Can You Answer This Basic Question?

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“What do you do for a living?”

That’s a question that far too many people dread, because they don’t have a good, compelling answer. They say something like, “I’m a lawyer,” or, “I’m a financial planner,” or, “I’m the drummer for the Beatles,” and then wonder why everybody quickly walks away. (Okay, they’re probably not going to walk away from that last one, but you get my point. And by the way—Ringo, if you’re reading this, give me a call. I miss our little chats.)

What’s the real problem here? These people are answering the wrong question. The question was not “What is your job title?” The question, if you’ll remember, was “What do you do for a living?” So, how should you answer this question?

By telling the person what you do. Duh. But what do I mean by this?

I mean that your answer shouldn’t be based on your job title, but on the results you achieve. For example:

  • “I help small businesses get more referrals than they know what to do with.”
  • “I make people look like a million bucks—for under a thousand.”
  • “I keep people out of jail.” (This one, by the way, could work equally well for a lawyer or a financial planner.)

Stacey Hall and Jan Brogniez, the authors of Attracting Perfect Customers, were in a networking meeting some time ago. When it was their turn to stand up and tell the rest of the attendees what they did, they realized they hadn’t even discussed this in advance. For a few seconds, they were at a loss as to what to say. Finally, in a moment of inspiration, Jan (or possibly Stacey; I don’t know, I wasn’t there—but it was one of them) said, “We make millionaires.” And then they sat down.

“We make millionaires.” Wow!

When the meeting was over, who do you think everybody wanted to talk to? (For you slower ones, the answer is Stacey and Jan.) But imagine if they had answered the question by saying, “We’re business consultants.” It would have been a lonely meeting for them. “Business consultants” is their job title. “Making millionaires” is what they do.

My friend, small business success expert Mark LeBlanc, refers to it as a Defining Statement. His goes like this:

“I work with people who want to start a business and small business owners who want to grow their business.”

Again, there’s no job title in there. His statement clearly defines the people he works with and the results he delivers. If you’re in one of the two groups he refers to, you’re going to want to talk to Mark! (And, by the way, if you are in one of these two groups, you really should talk to Mark!)

When you focus on benefits and results, you attract people. When you focus on job titles, you repel people. So I guess it’s really just a matter of which one you prefer.

So take some time and look at your own business. What results do people achieve after working with you, or buying from you? What are the benefits they can expect? The next time somebody asks you, “What do you do for a living?” you’ll no longer have to dread the answer.

[You, with that irritating smirk you always seem to have]: “All right then, Mr. Know-It-All. I know you’re a keynote speaker, you open a lot of conferences and conventions, and you talk about the Beatles, and success, and leadership, and you play music and show video and bring audience members up on stage—but let’s cut to the chase: ‘What do you do for a living?’


I make meetings unforgettable.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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