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What do you do?

Nine questions cover the key facts that business contacts will want to know about you and your business. Answer them, and commit them to memory.

I was horrified at a networking event some years ago, when I overheard someone ask another attendee "and what are you?" As questions go, it’s pretty direct, but it does seem to me like the questioner wanted to put people very firmly in boxes marked ‘accountant’, ‘lawyer’ and so on. People love to classify other people. It makes us feel comfortable. It makes it much simpler to deal with the complexities of society. It lets us ignore the individual differences, and focus on similarity.

Personally, though, I take great delight in helping people break out
of that kind of box. It’s what personal branding is all about: working
out all the ways in which you are totally unlike anyone else that might
be ‘lumped in’ with you by the uninformed, and then making sure that as
few of the right people remain uninformed as possible.

If you’ve ever struggled to tell convey what you do to someone and make
it sound unique, try asking yourself the following nine questions.

  1. Who are you? What is the name that you want to be known by professionally? Until I got into personal branding I would sometimes call myself Rob, sometimes Robert. I’d sometimes use just one surname, sometimes both. But if even you aren’t consistent in naming your brand, how can you expect clients to find you?
  2. What do you do? This is a one sentence, one line if you can manage it, description of your value.
  3. What does this mean in practice? Explain it in a way that a 12-year old could understand it. What you do and most importantly why.
  4. What kind of client suits you? A brief, but identifiable description of your target audience – if someone can’t think of  another person who might fit the profile when you describe it then you need to work on this.
  5. Why should I care? Now we’re getting into value. What does your service mean to the client? How is it different? What benefit will they get? And if possible, what’s the benefit of that benefit? How will they feel after working with you?
  6. What mistakes will you prevent me from making? I love this question. If you can pinpoint a couple of things that your clients typically do wrong before they’ve started working with you, and if those mistakes are ones that lots of people can associate with, then you have a powerful value proposition.
  7. Give me an example of a client you’ve worked with. People will ask you for examples of what you’ve done. So have a story ready to give them.
  8. Why should I trust you? What credentials and experience – formal or informal – have you got that qualify you to do this work, and more importantly, to be the one person your clients should go to?
  9. What will it cost me? Not long after I set up my own firm, I was caught out when someone asked me in a meeting "so what would you charge to work with me?" It wasn’t a sales meeting, and I wasn’t in sales mode. We had been discussing how new her business was, and the lack of clients, and I’d been sharing with her some of the tools I used with clients to grow their business, but I knew cash was tight, so I started to debate in my own mind – very visibly, unfortunately – whether I should charge my usual rate or charge what I thought she could afford. That hesitation lost me the client. ALWAYS know what your work is worth, and don’t be shy about saying it. I now apply a very simple rule: full rate or no rate. In other words, I will charge someone what I’m worth, or I will work pro bono with a handful of people as my way of putting value into society. But I never cut my rates. If you’re an employee the same rules apply. Always know what you’re worth in the market. If you drop your salary expectations in an interview, make very sure it’s because you’re getting value some other way from that position, and not just because you need the job.

So there you have it. Between them those nine questions cover the key facts that business contacts will want to know about you and your business. Answer them, and commit them to memory. Tell them to as many people as you can, get feedback, refine them, but above all make these answers automatic.

If you want a ‘worked example’ then look at my own answers in the new Media Room at 

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