Hey Rebooters! Ooh, it’s a ranty one this week – we believe you can be professional by being yourself, even though the colour, swearing and personality we infuse into our respective businesses are actively discouraged in the working worlds we’ve left behind! So, we cover all things professionalism in today’s episode!
For clarity, before we get started, we have no issue or judgement on how anyone at all chooses to dress or express themselves. But we’re not keen on people who want to be a bit more dramatic being forced to be subdued, or vice versa.
What we talk about
First bugbear: hair colour. You may have noticed that we’re both quite keen on our colourful hair, but it definitely wasn’t allowed or encouraged in our previous roles. (Given recent events in the press, I do feel like I should clarify I said BLUE in my hair, not glue…).
While in some places it’s evolved to be allowed over time, hair appears to be one of those weird things which has absolutely no impact at all on how good you are at your job, but which makes people panic and assume things. Usually bad things.
We talk about Carla’s experiences passing for normal (mainly due to her fear of needles), and both our experiences of people assuming we are less competent because of the way we dress or accessorise.
Subdued pigeons make an appearance, and perspectives on uniform too. Do uniforms have a plus side? We talk about the practicalities of clothing choices (baby goo! library ladders!) and segue neatly into puking over other people by accident… wow, that escalated quickly.
Being able to choose our clothes and our hair colour when we went freelance felt like becoming ourselves again – and we repeat, it has no bearing on how professional or unprofessional you are.
Having confidence in your own self-expression.
The difference between being professional and being perceived as professional. What we consider to be being professional is around setting & exceeding expectations, doing your profession in a suitably competent manner – and treating your clients & peers well, it goes so much deeper than how you look.
Being perceived as a professional really seems to depend on the person doing the perceiving, and we both quite enjoy challenging that in people.
This is a massive one – there’s often a tendency, especially at the beginning of business, to use very formal language that makes your business seem bigger than just you. And then you just fade into all the noise of corporate sounding businesses that all sound exactly the same!
It’s really important to extend your personality through your keyboard into your emails and your website – your keyboard does not eat your humanity for breakfast! (Or at least, if it does, you need a new keyboard!)
We’re agreed that academia is probably as much to blame as the corporate world for the tendency to use standard syntax and 37 words where five would do. Neither setting is geared towards helping you develop your own style and way of expressing your ideas.
A short but relevant tangent, inspired by an experience at a previous job, the idea of the lighthouse brand – standing out from the crowd, being a shining light and neither worrying about nor trying to follow what others in your sector are doing.
On SEO and writing like a human
People start infusing personality, then they discover SEO, panic, and start writing for Google. At which point they stop sounding like a human and start sounding like a robot and it makes Sarah cry!
Please, please, please, don’t keyword stuff and don’t write for what you think Google wants – write for your audience! Write naturally for the people who need to find your work and Google will pick that up too 🙂 It needs to be readable and make people want to share it.
We understand it’s easy to drown in the millions of hats business owners and creatives wear, and it can be easier to just follow every instruction to the letter because there is just too much to do. But where your words are concerned, super professional is not the goal – writing so that your ideal clients think you’re inside their head is.
Whether your swears are punctuation or emphasis, if it’s a natural part of your language then it’s ok to incorporate it into your brand too.
What you say doesn’t have an impact on how well you do your job, but it’s probably good practice to double check if your clients or venues are easily offended. Having said that, Sarah assesses clients before letting loose any swears in her consults, whereas Carla just chats/swears as per usual unless someone has specifically requested not to.
And apparently working in the ambulance service and newspapers are surefire ways to make sure you have creative swearing vocabulary for life!
True professionalism and reputation
Communication, communication, communication – honestly, this one tiny thing makes SUCH a difference to your clients and your reputation. And it’s not difficult to do well!
Under promise, over deliver. It’s so much better than accurately or over promising, and underwhelming your clients with what you actually do and deliver. Managing expectations is a less tongue twisty way to put it!
Remembering that your reputation precedes you among your peers as well as your clients is important – we discuss one mark of a true professional from a recent experience, and the importance of making sure that the people you recommend are equally as professional as you are, so they don’t damage your reputation if you refer work to them from your own clients and enquiries.
Professionalism is also about being honest – saying yes when you can, saying no when you can’t, and crucially, saying yes with caveats when you think you can but you haven’t before. Taking on new things with a client can be a fab experience, and you can learn together, but there is no point pretending you’re an expert in something you’ve never done before.
And honesty in your experience and what you do – so that any time someone asks, you can back up your claims with evidence 🙂
Also, be mindful of not just what you say, but how you say it – and how that makes your clients and potential clients feel. Making people feel valued is so important – and should be a genuine feeling! Try to be proactive in any bad or uncertain situations – if you can’t meet your original deadline, or you’ve committed to something you can’t do – communication is key (and almost always the answer to reducing stress and keeping your professionalism!).
In summary, we don’t want to go from swearing to suit-wearing…!
Comparison really, REALLY is the thief of joy
Just do your thing in your own way, don’t worry about what others are doing and the clients they’re getting or the prices they’re charging. You can be 3000% yourself, and the more you lean into that, the more your clients will show up and be aligned with you.
Be true to what you want – write, shoot, create in whatever your medium is for the people and niches you really want to work with. Don’t let other people’s expectations push you into doing something you don’t want to do – being pulled towards what you really want will have the best impact on how you come across as a professional.
A side exploration into reading the dictionary and using exactly the right word for any situation – we are similar geeks!
And another one into human books – actually having read this, the version Carla did was a sort of human library lite..!
In summary, we think professionalism is about having, and sticking to, standards. Consistency. And treating all the people around you in a way that you would also want to be treated.
A final, but Very Important point
Being professional has absolutely fuck all to do with how much you earn from your thing. This perception is particularly prevalent in photography, but there are almost definitely other industries which suffer from it.
Let us repeat – you do not have to be earning all your money (or even most of your money) from your craft in order to be a professional.
If you are competent, consistent and your clients are happy with the quality and service you deliver, and you deliver on the promises you make, then in our eyes, you have done your professional job professionally!
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and we’d also love you to subscribe, review, follow, rate us (five stars please!) and come and join us on Facebook, in our Facebook group, and on Instagram 🙂