Big day for us a couple of weeks ago; my oldest son, Evan, graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis. My wife Linda and I flew down from Boston to wallow in the festivities.
We’d been to Memphis a few times before, but not in the two years since Evan moved off campus to an apartment with friends Chandler and Jason. And so we were curious to see the place.
All in all, it turned out to be more or less what you’d expect from three twenty-something guys living together:
A display of empty beer bottles on a shelf; furniture that could generously be described as “weary;” a lone condom taped to the living room wall with these handwritten instructions: “In case of emergency, break seal. Warning: alarm will sound.”
The boys live on the bottom floor of a two-story house and share a gravel parking lot out back with the house next door. Theoretically, the parking lot holds ten cars.
I say “theoretically,” because it’s just a gravel area. According to Evan, that means that as people arrive – particularly if there are just one or two other cars present when they do – they park haphazardly. The result is that when cars nine and ten show up, there’s often no more room.
And so Evan came up with what I thought was a pretty clever idea.
He bought a bunch of wooden stakes and found a big sheet of red plastic. Then he created “parking spots,” by stapling plastic strips to the stakes and pounding them into the ground at appropriate intervals along the edge of the lot.
Now, when people show up to park – even if there are no other cars in the lot – they place their cars in-between the stakes.
There are several things I like about this solution: It cost next to nothing ($4) and it solved a real problem.
But the thing I like most is that it didn’t require convincing the other tenants to play along. It didn’t even involve explicit instructions. People just naturally – and somewhat subconsciously – starting parking in the spots created.
Which got me thinking about you and me (I’m on the job 24/7).
Specifically, how do we solve our “word of mouth” problem? In other words, like parking in Evan’s lot, how do we get people to “naturally and somewhat subconsciously” tell others about us?
Because if you can figure that out, you benefit not just from the things you do and say, but from the legions of people you know and interact with who send others your way.
As with Evan’s solution, there are two important stipulations: It can’t require convincing people to want to help you (sorry, but they are busy with their own stuff). And it can’t require a learning curve (ditto).
And so when it comes to describing the work you do, I have three recommendations:
- Keep it simple. I know you’ve done many wonderful things in your career and that you are capable of even more. But if you try to jam all that into the way you describe your work, you’ll lose me from the start.
Remember, it’s called “word of mouth,” not “word of here’s five case studies, my bio and a list of every company I’ve ever worked with.”
Give me one thing to remember about you and maybe, just maybe, I’ll share that down the line with somebody else.
- Keep it narrow. You’re an executive coach? Terrific. See those five bazillion people standing over there? They are too. Slapping a broad, generic label on your work won’t help me pay attention or care (much less remember you) in a week, a month or a year, when I meet somebody who might need your services.
If, on the other hand, you tell me that you’re “an executive coach who specializes in helping family businesses grow profits,” now you’re getting somewhere.
- Keep it consistent. If you want me to associate you with a particular thing, it’s really helpful to ring that bell everywhere you go. On your website, your business card, your LinkedIn profile, your email newsletter, etc.
When your mailman knows what you do, you’re on the right track (don’t worry about your father-in-law; he’ll never get it).
But if you change your description – based on whom you happen to be talking with or what you happen to be doing (or simply because you haven’t given it much thought) – you’ll never be known for anything.
Here’s the bottom line. An elegant solution to a given problem is one that works easily, consistently and without the need for explanation.
And whether that involves teaching people where to park or teaching people how to spread the word about you, the more mental friction you can remove, the more success you’re going to have.