“What do you do for a living?”

This question tends to evoke either fear and stomach knots or an eagerness that borders on fanaticism in those of us who work for ourselves in creative fields.

It can be hard to describe what you do quickly and clearly both in person or on your website. You need to find a balance between clarity and curiosity. Most importantly, you need to make your answer about other people.

PSST: Stop guessing when I publish new posts and get articles like this in your inbox every Sunday.

Your answer should be an opening volley to a conversation that the other person actually wants to have. If you describe what you do well, there’ll be more questions asked and more importantly, the other person will remember, share or even end up (further down the road) giving you money.

As an introvert (note: I was introverted and weird before it was cool… sort of like a hipster introvert), I’ve found the best way to deal with conversations is to make the conversation about the other person/people. This takes the spotlight off me, and I’ve also found that most people value conversations more when they get to share their two cents and have their specific questions/concerns answered.

If you think about it, the question “what do you do for a living?” when you’re self-employed (and therefore selling something), has almost nothing to do with you. Why you exist, why you’re important, and what your product does, are all topics that tend not to draw people in. Without context first, those points just seem like you enjoy talking about yourself.

What’s more important and interesting is how you serve your audience and what value you provide to the people you connect with.

Every business exists to serve. If your service is valued, then the right people will pay for it. A business only matters because it makes someone’s life better, less painful, or offers something else positive to the person on the receiving end.

For myself, I tend to lead with this:

“I help remarkable creative folks build websites and I show people the ropes of self-publishing and freelancing.”

I could just say that I design websites and write books. That’s both uninteresting and not entirely descriptive. The conversation would likely end there. Worse, it’s horribly egocentric. I’d rather describe the type of people I enjoy working with, and how what I do helps them.

Describe what you do in the context of the people your business serves.

This immediately transforms the conversation from a boring sales pitch into a demonstration of how helpful you could be for them, and why you’re so committed to seeing your audience succeed.

Because really, that’s what you do.