By  , Digital Sales & Marketing Coach

How do I answer “what do you do” and avoid glazed-over eyes, as a small business owner?

How do I answer “what do you do” and avoid glazed-over eyes, as a small business owner?

Okay, let’s be honest.

That dreaded question – “What do you do?”

It pops up everywhere: networking events, co-working spaces, at your children’s activities, maybe even in line at the coffee shop.

Now, you could give your standard answer – your job title, a quick summary of your business – but let’s face it, that’s a pretty good way to make eyes glaze over.

And even if you put more thought into it, people’s eye STILL glaze over!

But here’s the thing, as a small business owner, you have something special.

You have passion, drive, a purpose for putting your energy into this business.

Imagine if you could transform that “what do you do?” moment into a chance to actually spark interest and leave a lasting impression.

Let’s ditch the boring and make people sit up and listen!

Because here’s the secret, people don’t just connect with what you do, they connect with why you do it – as expertly told to us by Simon Sinek.

They want to see that fire in your eyes, understand the problem you’re out there to solve. They want to feel inspired by your business.

That’s what I’m here to help you with – getting people excited about what you’ve built and eager to learn more.

Why “What do you do?” Isn’t Cutting It

Think about that last conference you attended.

Remember those rows of booths – software companies, marketing agencies, maybe even manufacturers showcasing their latest products?

Sure, what each business offered was different, but if they all focused on the what – “We build project management software,” “We offer social media growth strategies” – how many would truly stand out in your memory?

That’s the problem with simply stating what you do.

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of similar-sounding businesses.

Potential clients, valuable partners, even engaged employees need something more.

They want to be inspired, to feel the spark that sets you apart.

Just imagine those conversations shifting focus.

What if, instead of just listing features, that software company led with how they help teams stay joyfully organised?

Or what if the marketers shared their passion for helping purpose-driven businesses find their voice?

Wouldn’t that change your perspective?

It’s the same for your business.

How do you ensure people understand the real value you create and the passion that drives your entire team?

The Power of Starting with WHY

Alright, now that we’ve ditched the “what do you do?” trap, let’s unlock the real magic – your WHY.

Think of it as the heartbeat of your business, the reason you get out of bed in the morning, and what keeps your team pushing forward.

It’s about more than just products or services.

Here’s the thing, people connect with purpose.

They want to know what problem you’re solving, what change you want to see in the world, or even the simple joy you create with your business.

When you tap into that core motivator, you transform conversations from ordinary to extraordinary.

Let’s take a flower shop as an example.

Sure, they sell flowers, but their WHY might be spreading joy through beautiful arrangements, or creating moments of connection for the community.

Now, think about a B2B example… maybe an IT company. Instead of being just about software and support, their WHY could be empowering businesses to operate seamlessly, letting them focus on what they do best.

By starting with this deeper motivation, you invite people into the story of your business.

This builds genuine curiosity.

Clients see how their needs align with your mission. Potential partners realise you share a vision.

And guess what?

This kind of connection makes you unforgettable.

Want to feel that fire yourself?

Here’s a question: What gets you truly excited about coming to work each day?

Is it a problem you’re dead-set on solving for people?

A community you want to lift up?

A specific feeling your products or services create?

That’s the start of your WHY.

Three Steps for Crafting Your WHY-Led Answer

Alright, now that you have a better grasp on your WHY, let’s turn it into something you can actually use in those real-world conversations. Here’s the breakdown:

Step #1: Don’t Lead with the “What”

I know it’s tempting to default to your job title or a list of what you do. But resist that urge!

Remember, those details can come later.

The first thing you want to do is grab their attention with your bigger purpose.

Step #2: Lead with Your WHY

This is where you share the heart of your business.

It could be a short sentence or two about the problem that keeps you up at night… or the positive impact you’re passionate about creating.

Here’s where I like to ask my clients: If your business was wildly successful, what would that success look like?

Would your clients be more confident and empowered?

Would your community be a little more vibrant?

Would your industry be better off because of your solutions?

That’s a great start.

Step #3: Follow Up with the “What” and “How”

Once you’ve shared your WHY, then you’ve set the stage perfectly to dive into the specifics of your what and how.

You can talk about the products or services that help you achieve your mission, and maybe even give examples of the practical ways you make a difference.

Important Note: Keep it concise!

This doesn’t have to be your whole elevator pitch.

The goal is to hook their interest, to get them asking questions and wanting to know more.

Ready to try this out for yourself? Don’t worry, we’ll get into examples in the next section!

Putting it into Practice

Okay, now I know you’re probably wondering how this translates to actual conversations. Don’t worry, let’s break it down into a few common situations:

Scenario 1: The Networking Event

You’re chatting with someone new, and the inevitable “What do you do?” pops up. Instead of your standard response, try something like this:

  • “I’m passionate about bringing locally-sourced, healthy foods directly to people in our community.” (That’s the WHY)
  • “I run a neighborhood grocery delivery service focused on sustainable products.” (That’s the WHAT & HOW)

But hang on, it’s still a bit boring.

  • Try this: “You know how hard it is to find fresh, healthy food that actually supports local farmers? I’m on a mission to fix that.” (WHY) “That’s why I run a neighbourhood grocery delivery service focused entirely on sustainable products.” (WHAT & HOW)

This version taps into a common frustration, showing you understand the customer’s pain point.

See the difference? It sparks curiosity about what you offer and what drives you.

Scenario 2: The Informal Chat

Maybe you’re making small talk with a client’s partner, or another parent at a sporting event. Here’s where you can weave in your WHY more organically:

  • “You know, I’m really dedicated to helping businesses streamline their operations so their teams can be more efficient. That’s what my company does.”

It’s conversational, yet establishes your core focus.

But it’s still a bit boring, so maybe something like this:

  • Try this: “It drives me crazy to see talented people bogged down by outdated systems and processes. I help businesses reclaim that lost time and energy, so they can focus on what they do best.”

This taps into the desire for less frustration and more focus, showing the tangible benefits of your services.

Scenario 3: The Pitch

Whether you’re formally pitching to an investor or simply outlining your services to a potential client, starting with WHY sets the right tone:

  • “We believe every small business should have access to beautiful, functional websites that help them thrive. That’s why we offer affordable, customised web design packages.”

But again, maybe a bit boring.

  • Try this: “Have you ever looked at your website and cringed? A great website is your virtual storefront, and we’re passionate about helping businesses make an amazing first impression.” (WHY) “That’s why we offer affordable web design packages tailored to your specific needs.” (WHAT & HOW)

This version puts the client’s problem front and centre, showcasing your WHY as the solution.

This shows you understand your ideal client’s needs and are driven to solve them.

Key Points:

  • Show, Don’t Tell: Don’t just say you’re passionate, show it! Use language that evokes emotion or paints a picture.
  • Problem-Solution Focus: Your WHY should often highlight either a problem you aim to solve or a positive outcome you help create.
  • Authenticity is Key: Don’t try to force it – your WHY should resonate with you and your specific business.

Feel free to suggest other scenarios, and I’ll gladly offer more exciting ways to incorporate your WHY!

Making it Your Own

The examples above are just starting points.

Craft your own WHY-led statement that feels genuine and aligns with your business.

And here’s a tip: Practice it out loud!

Reciting your answer helps it feel natural when those real-time conversations happen.

Remember, this isn’t about memorising a script. Be open to refining it, tweaking it based on the situation, and letting it evolve as your business grows.

Beyond the Elevator Pitch

Starting with your WHY isn’t just about transforming those external conversations. It has a ripple effect within your business.

When your entire team understands the deeper purpose behind their work, it fosters a sense of shared mission.

Think about it. Motivated employees who feel connected to something bigger are your best brand ambassadors.

Let’s not forget that your WHY also shapes your overall brand identity.

Communicating it consistently builds trust and allows you to truly resonate with those ideal clients or partners who share your values.

Over to you

Ready to uncover the heart of your business?

Here’s a simple exercise:

  1. Think about your customers or clients: What are their biggest pain points that you help solve?
  2. What positive change do you want to see? How do you want your business to contribute to your community or industry?
  3. What gets you up in the morning? What’s that spark that keeps you and your team pushing forward?

Jot down your answers. Somewhere within them, you’ll find the building blocks of your WHY.

Additional Tips

  • Storytelling is Powerful: Don’t be afraid to add a personal touch to your WHY statement. Did a specific experience spark the idea for your business? Share it! People connect with stories.
  • Authenticity Wins: Don’t force a WHY that doesn’t feel right. Your passion and genuine purpose should shine through every time you open your mouth about your business.

Remember, this is an ongoing journey.

Your WHY may evolve as your business grows.

Embrace the process, and watch how focusing on the heart of what you do transforms how people understand, relate to, and become passionate about your business.

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