Returning home for the holidays can often be source of stress, not only because of coordinating travel, cooking and other logistics, but because of the family tension than inevitably results from table conversations: your brother accidentally swears in front of grandma, your aunt wants to know when you're finally going to settle down and have kids, and your just know your uncle will serve everyone's turkey and cranberry sauce with a side of Trump commentary.
But when you're headed back home for the holidays as an entrepreneur, there's the added layer of having to figure out how to explain (over, and over, and over, and over...) to every aunt, cousin and grandparent what exactly it is you do all day, how you're paying your bills, and what your five-year plan is. If you're working on a venture in a new or highly technical field unfamiliar to your family, this can be particularly tough.
Here are some helpful tips for explaining your entrepreneurial job to all the folks you're thankful for this year.
Emphasize Benefits Over Features
Much like you would while pitching a customer or a potential investor, it can be most helpful and impactful to show your family the value of what you do, the problem you solve, or the need you fulfill. When you're giving your family the elevator pitch, focus on the benefits of your product or service, versus the features or the intricacies of how it works.
Try starting your explanation with a pain point or challenge, and explaining how you're working to solve it. "A lot of people use social media for their businesses but they don't really know whether or not it's working because it's hard to measure. My company uses data to help them understand which social media posts are working for them so they can improve." When they understand your "why," they might be better able to wrap their heads around the "what."
When the language and use cases for your venture are unfamiliar to your audience, it's easy for them to get lost while you describe the details of your platform, app or service. And while they might nod politely to keep the peace, that will just leave you to explain it again next year.
If you want to ensure you're communicating effectively, consider adding some check-in questions at the start and throughout your explanation. "Are you familiar with the idea of crowd funding?" If they're answering you in the affirmative, they feel savvy and you'll build some positive momentum as you go. And if not, then you know exactly where to pause and go deeper to ensure your passion is as clear to them as it is to you.
Compare To A Known Company
So many startups have been described as the "Uber for ____" that it's become a joke, but the phrase caught on for a reason: it's an easy-to-understand shorthand for an much bigger concept. Uber may not be the best reference point for family members out in the 'burbs who rarely e-hail cabs, but comparing your venture to another one that they know and understand is a great way to start.
"The same way Netflix helps you find movies to watch based on how many stars you give, my app helps women find outfits they might like, based on their ratings of other outfits." While it may feel like you're simplifying, comparing your company to a known entity will ground your family's understanding in something solid. This will increase the likelihood they can understand what you're up to and are also able to parrot it back, saving you some repetition.
Use An Analogy From Another Part of Life
Too many unfamiliar buzzwords or jargon to explain the process of your latest venture, or no similar company to use as a reference point? Look for a non-business analogy that's closer to home, or to their real life experience, that might help put it in a more relatable perspective.
"Remember last year when Aunt Marie wanted that car starter but it was too expensive, so Cousin Joey got us all to pitch in $50? I'm like Cousin Joey, but for small businesses. Companies hire me to help them find people to pitch in funding for big projects or purchases." If they're able to see themselves in your explanation, they'll be able to better understand and appreciate the work that you're doing.