Trouble Explaining What You Do For a Living? Well, It Is a Good Sign!


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A couple of months ago I was chatting with one reader of this blog. He told me that he wanted to build websites and blogs for a living, to which I replied “Go for it. Working online is great.” Then he told me that he had one big problem: his parents and friends couldn’t possibly understand how someone could make a living from working on the Internet, so he felt a lack of support.

Obviously my initial reaction was to tell him to not care about what others were saying and rather to pursue what he thought was right. In other words, the fact that other people couldn’t understand what he wanted to do for a living was irrelevant.

These days I caught myself thinking about this issue again, and I came to the conclusion that the fact that other people can’t understand what you do for a living is not only irrelevant, but it can also be a good sign.

I am not sure where, but sometime ago I read the following sentence: “If you can explain to the average guy sitting in a bar what you do for a living, you are half way through commoditization.”

It made sense in general, and is particularly suitable for people who work on the Internet.

A commodity is a good that does not have differentiation in the market place. Sugar is a good example. Sugar is sugar, after all. When you go to the supermarket, there is a good chance that you’ll pick the cheapest product, or pick one without even caring to compare it. As a result, companies producing sugar compete mostly on price, and profit margins decrease over time.

People can become commodities too. Production line workers are commodities. Companies pay the same (low) salary to all of them. If one particular worker is not happy with the conditions, the company will invite him to leave and replace him with a similar worker the day after. Why is that? Because performing production line work is trivial, and there is plenty of supply for it (i.e., workers).

When you are not a commodity, on the other hand, you can differentiate yourself. This means that you are be able to develop your brand, to charge a premium price for your services or products, and that you are harder to replace.

Bottom line: If you work with blogs, websites, affiliate marketing, search engine optimization and the like, well, you will certainly have a hard time explaining to the average Joe what you do for a living. But hey, that is not a bad thing at all. It is a sign that you are not becoming a commodity.

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28 Responses to “Trouble Explaining What You Do For a Living? Well, It Is a Good Sign!”

  • Jeff Sabo

    I am glad Daniel wrote this because I typically get weird looks whenever I say “I do Internet Search Engine Optimization.” I’ll admit that not many people understood what that meant at first but slowly got the hang of it as I explained it! I got a weird look from a previous employer when I informed that person what I was doing but making the move was one of the best choices I made!

    I’ll admit that I really enjoy what I do and don’t mind the weird looks. I am comfortable with what I do and have fun doing it. Finding something you enjoy doing on a daily basis is one of the hardest goals to accomplish. Even if it is hard to explain, if it makes you happy, go for it!

  • Melisa

    I’m also interested to set up my own revenue-generating site after I resign from my current job. Maybe I can explain the job as: working freelance in the field of online advertising and internet publishing.

  • Elle

    I tell people I’m self employed and I do some freelance writing for my other sites besides my own. I tried to explain it to my family, but they keep asking when I’m getting a 9-5 job. 🙂

  • C

    This is funny – I’ve dealt with this for years now! I’ve had the hardest time trying to explain to people what I do. In the beginning I thought they were just not that interested in what I do, but eventually I learned to classify those blank stares not as disinterest, but in not having a clue what I had just said.

    So now I usually just tell people I’m a web designer. Pretty much every one seems to understand that one and you don’t have to keep explaining. The problem is that then people will ask you to do a website for them and you have to tell them to hire someone else 🙂

    My husband on the other hand (who also doesn’t quite understand) tells everyone I’m doing search engine optimization. I’ve found when people think you’re an SEO person, they think you’re God!! So I ride that one for a while (it is a part of the whole thing anyway) until I get asked to do some SEO for them! Again, I have to tell them to hire someone else…

    Bottom line is I’ve learned to appreciate my worth and also to appreciate not being a commodity as you call it – that’s the fun part! I’ve also learned not to expect any family members or friends to understand what I do. Unfortunately, if people don’t get what you do, they may become distrustful and not support you. Then again, it’s a great opportunity to weed out the real friend from the fakes…

  • Asif

    Thanks Daniel!!!
    I made my friends read this post.
    By the way, Just to let others know, the guy Daniel is talking about is me.
    yes, I have the difficulty of making my parents and friends understand the way I make money.
    My parents still understand that I play on internet.
    But hey, I make serious money.

  • YinTeing

    Initially a few years ago, when my ex-colleagues knew I was blogging, they did not understand what was it. Today, when I speak to even Web 2.0 challenged folks, they even know of people who are making a full time living from the internet.
    Still, my family, being the type who would always play safe, consistently tell me that it’s time I go back to the corporate world to earn back my big bucks rather than doing what I do now- taking a less stressful full time job (to pay the bills) and blog part time (that means at night, weekends or early the morning).
    Now, I’ve learned to believe in myself- and blogs like yours as well as discovering others who have gone full time gives me lots of inspiration to tread on.

  • Michael

    I usually tell people I’m in web development or marketing depending on the day. I had a couple rough initial experiences when I said to people, “Hi, I’m a social media specialist.” Damn you and your silly name, Twitter, you are what people immediately associate with my profession. Fist shake optional. Thanks, Daniel.


  • Vincent Leleux

    I am reading some of the articles on your blog, but this is my first comment.
    Thank you for all the valuable content you add constantly on tis blog.

    this post really talks to me.

    could I post this text to my blog, mentioning the source and a links?

    keep up the good work

  • Phaoloo

    Also have this issue, I can’t tell my mom why I spend hours in front of my computer. She just thinks I play games always but why there’s only text on my screen. Anyway, I love what I’ve been doing.

  • elmot

    And sometimes, the difficulty of explaining about blogs, adsense, affiliates and all take away all the limited patience in me…

  • Heidi

    My friends and family don’t always get it but if they care about you they will support it. It’s hard because not only do I make money with my website the niche is a weird one to explain too!

  • Peter

    It’s amazing that most of us are experiencing the same issues with family members and friends. Someday they’ll get the gist of what we were talking about.

    Even though Blogging is not my main source of income (it doesn’t bring in the bacon) it has the potential to be my main source someday. That’s my motivation. Bloggers see the big picture, while family members and friends sees only snap shots. Am I making any sense?

  • Ray

    Sooner or later, these people will understand why or how you work. It is just a matter or perspective, and time, of course.

  • Karen

    This is a great post. I like the idea that we have rare talents – and I believe it too when I see other blogs out there trying to do affiliate sales and they just dont get it.
    So friends and family are not the only ones that don’t get it!!
    I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain it to my mother and I know my husband is only humoring me!!

  • Matej

    I don’t even try to explain why someone wants to give ME the money for things I do online, it’s like speaking Klingon to them.

    I just tell them how Google or Facebook is capable to make billions and once they figure that out I just tell that them there are thousands of websites doing similar thing. Someone needs to create all these great websites you visit – and you betcha they’re not doing it for free, there’s a reason. Once they get interested it’s much more easier to explain if they want to know more …

    Or here’s great example of how you can explain what do you do for living ( “So What ” book )

    This can also be used to tell people what your web site does or your company does or anything else.

    It’s a simple, 2-step formula.

    Step 1: Get their interest by asking the question, “Do you know how [insert undeniable problem here]?”

    Step 2: Explain how what you do answers their problem, by saying, “Well, what do is [insert your compelling solution].”

    Great post. I think that’s why you can earn great money peer hour doing design services ( logo, web design etc. ) – demand is larger than supply – at least here where I live.

  • Hal Brown

    This has always been an issue with anyone who works outside their comfort zone of “acceptable” employment. A very successful artist I know is revered by some, disdained by others.

    Only those who understand the world beyond their own narrow confines will ever accept anything other than “Having a real job.”

  • Eric C

    God, i have so much trouble talking about blogging with some people. I try to fight past it but still.

    I consider myself more of a writer though.

  • Andy from Workshopshed

    I’ve always had a hard time explaining what I do for a living but as to some extend as technology becomes more mainstream I can find more comparisons with things people will understand.

  • Christine Livingston

    I’ve been a corporate and personal coach for the last years. I’ve been changing my work recently to shift it to having more of an online bias. A lot of my colleagues and friends look at me blankly when I tell them of my plans. I think a few of them think I’ve lost my marbles. It has taken me a while to figure that that’s a great sign – it means that I’m seeing something out there that they currently are not. I just need to capitalize on the opportunity!

  • Gabe |

    Friends and family usually provide a terrible support system when it comes to blogging. For me, they are on a need to know basis — and there isn’t much for them to know.

    Make new friends, preferable those who are in your niche and have similar site maturity and work together. You can also look for a mentor to work with you. Those people are the ones who will giving you the reinforcement you need.

  • Young

    I haven’t told my families that I dropped the job and started to be a full time blogger, since I think they won’t understand unless I show them how much I earned. But as a matter of fact, I earned only a little, so I keep not telling them now.

  • Darni

    I start my blog because I want to make money from it.However,my biggest problem is not how to explain to other people.In fact I have explained this idea to my several friends.I don’t know whether they understand me.But I don’t care.I will just do it.I know the process to make money from a blog.And I know how.But my blog is fairly new now.And the traffic is very low.I’m trying to increase the traffic of my blog.When the traffic come,the money will come.

  • Venkat

    Excellent point, and one that needs to be made more thoroughly by more people.

    I’ll add what might be the other side of the argument: the less of a commodity you are, the more you have to pay attention to personal branding. If people can’t figure out and trust what you do, they start to see if they can trust who you are. And social proof, conveyed via a recognizable personal brand is a pretty good way to inspire trust.

    As in, “I have no real idea what Guy Kawasaki does, but he is famous, so must be adding value somewhere, somehow.”


  • John Paul

    Nice post.. I go thru this with girls I date and They can never understand what it is I do.

    With Turkey day coming up. I might just print this post and hand it


    As everyone else, I also face these kind of strange looks from almost everyone whom I say – “I work from home”.

    As @Andrew suggested:

    I should ask them what they do for a living and when they say, “work for an Insurance company”, give them an even stranger look!

    lol 😛

  • Vishal Sanjay

    Well i was successful in convincing my parents to let me skip tutions and fund, I made them read many posts about kids making money online, i made them read rich dad poor dad and they agreed, but i lost all my support when i flunked in my maths. Daniel i think this would be a good idea to get support. I’ll make sure i earn more than my parents in the next 1 year for sure, then they’ll understand.

  • Roseli A. Bakar

    I had the same problem before too, people don’t understand what I’m doing and whether I could support myself doing it.

    Even my family members don’t understand especially the older ones and I don’t blame them.

    I guess we don’t have to make them understand…just show them the MONEY 🙂

  • Andrew @

    I gave up my 9-5 corporate world recently and became an Internet Marketer thingy. When I explain what I do, people give me strange looks.

    They simply don’t understand how the web has moved on and how thousands are making a living while working from home.

    Perhaps, I should ask them what they do for a living and when they say, “work for an Insurance company”, give them an even stranger look!


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