In this article I am going to be dealing with a little question that I have struggled with for some time now.
That question is “Hi David, so what do you do?”
People with what you might call ‘conventional’ businesses probably don’t struggle with this question. After all everyone knows basically what say, a mechanic does, or what a hairdresser does, or what an accountant does.
The people who do struggle with it tend to be part of the crowd that I belong to. They have a solo business in the coaching, training, consulting space. They often don’t have a conventional shop front or office and when people ask us that question…”what do you do?” it’s hard to know where to start and explain it in simple terms.
Why is that?
I can’t speak for everyone. However, I can talk about the trap I fell into, how it ultimately affected me and my business, and what I am doing to get really clear on what it is that I do and build my personal and business brand around that.
So about 18 months ago now, I found myself in a position where I was forced to stop making my business up as I went along and start thinking a lot more strategically. I was very busy but also very unhappy and could not explain to anyone exactly what it is that I do.
See since about 2010, I had been creating ‘busyness’ for myself rather than a business, and that busyness entailed pretty much saying yes to almost anything that came my way that I was capable of doing and could bring in a few dollars. I had a real fear that if I said “No” to anything the money would stop and I would be done.
So during that period from 2010 to 2019 the things I did in my busyness as opposed to business, included public speaking coaching and training, MC’ing events, organising and managing events, writing anything from website copy to email newsletters, general business documents, award submissions, and accreditations. I created quite a few full websites. I hosted pub trivia nights for about 9 years and for a while I was even a question checker for a quiz company. I have dabbled in social media management, general marketing consulting, printed marketing collateral, brochure distribution, video production. If someone said, “Hey David can you do this?” I’d give it a go.
For you, it might be a whole list of different activities, but if you can relate to falling into the same trap you are probably also aware that while it keeps you busy it comes with a few big problems you might also relate to.
Firstly, I figured out that while you can see the full picture, other people only see the tiny piece of you that they know.
For example, one day I was attending a tourism industry event in my town representing a major event that I was working with and I saw someone there who was a regular at one of the pub trivia nights I hosted. They looked dazed as they asked in a confused manner, “Hey Dave, sooo what are you doing here?” They actually couldn’t comprehend that I had other things going on outside of the two hours a week that they saw me and seeing me outside of the box they had me in, completely threw them. For them it was like an alien had taken over my body and they had no idea who I was.
Secondly…people can’t use or recommend your services if they don’t really understand what you do.
As someone who is very competitive by nature, even though I was generally busy, I used to get really upset if someone I had a connection with went to someone else for something that I could actually do. Sometimes, a bit later, when I was calmer, I might have even said them, “Hey not sure if you realised but did you know I could have done that job for you.” Typically, the response back would be something like “Oh okay. I wish I’d known that but to be honest David I don’t really know exactly what it is that you do.”
Thirdly, I was spread wide and thin, I didn’t have the time or resources to scale and build anything upwards, I felt trapped and started to resent my clients.
This was the tipping point where I realised I needed a new plan, well not so much a new plan, more like an actual plan full stop.
The first thing I did was start to think about each of the things I was doing for clients asking myself whether I was actually enjoying them and whether they were serving my long-term purpose.
Here’s a few of the things I realised…
While I love writing, I loathe doing it for other businesses when I am not interested in what they do or I don’t buy in to what they do. I will note that I do still offer writing services but for a very small group of select clientele who I feel in sync with.
Making websites…while I don’t mind making a nice looking website for someone, I’ve stopped doing it because that’s never the end of the story – there’s ongoing maintenance, trouble shooting, and associated services like email to be managed. This was one of my biggest time sucks and it’s still to this day a part of my business I am working on divesting and moving on to others who are better equipped to look after those clients.
Another one…while hosting pub trivia nights was really fun and involves speaking, it’s different to the type of speaking I want to do more and in terms of branding it just didn’t line up with what I want to be known for?
And what is it that I do want to be known for?
The thing that brings me the most personal satisfaction is my communication skills training business.
I love sharing what I have learned about communication with others. I love being able to create content and develop training around something I am passionate about. And most of all, I love seeing the transformation in people when they work with me and apply what I am teaching them.
So of course, just as I was coming to this decision that I wanted to focus on my training business, a thing called COVID 19 happened which benched my plans to run workshops for a while. However, it also gave me some space to get even clearer on what I am about, and how I wanted to grow my business. That in turn has led to some further study that I’m undertaking to grow what I can offer in future.
With the decision made, I want to share some of the process that I have been working through to eventually reach a point where I am doing less of the things I don’t want to do and more of the things I do want to do.
Firstly, in terms doing less of the things I didn’t want to do…
I stopped doing pub trivia nights in mid-2019. The circumstances were actually very unfortunate in that there was a major fire at the hotel I was working at. But it was an appropriate time to put a full stop on that part of my business
The writing work was a bit harder to wind back. A lot of it was coming from one client – a web development firm who had me writing website copy for their clients. They also contributed a significant chunk to my cashflow. In the end I really just had to take a leap of faith and count on being able to use the extra time to replace the revenue. With regards to managing the relationship, it was a matter of communicating openly and letting them know in advance what was on my mind before ultimately asking to be cut loose.
Divesting the website clients is still a work in progress. I acquired most of them by virtue of the fact that there are still a lot of people out there who have small businesses that aren’t savvy when it comes to the online world so they need someone to hold their hand. Plus I’m not one to just disappear and leave them stranded. So it has been a case of having to slowly figure out what they need going forward and match them up with someone who can meet those needs.
So what about doing more of the things I want to do?
Remember what I said about saying “Yes” to everything out of fear because you want to make sure the money is coming in? Well it is a real challenge. You do have to balance the need to feed your family and put a roof over their head right now with a long-term strategy that will allow you to be clear about what you want to do.
To be frank, it’s a topic that is waaay too big to tackle in one blog post (people have written books about this) however I do want to offer three brief pointers. The first two address the immediate revenue need when you suddenly go from saying “Yes” to everything to being very specific about what you will say “Yes” to. And the third is about getting clarity so that what you are putting out into the world does attract more of what you want to say yes to.
One, you can’t sell anything if you’ve got nothing to sell. This might seem incredibly obvious but I am always surprised by people who go into coaching training or consulting without having a concrete product or service to sell. Yes, you can develop more products and more services as you go, but you have to have something to sell to get the money rolling in right now.
Two. You need to push past your self-doubt and your fear of being judged and you need to do it now.
I have had a workshop called Public Speaking Bootcamp that I have run a couple of times a year in my local area where lots of people know me but there’s always been a reason, in my mind, why I couldn’t run it in other places – nobody knows who I am, things are too busy with our family, then COVID was a great excuse there for a while.
My current truth is that I need to start running this workshop in other places in order to actually become known outside my backyard and in order to serve my family. With regards to COVID, I am actually finding that there is a renewed demand for real learning experiences that wasn’t there before – you just need to have a plan B in the event of an outbreak changing plan A.
Three. You need to get crystal clear and own your personal brand especially when you are the business.
Now you might hear the term personal brand and think it’s just a buzzword for people like social media influencers. Wrong. Like it or not, no matter who you are, you have a personal brand.
That’s because your personal brand is what people associate with your name. If you’re an employee your personal brand is the values, the skills and the qualities that your workmates, your employer and your clients associate with you. If you are looking to raise your profile in your community, your personal brand is the list of things that other people in your community associate with you. And if you are looking to build your solo business, your personal brand and your business brand are inextricably intertwined.
I have to tell you, in the past my brand has been a hot mess and the result has been, as I said earlier, people saying things like “Honestly David, I don’t understand exactly what it is that you do.”
So to that end, yes, I am in an ongoing process of making sure that what I am putting out into the world has clarity, and is a genuine reflection of what I am about. That’s the other thing about a good personal brand, it’s not fake, it’s the real you. That doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of your life with complete strangers, but that what you do choose to share is genuine.
Okay, now having said all that, I do have a confession. I have kept one little sideline as a separate business activity because going back to that revenue issue, I still need to have a safety net in just in case. For some people, they keep a part-time job while working in their business. For me, I work a side-business that can be built up if it suddenly becomes my main business. I get that that goes against a lot of what I just said, and it is true that the clients of that business don’t see me as David Wise, communication skills trainer. They see me as the person who runs that business. However, the thing is, I don’t really need to promote it publicly because it works just fine on the clients it already has without me needing to put mixed messages out into the world publicly. The point is, while it’s not ideal in terms of having a razor sharp personal brand, until your main business is making the income you need, it is a very good idea to have a safe place to land.
So to recap what we’ve talked about today,nas a solo business person in the coaching, training and consulting space my fear of what would happen if I said “No” led me down a path where I was making my business up as I went. Because I had no clear strategy, I was busy doing a lot of things that weren’t much fun for me and resented not being able to do more of the things I did enjoy. The process of turning that around is still ongoing but at least can see I’m headed in the right direction. In order to get to this point, I’ve had to get very clear on what I want people to associate with me, start saying “No” to things that muddied my brand and “Yes” to the things that strengthened it.