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What is it You Do Again?

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Every Thanksgiving it was always the same: turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and some baffled relative trying to translate my job title into some actual tasks they could understand. First and foremost among my confused kin was my mother.

My first ‘real’ job was as a speechwriter for the California State Assembly. My mother understood that, but since then I’ve had either consulting and management jobs, all of which she seems to view with suspicion.

When I left conventional employment seven years ago, I became a self-employed consultant. At that time one of my soon-to-be-former co-workers said something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s great, you could freelance articles for Oprah’s magazine.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m one of the few women who don’t like Oprah, but more urgently I thought, yikes, I can’t write full time again!

It had been many moons since my speechwriting gig, and I learned it was much easier to make six-figures in a PR or marketing management job where the vast majority of the writing work was contracted out. I was too out of practice to face a blank page every morning.

So when I set out on my own I called myself a strategic marketing communications consultant – a title that made my mother cringe. I would develop and manage marketing programs just like I had in-house, but I would do it under contract. For the first few years, that’s mostly what I did, aside from writing some white papers. But, as a fellow consultant put it, the economics were “lumpy.” New opportunities were hard to identify and small start-ups tended to burn up much more time than they paid for.

A couple of years ago I changed course when an old colleague and I started an online mobile health news web site. It required me to write synopses of industry news every morning, blog once a month or so and create a Twitter presence. Turns out, I could still write.

When I was transitioning out of that business, I was introduced to a communications director of a healthcare foundation who manages a group of external writers. I’m telling him how I’m a strategic marketing communications consultant, and he kept challenging me by asking “but what is it you actually do?” I finally blurt out: I’m a writer!

As it turns out, he didn’t hire me. But he forced me to have a Eureka moment. No one wants to hire a strategic marketing communications consultant. Strategy is their job. Even if they need help, they aren’t going to admit it by hiring a strategy consultant. Strategic consultants are the people hired by your boss and foisted upon you.

So I started telling people I am writer, or if I’m dealing with techies, a ‘content developer.’ Turns out as a writer I have a very stable client base. Ironically, I actually spend a lot of time helping clients with strategy. But I’m a writer with a good mind for strategy rather than a strategist who has an aversion to process and PowerPoint.

I have a little lecture I give to client and friends about how short Anglo-Saxon words resonate better with native English speakers. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” or “We will put a man on the moon,” etc.

It only took me five years to remember to take my own advice: not “strategic marketing communications consultant,” but “writer.”