This article was one of my MicroSoft Small Business Forum pieces.
As my bio indicates, I’m not only a scientist but an author, as well. This is not as unusual as it may first appear. Think about it. Each one of us is a complicated whole being with many interests and skills and many –sometimes contradictory—dimensions to our personalities. It’s a function of society that we are so often constrained to define our identities by a single selected profession. After all, at any social event it’s guaranteed that someone is going ask, “So, what do you do?”
This forced constraint of identity is certainly unfair and maybe illogical, but it’s to be expected. Typically, our jobs are what we do for a third of our day. The rest of the time we are parents, spouses, siblings, friends… and sometimes writers, musicians, social convenors, webmasters, painters, sculptors and more. It’s a conscious decision to identify ourselves according to our paid professions rather than by our hobbies or personal pursuits.
For an entrepreneur, the manner of self-identification can be a little more complicated. On the one hand, we wish to present ourselves in a concise and pithy manner: “What do you do?” “I’m self-employed.”
On the other hand, we wish to be accurate and inclusive. Every social event, after all, is also an opportunity to advertise our services: “What do you do?” “Well, I’m a lawyer who also does specialized writing, contract research, policy advisement and some kinds of program evaluation, blah blah blah…” Clearly, this can get tiresome and unattractive.
We need to be selective about which aspects of our complicated personas to communicate as being truly and immediately representative of both our identities and our services. It is useful to distinguish between our “soft skills” and “hard skills”. By soft skill, I mean the ones that have required and benefited from the lesser amount of formal training. In my case, clearly, science constitutes a hard skill, while writing represents the soft skill.
By packaging together my major skills sets –the science and the writing—I’ve learned one important lesson: often it is the soft skill that garners the most attention and thus the most business. It’s almost a truism now that the number of people trained in doing complex calculations, technical appraisals and other scientific tasks is inadequate for our societal needs, but nevertheless relatively high. But the number of people capable of communicating the details of the aforementioned tasks is vanishingly small. Therein lays my access to a truly specialized market niche.
“I’m a scientist” gets some attention at a party and probably some good conversation. “I’m a writer” gets different kinds of attention. But “I’m a scientist who is also a writer” garners the kind of attention that increases business opportunity by effectively transmitting those aspects of my personality and skills set that speaks to a needed societal niche.