It’s the inevitable question (or, The Inevitable Question). Sometimes it’s worded differently, but it’s more or less all the same question:

“So, what do you do?”

I have yet to figure out how to tell people who aren’t involved in the TE community or in somewhat related areas of online business, when they ask, just what it is I do online without sounding like an idiot.

Or if I make an attempt to explain at least a little bit of it, their eyes start glazing over. Then as soon as they can, they change the subject to something like, “So have you seen (so-and-so whoever) lately?“, or some other something or another conversation topic that they can understand and make sense out of.

It’s really difficult if that person doesn’t really do anything or much online at all. But I’ve even seen it happen with friends who DO operate businesses online, or at least a business with a visible and active online presence.

The guy who does computer repair all over a quad-state area regionally, for instance. He probably spends as much time in his online business activities as I do with mine, but he just can’t really comprehend and grasp the concept of traffic exchanges, safelists and viral mailers, surfing, autoresponders, and all that whatnot.

As I mentioned last week, we had a death in the family. So, of course, in all the ensuing funeral home/memorial service stuff that goes on when such an event occurs, I had out-of-town relatives in town for most of the week.

I maybe see two of the cousins about once every ten years, if even that much, at least since I was a teenager. One of them is the closest of the cousins to my age, so we have a childhood history. The other is quite a bit younger, and not too long after she was born came the point where I didn’t see them very much at all.

What one of them does for a living is easily explainable to anyone who asks – he’s a college professor. The other one, I’m a little less sure of what exactly she does for the company, but let’s just say she works for a Very Large Online Behemoth That Is Not Google. But I know enough about the company (and so would pretty much anyone) to have a pretty good idea of what she does, and not have to ask a bunch of questions.

So for all practical purposes, I pretty much know what they do.

Unfortunately, they are now probably more clueless than ever about what it is I do, since when one of them posed The Inevitable Question to me last week, I wound up just making a great big mess of trying to explain anything at all, which likely left them and anyone else within earshot wondering what the heck I was doing with this online whatever thing.

And even more ridiculous, I didn’t even get to the traffic exchange industry part – not that it would have likely helped explain anything anyway. More likely that would have just confused them further.

If I had to guess, I would say they all probably came away from that conversation thinking I was doing something sort of like selling Amway or Avon online, but not really.

And then wondered what the heck “online business” is supposed to mean, like maybe it’s kind of a code word for something else that… well, you know, who even knows what crazy picture I put in their heads with my futile attempt at explanation.

Thinking about the conversation later, I realized that the question that was actually asked this time had been not so much “So, what do you do?”, but instead was more like “So, what are you up to these days?”

In retrospect, I really could have just skipped the whole work/online thing and given some other kind of completely unrelated answer, and saved us all the trouble of them getting terribly confused and me feeling like some babbling idiot.

There was also the cousin who I do see and communicate with a little more often, and who is so much younger than me that I tend to think of him more as a nephew than a cousin. Now, he has a business (or is a franchisee, I’m really not sure) that does operate a little online but I think is mostly an offline business, more or less. I don’t really understand what it is he does either , other than the fact that it all has something to do with guns and ammo (legally – I do know that much).

I think what he does and his business is probably somewhat and about as difficult for most people to comprehend as they do my stuff. Given that, I didn’t expect to, nor did I, get The Inevitable Question from him.

I am fortunate in that within my immediate family (which is pretty much just me, my mother, and my fiance these days), I really don’t have to explain much. My mom probably can’t tell you exactly what I do either, but she knows and hears enough about it all, and is and has always been very supportive of my efforts.

Pretty much the same with Brian, and he hears plenty more on a regular basis – more than he wants to sometimes, probably. Plus he does see some of what I do, how many hours I spend doing it all, and how much I am working, even if he doesn’t really totally understand what it all is and what it does. And he has gotten to know some of the fine folks in our TE community, which helps as well.

Plus they’re both pretty online savvy, computer savvy, and all such stuff, which kinda helps too. My mother is over 70 now, but she’s not one of those older folks who just came online in the last decade and does e-mail and Facebook and that’s it. We had a computer in the house since the late 1970s, and for a lot of years, whatever computer I was using at any given time was her cast-off computer after she bought a newer PC.

So yeah, I am fortunate in that I have a bit of understanding from my immediate family regarding what I do, and they’re very supportive overall (I know a lot of others don’t have that, or far from it, so I’m very grateful and appreciative of that).

They may not fully understand it, but they understand it enough. They sort of get what a traffic exchange is, they do pretty much understand affiliate marketing, and they absolutely understand the word “commissions”. That’s probably the best anyone could ask for, really.

One of my online colleagues who’s not around anymore, he sometimes used to tell confused and questioning family or friends, when they asked The Inevitable Question (or pressed for more information after having asked it), that he made his money online in adult websites, or with spam e-mails.

Online porn and the stuff in their spam mailbox, those things they could understand and comprehend. Traffic exchanges, membership sites, autoresponders, affiliate commissions, etc. – those things, they just couldn’t grasp.

Maybe there’s an easier way to answer The Inevitable Question that wouldn’t be so brain-numbing (for ME, much more so than them!) and frustrating, but I have yet to hit upon a really good one that doesn’t result in the eyes-glazing-over phenomenon yet.

Lately I’m thinking just saying “I’m in advertising”, and leaving it at that (and NOT saying “online advertising”) – and hoping like heck they don’t ask me to explain further – may be the least painful and least brain-twisting of avenues to take.

So what do YOU tell people? I bet there are some great stories out there, I’d love to hear ’em!

P.S. Pssst, speaking of online advertising (everywhere, and all over the place!):