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Create Your Essential Message

Do you give a generic response—or worse yet, freeze up—when someone asks you what you do? Here are three steps to getting your message right.

By Michel Neray

Picture this. You’re out having coffee with a friend. An acquaintance of your friend happens to walk in and decides to sit down for a few minutes to chat. After you finish talking about the weather, the inevitable question comes up: “So, what do you do?” You’ve got 60 seconds. What do you say?

If the best you can muster is “I’m a financial advisor” or “I’m an insurance agent,” then you’ve just blown a golden opportunity to find your next client. The reality is that if you can’t articulate in a compelling manner who you are, what you’re especially good at and why someone would want to do business with you, the problem is worse than just blowing an opportunity to get a new client when you go for coffee.

Do you feel there’s no way you can sum up everything you do in a neat little phrase? Or that once people know what you do, they lump you in with a half-million other people who, on the face of it, appear to do the same thing?

The biggest reason people have so much trouble articulating a compelling message about their business is that they’re working from somebody else’s rulebook.
Throw away the rulebook
The biggest reason people have so much trouble articulating a compelling message about their business is that they’re working from somebody else’s rulebook. No doubt you’ve heard very specific instructions on the “correct” way to create a positioning line or the “correct” way to write an elevator speech. And, of course, everyone knows that you have to focus on high-level benefits and avoid negative statements, right? Well, this advice may be all wrong for you.

There’s no guarantee that what worked for someone else will work for you. And besides, if you use the same rules as everyone else does, you will end up sounding like them. So instead of trying to apply someone else’s rulebook, wouldn’t it be much more valuable for you to figure out the set of rules that work for you? Here are three things you can do to help you find your way.

1. Go to a lot of networking events and do “research.”
The most valuable thing you can take away from a networking event is not a bunch of business cards, but all the research you can gather on your essential message. Think of a networking event as a giant focus group you can use to discover what resonates with people about your business and what you have to offer. As you work the room, emphasize different aspects of your business. Ask a lot of questions about the kind of service the person would like to receive. Pay special attention to the reactions you get. If you truly listen, you might be surprised by what people find the most interesting and appealing about your business.

2. Ask your best clients.
Clients usually aren’t shy about telling you why they like doing business with you and what attracted them to you in the first place. But if you’re shy about asking them, get over it—or hire someone else to do it for you. Tell your best clients that you need their help to understand your business better. Be clear that the purpose of getting together isn’t about asking for new business or referrals (although new business and referrals often result from these kinds of meetings).

Be prepared to probe. When they tell you that they like the quality of your work, ask them what they mean by “quality.” Keep asking “Why?” “How come?” and “What do you mean?” to get the specific information that wasn’t obvious to either you or your client before. That’s when you know you’ve found the hidden value you provide. Remember that what may be no big deal to you may be extremely valuable to your clients.

3. Lighten up.
A big part of creating your essential message is allowing more of “you” to show up in everything you do. That simply won’t happen if you’re too serious. And no matter what you do to improve your sales and marketing messaging, it’s important to keep working on it.

Michel Neray is the creator of The Essential Message. He has helped thousands of independent professionals and growing corporations find a better way to differentiate, position and brand themselves. For information about Neray’s workshops, keynote speeches or eWorkbooks, or to sign up for his free newsletter, go to


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