How To Answer the Question, "What Do You Do?" - Mallory Whitfield

How To Answer the Question, “What Do You Do?”

I recently attended a networking event for creative entrepreneurs here in New Orleans, the Made In Mind Social. As often happens at this type of event, that inevitable question comes up… “So… What do you do?”

Arrgggh… I never know just quite how to answer it! Right?? It’s a problem that plagues us all at some point. A few days before Made In Mind, I was reading this great article by Alexandra Franzen on How to Tell People What You Do—and Be Remembered. It struck a chord, big time. I promptly scribbled down some notes for myself – one copy for my bulletin board and one copy to keep in my purse. I don’t have it quite memorized, and maybe it still needs a little tweaking to roll off the tongue at parties, but here goes…

I help artists and entrepreneurs spread the word about their work, and I help them learn how to do it themselves. My mission is to inspire and empower others.

Summing up what I do so succinctly has been a struggle for me because my business and blog have changed and evolved so much over the years. I started Miss Malaprop back in 2006 (but started learning about blogging and HTML via LiveJournal in 2001). When I started, my goal was to build a brand and bootstrap my way to my then goal of owning a brick & mortar retail shop selling handmade and eco-friendly goods. I began by using this blog to share cool products I’d discovered on Etsy as well as eco-friendly brands and tips for green living.

I learned a lot as my business evolved… I had my own online shop for awhile selling both my own handmade goods as well as handmade and eco-friendly products by other artists and designers. I also hustled my butt off selling all of those goodies at in-person events like art markets, craft fairs and festivals around New Orleans and beyond. During that period, I also worked full-time for the Louisiana State Museum, managing a computer database with information about hundreds of thousands of historic objects. Then I left that job to devote more time to my biz and went back to working part-time in retail at Trashy Diva to supplement my income.

Also during that time, I went through training from the Louisiana Small Business Development Center as well as the Urban Entrepreneur Partnership. I also purchased The Retail Mastery System, an amazing training program for brick & mortar retailers that I highly recommend.

Along the way, I realized that my dream of owning a retail store just wasn’t my dream anymore. I have a strong desire to travel more, and I just didn’t want to be tied down to a location dependent business that would require me to be there all of the time. (Also, my friend Angee already owns what is pretty much my dream store here in New Orleans, Miette. So I feel okay about letting that dream fade…)

After realizing that my dream had changed, I went through a period of not being entirely clear on what my new dream was. I knew I’d always be entrepreneurial; it’s just the way I’m built. I knew that I had amassed a heck of a lot of knowledge about a whole lot of things, but still had plenty more learning to do. (The day I die is the day I will stop seeking to learn.)

I started doing freelance work for a few friends, helping them with their online marketing efforts, and I applied for a part-time job as SEO Coordinator at FSC Interactive. I took the skills I’d learned through years of blogging and running my own websites to land a job there in January 2014, which quickly turned into a full-time position. (And oh, hey… as of May 2015, I’m no longer SEO Coordinator, but a Search Analyst instead. Ain’t I fancy?) In the course of about a year and a half, I’ve doubled my income, between my career change and online earnings.

And now? I love my day job (seriously, it was voted one of the best places to work in New Orleans!), but long-term, I know I’m meant for something bigger. In January 2015, I started sharing my online income reports, and at the same time I also embarked on a personal mission to hit 1,000 followers on Instagram. (I was at 750 then.) In just two months, I hit my goal of 1,000, and as of now, I’m on a trajectory to nearly double my original following by the end of June, which is pretty cool.

I’ve had numerous friends reach out to me and remark on how much they’ve enjoyed reading my income reports and my daily Insta inspiration. That alone is enough to keep me going and make me know that I’m on the right track. I’ve had to figure out a WHOLE lot of stuff the hard way, and if I can help to shorten other people’s journey, or just brighten their day, then it’s totally worth it.

I guess that all brings me back to my first point… how DO you answer that inevitable question, “What do you do?”

For me, trying to sum up everything I just told you into a pithy soundbite is impossible. But the next time someone asks me, I’ll start with my why. My mission. Inspiring and empowering others to do more and dream bigger. I want to see a more equal world, and to do that, we ALL need to follow our why. We need to share our why with others. We need to become more transparent with each other about why we do the things we do, whether that’s in our daily lives or in business.

When I started this blog in 2006, my mission statement was much longer, but at its heart it was basically the same. It’s about changing the world. Yeah… that’s a pretty lofty goal, but changing the world happens bit by bit, person by person. And if I’m inspiring a single person to have a better day or dream a bigger dream, that kind of feeling spreads. Negativity is catching, but so is optimism. And I’d much rather be the chief spreader of joy, optimism and knowledge than anything else.

More ideas on how to answer the question, “What do you do?”

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Do you believe that art, creativity, innovation, and kindness can change the world? If you answered “Heck yeah!” then this is the podcast for you. Badass Creatives is hosted by Mallory Whitfield and features marketing and business advice for creatives, as well as interviews with a diverse range of handmade artists, performers, makers, and creative entrepreneurs.