The dreaded question for any new entrepreneur: “So … what do you do?” For someone embarking on a new “risky” career, that question can cause panic. Today, we’re confronting the gremlin that comes out to play when someone asks what you do and teaching you how to build confidence as a new entrepreneur.
I didn’t always mention that I was a coach when I first started out in 2008. I was afraid people wouldn’t understand what it was, or that they’d think I was a hippy, or that they’d question how I could possibly earn a living as a life coach (for Pete’s sake!).
I’ve heard similar things from my clients, especially those who leave stable, lucrative careers to pursue their creative passions. They feel dumb admitting they gave up “a sure thing” for the life of an artist. They fear that they’ll be judged unfairly about their new endeavor. And above all, they don’t know how to put this “weird” choice in a flattering light.
How to build confidence around the what-do-you-do question
1. Reflect on the “why.”
Why are you uncomfortable telling people about your new career? Why are you making excuses? How does it make you feel? (Yes, there’s a “How” in there, so sue me). Journal the answers to those questions and then, start thinking about possible solutions.
The why: “I’m afraid to reveal this because I don’t want someone to ask if I’m making a living, because I’m not—yet! I don’t want to have to prove myself to anyone or have them see me as flighty or idiotic by leaving a stable job in a bad economy.”
Possible solutions: “I’m going to let them know that I know it’s scary and risky, but that it’s a risk I’m secure taking. Maybe they’ll even see me as brave, or say that they always wanted to do something like that! I can tell them I’m certified and have been coaching for two years already, so I’ll be ready when I go out on my own. If anyone digs any further, well then: (1) they’re rude! and (2) it’s obviously a problem they have with themselves and has less to do with me!”
2. Write an elevator speech.
You have 30 seconds or less to describe what you’re doing—the length of an elevator ride. Imagine you’re applying for a job and have to sell yourself to the potential employer. What do you say to make yourself feel proud, while grabbing ’em & pulling ’em in? Well, you talk up your strengths and your accomplishments—don’t be afraid to boast!
So, instead of the Etsy exchange above, the artist could answer The Dreaded Question with, “I’ve decided to leave project management to pursue a lifelong dream of being a full-time artist. I opened up an online shop so that people can buy my paintings, and I just secured a booth to sell my stuff at the Brooklyn Flea, which is consistently winning “Best Of” awards. I’m just starting out, but I already got my first sale and have incorporated myself, so I’m on my way! I’m so happy to work for myself and pursue a career I’m really passionate about.”
3. Practice, practice, practice.
Write out your elevator speech and read it out loud to make sure you’re comfortable with it. Then, when you know it sounds and feels natural, practice it a few times so the key points stick in your head. You don’t have to memorize it & recite it like a robot, but take the Girl Scout motto to heart and Be Prepared! The best way how to build confidence for speaking in front of an audience is practice.
4. Keep a win book.
When someone gives you a kind word or a compliment, print it out and put it in a folder or a scrapbook (your Win Book). If someone says it audibly, write it down when you get home or keep a notebook in your purse or pocket to write in. If I get down on myself and think, “What have I done lately? Nothing, that’s what!” I go to my Win Book and see how I’m oh-so-wrong. It’s a great tool for a new entrepreneur!
5. Keep an accomplishment journal.
Every day, write down at least one thing you accomplished related to your goal. Whether you purchased the domain name to your new site, wrote a new blog post, started an email newsletter, or looked into taking a class, that’s progress! In the midst of your hectic day, you might not even recognize it as a step forward, but by writing it down, you’ll see that you’ve got some great ammunition.
Make sure to tie your celebration to a specific accomplishment. That way, you’ll condition yourself to feel good about a win, no matter how big or small. And that win might automatically come to mind the next time you’re asked The Dreaded Question. Just remember what you celebrated lately—you know what you’ve been doing right!
Okay, are you starting to look at The Dreaded Question as:
- A way to reaffirm for yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing?
- A way to let one more person know about your exciting new journey as an entrepreneur?
- A way to let that one person tell other people who might be looking to buy what you’re selling?
- A way to celebrate your accomplishments and be proud of the steps you’re taking to live your passion?
Then get out there and shout it from the rooftops! Sing from the mountains! Or just stand a little straighter when someone asks you The No Longer Dreaded Question!