"So what kind of work do you do?" This commonly asked question has stumped me for years. Even though people ask it often, I always seem to be caught off guard. I find myself verbally stumbling, trying to figure out the right words and phrases to encapsulate what I do. I end up throwing out some or all of the following in no particular order:
"I sew stuffed animals."
"I design sewing patterns for plush toys."
"I write craft books about sewing stuffed animals."
"I sell sewing patterns for stuffed animals online."
"I teach people to sew and to design their own stuffed animals."
"I license sewing patterns to companies."
"I sell the stuffed animals I make."
"And I'm a craft blogger."
Oh gosh. That's a lot to say, and I end up skipping something or emphasizing one thing that's really not the whole of my business. This question, "What kind of work do you do?" is both exciting (I love what I do and I want to tell everyone I meet all about it!) and stressful (It's hard to describe!).
Fundamentally, though, it is a simple question, I know it needs a simple answer. It needs an answer that's short and sums it all up. Something easy to wrap your head around even if the person I'm talking to doesn't sew, or has never heard of Etsy, or doesn't know what the term "softie" refers to. At the same time it needs an answer that doesn't minimize or trivialize my work. I don't want to make it seem like this is just a hobby I do once in a while.
I'd been thinking quite a bit recently about how to better frame my answer to this question. I needed a new elevator speech. I'm reading Kari Chapin's new book, Grow Your Handmade Business and her chapter on elevator speeches is what got me thinking about this topic initially.
Image by robinsonsmay on Flickr.
This week I was chatting about elevator speeches with my friend Stacey and she shared her elevator speech with me. Stacey and I both design patterns for stuffed animals, hers crocheted and mine sewn. We both write craft books. We both sell patterns online. We both teach, and blog. So I was keenly interested to hear how Stacey sums this all up when people ask her, "What kind of work do you do?"
Her answer is brilliant.
"I have a stuffed animal design company."
Image by derekskey on Flickr.
Why is this answer so smart? As Stacey pointed out, it appeals to different kinds of people and removes some of the words that can give the wrong impression or shut down the conversation.
People who are interested in small businesses ears perk up when they hear you run a company. These are many of the same people who shut down when you say that you sew, or crochet, or write a blog. But at the same time it leaves to door open for people who are interested in DIY or crafts or online commerce or blogging or teaching to ask more questions and start up a discussion.
And it really works!
Here's an example. This morning I was at the post office and the clerk asked me (again) why the package I was mailing was rattling. "What's in here?" she said.
"Craft supplies," I answered. "Rattle inserts for toys. I have a stuffed animal design business."
From behind me I hear a woman say, "Oh, wow, do you design stuffed animals?"
I explained what I do in more detail and it turned out that she was the editor of Fortune Small Business magazine for many years and continues to be a business writer. She was fascinated by my small business and we had a really nice chat that led out to the parking lot. When we parted I gave her my business card. It was awesome and you never know where these connections could lead.
Would the conversation have gone the same way if I had said, "I sew stuffed animals?". I don't think so.The word business, or company, adds gravity to your description and gets at the complexity of my day to day work life. And it's accurate and all encompassing. I work many, many (many) hours (some might say obsessively) on every aspect of Abby Glassenberg Design. Why not share that when meeting new people? It helps to create connections that I would otherwise have missed.
So let's hear it! Do you have an elevator speech? I know you do! Even if you're just starting out, if you take what you do seriously and you want to tell people about it, you need to be able to explain it.
Don't be shy. I just shared mine. Share yours in the comments, even if it's just an elevator speech in progress. Let's practice!