One of my good friends is a published author of young adult fiction. Being an author has to be one of the braver acts of entrepreneurship; it’s hard, it’s lonely, and the payoff is particularly uncertain.
He recently shared with me a conversation he had with a relative while at a family reunion. His aunt asked him what he was up to these days and he proudly told her that he just released his third book. She looked at him curiously and inquired with tinge of maternal advice, “Well, have you ever considered writing a bestseller?”
Ah, yes. The Holy Grail of entrepreneurial advice: just build something that people will really want. And then…profits! For folks who have never started a business before, this is Entrepreneurship 101. For those of us who have, the reality is a bit more nuanced. Yes, you need to build something that people really want. But you also have to make sure that no one else is currently filling that want.
To be truly successful — think FedEx, Amazon, Apple, Uber — you need to dream big and then execute with near perfection in delivering on the future. Therein lies the gap. Entrepreneurs understand how deeply challenging this endeavor is, while civilians (for the most part) do not.
ith the holidays just around the corner, 20 million entrepreneurs and small business owners will undoubtedly get some form of the bestseller question from a family member. How can you discuss your business in language that everyone can understand? How can you prevent your family dinner from becoming a multi-course helping of advice? And how do you keep your cool during the process?
Develop a “Pass the Gravy” Pitch.
For one, show up with a plan. Come armed with information to answer anticipated questions, like you would for any meeting. Your goal should be to give these loved ones a glimpse into the exciting and unusual world of entrepreneurship between bites of mashed potatoes and helpings of pie. Condense your elevator pitch to something that can be digested in the time it takes to pass the gravy.
Whenever possible, use analogies that make it easy for Aunt Shirley to understand what it is that you actually do. Using plain language and drawing parallels to existing businesses that your family may be familiar with can go a long way to demystifying your foray into entrepreneurship.
Pivot from Interrogation to Conversation.
If you do get trapped in what feels like an interrogation of your business or your professional choices, there are two very important tactics you must employ to ensure a successful outcome. First, don’t lose your cool. What you may perceive as questions that attack or besmirch your business are, in fact, well-meaning attempts from a loved one who—however misguidedly in the execution—just wants to help you. Keep the mood light and positive.
Second, flip the script from an interrogation to a conversation. Begin asking questions of their business or passions. By proactively engaging folks at the table you can tap into one of the most popular topics people enjoy discussing: themselves.
Be Truly Grateful.
At the end of the day, know how blessed you are to have a gathering of loved ones who want the best for you. Hopefully, the family will walk away with a little more understanding of what it means to start and run a business. But if not, have another piece of pie (or glass of wine) and absorb the “helpful” advice. After all, your family probably isn’t your target market and they are going to support you no matter the outcome. If you are looking for a graceful exit, you can always find an excuse to relocate to the kids’ table.