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What Do You Do, and Who the Hell Cares?

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Any worthy marketing professional will emphasize the importance of establishing your brand, target audience, and message as the first step of getting your business off the ground. To ensure that you understand just what this triad of business basics is all about, I'm going to break it down for you raw. It goes like this:

What do you do, and quite frankly, who the hell cares?

Seriously, there are like a bajillion of you -- real estate agents, massage therapists, plumbers, nutritionists, interior decorators, life coaches, marketing specialists... For every profession there are at least thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of you out there doing the same damn thing.

But no, you say, I'm not like everyone else. I'm different. Awesome! Now we're cooking. Dig into that very difference, crystallize it, and you have your brand. Because you're absolutely right: For every 100 people doing the same job, there are those who are competent and those who are incompetent. There are those who go by the book, mechanically implementing the steps they were taught; and there are those who are intuitive, creative, flexible, and dialed in to the particulars of a situation.

So who are you, and what exactly do you bring to the table? In your response, answer me this:

• How did you end up doing the work you do today, and why do you do it?
• What life experience do you draw from in your work, and how?

For example, let's say you are a massage therapist -- you know, like everyone else and their dog these days. We need to distinguish your work, so as to set you apart from the pack:

First, on the surface level, what type of massage do you do -- Swedish? Thai? Shiatsu? Do you pummel the crap out of people or make them feel as if they are floating in the clouds?

Second, what professional training do you have, above and beyond a massage therapy certificate or license? Perhaps you are a naturopathic doctor, licensed marriage and family therapist, shamanic healer, Reiki master or some combination thereof. In that case, you bring a lot more expertise to the table and have a lot more tricks up your sleeve than the run-of-the-mill massage therapist.

Third, and in my opinion, most importantly, what life experience do you draw from? For example, perhaps you survived and healed through a major trauma, using massage as your primary tool of healing. In that case, you have a been-there-done-that point of reference to offer your clients: You have experienced the ins and outs of the healing journey. You know first-hand the emotional anguish someone may be going through. You have the kind of wisdom and insight one can only get from Life itself, not from school or books. And you know what it is like to be on the table; you know the vulnerability a client feels.

All told, your massage practice may be an exceptionally safe and compassionate one -- thus segueing from the matter of "brand" to that of "target audience."

Identifying your target audience is the process of mixing and matching where you excel with who needs your special gift. Back to the massage example: Your target audience may be survivors of abuse and other forms of trauma -- people who may desperately need massage but feel terrified to go out and try it, because they cannot risk being vulnerable with someone who does not "get it." You get it. You therefore can corner the massage therapy market as the go-to person for trauma survivors.

Here's another way to think about it: Identifying your target audience is figuring out your role in someone's life. Bringing it to the personal level, are you the jogging buddy? the one a friend calls to liven up a party? the one a friend calls at 3 a.m., pint of Ben & Jerry's in hand, when that friend's life is falling apart? What is your role; whom do you serve; and how do you serve them? By answering these questions from a business perspective, you will identify your target audience.

Once you know your target audience, you need to speak in language they understand. Here's where we get to your message: You need to broadcast who you are in such a way that the exact people who need you will recognize you as the person they need. It's like the refrain from one of Cyndi Lauper's hit songs: "Your true colors are shining through." Are yours?

Another way to approach the matter is to think about the profile of your ideal clients. What are their values, needs, and points of reference? How do they think and speak? Craft accordingly the language you use to describe your services.

The triad of business basics -- brand, target audience, and message -- enable you to build a business foundation that is holistic and authentic. Money and recognition simply become a byproduct of who you are, what you love to do, and why you are here on this little spinning ball, along with all the other crazy people. Bring your soul into alignment with your work, figure out who needs you, then go out there and find them.