty and love." Everyone should have a mission statement, just not one of those icky, '80s-corporate, b.s.-style ones.