Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Who do you think you’re not?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 26, 2010

Image credit: Dano on Flickr

“So, what do you do?”

It’s the question I dread at parties, bars and any social gathering.

“I’m a journalist” I say.

“And who do you write for?” is almost always the first response. The fact that I don’t write for many people (I make films or do training and consulting) plus the fact those I do write for are online publications immediately makes it all too difficult to explain.

“Oh, no-one you’ve heard of” ends up being my stock response, which makes me sound either unsuccessful or like a dick.

My problem is I haven’t really worked out what I do.  My first year in the freelance jungle and I’ve pretty much done everything that’s come my way: speaking, lecturing, films, audio slideshows, articles, copy writing, blog posts, consulting, writing books, photography; it’s difficult to tie that all into one job.

It’s not what you do – it’s what you don’t do.

It’s a similar headache when starting a new enterprise or freelance career. You think of all the things you love doing, and come up with markets to sell your markets or products to. And you end up with a list of several strings to your bow.

It’s hard when trying to establish yourself as a journalist, freelance or otherwise, to really understand what you’re about. That’s bad because it makes it almost impossible to market yourself properly. Take a look at my portfolio website for an example. What the hell am I? A film maker? A multimedia storyteller? An online video consultant?

I’m sure most people who see my site leave dazed and confused.

How to nail down what you do

Here’s a really effective way to hammer down to what you’re about: do the opposite. Write down all the things you don’t do.

You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That’s a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls.

Quoted in Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (affiliate link)

Instead of thinking of all the people you could work for, identify the people you don’t work for. For example, you might be photojournalist and you want to specialise in doing shoots for high end lifestyle magazines. That means you don’t do shoots for companies, charities or local newspapers. It means you are not a paparazzi or a hard news photographer – so don’t pursue work in these fields.

Having fewer products or offerings means you can specialise in making them great.

If you do audio slideshows, then you don’t do video. Just focus on the slideshows and make them the best slideshows around. Become known for how good your slideshows are, so people identify you and your work with excellence and quality.

Apple know what they do, but they also know what they don’t do: you won’t get customisable, cheap and cheerful computers from them. RyanAir know they don’t do luxury flights, so they don’t even try in that market.

It’s not so black and white of course. If you can do video and you get offered a great commission then don’t stubbornly turn it down. And when you’re young or just starting out, it’s hard to know who you are, let alone who you aren’t. By all means play the field a little bit.

But working out what you don’t do is sometimes the best way to figuring out what you do do.


2 Responses

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  1. Miki said, on November 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Good post, Adam. I’ve often told younger friends of mine that your first few jobs mostly just help you figure out what you DON’T want to do for a career😉

    I’ve had the exact same dilemma if describing what I do lately, since I have promised myself I won’t take any more jobs that already have a job title. What I settled on, at least in the way I describe myself to others, is to talk about what I AM instead of what I DO. My email signature reads “Miki Johnson. Connector. Communicator. Curious as hell.” And a further explanation of that can be found on my website’s “about” page: http://mikijohnson.com/about

    Another great option is to define yourself by what you DELIVER to your clients: “I increase income,” for example, sounds a lot better than “I’m a salesman.”

  2. Adam Westbrook said, on November 27, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Nice advice Miki, thanks!


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