The Definition Dilemma Faced by Living Freelance

by Chris King

I find one of the most challenging situations I face as a free agent, independent professional, and freelancer is telling people what I do. I have mentioned that I have a "Portfolio Career" (many different careers at the same time), so when I am asked, "And what do you do?" I don't have a straight-forward answer, like "lawyer, doctor, or football player."

I feel that this can be an advantage, if approached properly. Therefore, in this article, I am going to discuss this definition dilemma, ways to attack it, and pose some questions that can help direct those of us who love living a freelance life.

Avoid labels. Mark Sanborn, a successful entrepreneur/speaker told a group of us an interesting fact about using a label for what we do. He said that if we say we are a consultant, doctor, speaker, lawyer, banker, etc. right away whoever is listening not only jumps to an incorrect conclusion about us, but also often has some preconceived notion - good or bad, but many times bad - about our profession. He suggested that if we feel we need some description on our business card, pick an all encompassing, non-specific title. For example, his was "Small Business Resource." Mine is "Creative Resource" which serves as an umbrella for all of my professions - writing, storytelling, web site design and development, speaking, training, and fitness instructing. When someone looks at your card and/or asks, "And what do you do?" you want them to react with enough interest that they will ask another question.

Develop a short, unique sentence that will whet others' interest. This exercise will not only help you get attention from others, but will also help you to define who you are, who you work for, and what you do. If you are at all like me and other free agents, independent professionals, and freelancers, you probably have many skills and talents, but have trouble narrowing a description down to a short, punchy sentence. The first step is to decide what it is that you love doing the most and want others to know about. Then, ask yourself who would benefit from this activity/work and for whom would you prefer working. What groups do you already have a working relationship with already? Finally, determine what this target group needs the most. Now, it is time to formulate you opening sentence. Mine is: "Everyone has a compelling story. I help small businesses and non-profits tell their stories to the people who need to hear them." In other words, I use my writing, storytelling, communication, and web site design and development skills to help small businesses and non-profits with their marketing. I think that you would agree that the first sentence is more interesting and leads to more questions.

Practice and test your defining sentence.
There is only one way to find out if your new definition works. First of all, write it down, tape it and practice saying it until you feel comfortable and the sentence becomes second nature. Now it is time to find out if it works. Attend as many meetings and networking events as possible. After you ask someone what he or she does and have listened with obvious interest, that person will ask you what you do. Hit them with your unique sentence, and watch for the reaction. Not everyone will enthusiastically ask for more information, but if several do, you are on your way. Now, it is time to tweak and polish, and then work on follow-up answers to others' questions. The more often you use the words, the more natural and fun the process becomes. Be prepared to feel a bit awkward in the beginning, because your answer isn't the standard, expected answer. As you get good feedback, however, you will start enjoying the whole process and also start increasing business and your potential client base.

How do I handle defining my occupation on Internet forms?
I have a feeling that you encounter the same problems I do when filling out the various registration forms on the Internet. Many ask you to pick your occupation - and, of course, have only one choice you can make. If you pick "other" then you are asked to specify what it is on a line below, but are not given room for more than one career. So what's a free agent to do? I figure: just don't worry about it. I started picking other and filling in "portfolio career." If they are confused, that is OK. It makes me feel a lot better than saying I am someone I am not!

Send me your defining sentence once you have worked on it. I would love to list some of them on this site along with paragraphs about the reaction and feedback you have received.


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