As a freelancer, how you project yourself to the world is one of the most important ways that you communicate your professionalism and ensure success. And yet it is horribly easy to get this wrong. Have you ever had a regular client suddenly stop communicating, and wondered why? Or thought you had a project in the bag, only to lose out to a rival at the last minute? If so, you may need to take a long, hard look at your professional image.
So what does having a good professional image mean? Is it all about the way you dress? In reality, it’s about much more than this. Below, we will look at some of the basic good practices that you need to incorporate into your work and your life to ensure that potential employers are attracted, rather than turned off by the way you present yourself. Let’s go!
1. Keep Your Social Media Clean
What you write on social media is a window into your life. It tells people a lot about what you think about the world, what you do with your day, the sort of people you admire and the issues that enthuse you.
People often don’t realize that some social media sites (such as Facebook) give people a lot of unexpected information, even if your profile is set to private. For example, posts that you’ve “liked” may show up on other timelines – the audience depends on the privacy settings of the original post, not your own. On Facebook, if the post has a “globe” icon next to it, it means it’s public. Anyone can see it.
The same applies to comments on newspaper articles – if someone Googles your name, a comment under your real name might well show up.
One way of handling this is to take the extreme path of not ever letting a client or potential client have access to your personal social media accounts, and always using a fake name for public comments. The easier option is to use social media to your advantage – make your posts positive, match what you say to the image you want to project. Be genuine, but be circumspect.
If that sounds like a pain, you might consider having a separate, sanitized work profile. However, your personal posts could end up being read by clients regardless, through the above mechanisms. You really can never be too careful!
2. Keep Your Personal Life Personal
If you got horribly drunk at the weekend and passed out in a park, you might think it’s an amusing story to relate on Twitter or to your client the next day. However, if you’re trying to build a reputation for reliability and professionalism, it would be best to keep this sort of raw personal detail to yourself.
In fact, it might be worth cutting out the binges, full stop – your liver will thank you! You also have to think hard about any personal interchange – don’t moan to clients about the day you’ve had, your health or your boy/girlfriend.
It is, however, true that many clients like a little personal interaction, and will bond better with you for knowing you love dogs, the local baseball team, chocolate, or whatever. The key is to keep things positive, take your cues from your client, and steer clear of anything controversial.
3. Create The Right Associations
It’s important to associate yourself with people, pursuits, and organizations that help to further the professional image you want to project. If you specialize, join the main relevant associations or forums. Make connections with recognized leaders in your area on LinkedIn.
It should go without saying that if you’re going to see a client (whether in person or online, for instance on Skype) you should dress to impress. Your hair, clothes, and general grooming all send out messages about who you are, and need to work with the grain of the image you’re trying to project.
This doesn’t mean wearing a suit at all times and becoming a member of Planet Boring – know your audience, and what they expect. Understand the level of formality (or informality) that will appeal to your potential clients, and adapt your personal style to suit.
4. Be Positive
Do you constantly find the faults in any argument, the flaws to any process, or the reasons why someone’s plans are bound to fail? While it’s great to be able to see problems before they arise, being relentlessly negative doesn’t endear you to clients (or anyone, to be honest).
Take a positive attitude towards your work, and you’ll find that your professional image benefits. Constructive criticism is an art that’s well worth practising. Rather than declaring “that won’t work!”, try to present solutions.
If you can do this without seeming overbearing, that will really help. For example, you could say something like “That’s a great idea, and I think we can make it work by doing X”. Using a positive word like “and” rather than “but” reinforces the message that you want to help, and that you’re not rejecting a pet idea out of hand.
5. Be Respectful
Is there anything worse than a lack of respect? Whether this is evidenced by your lateness, rudeness, boredom, lack of communication or just lack of attention to detail, disrespect of any kind tells potential clients you’re not really interested in them.
The moral is, treat everyone with respect regardless of whether you’re working with them currently or not. The image that you build up is founded on how you treat people, so treat them well. Word gets round.
In essence, your overall people skills need honing if you want to sharpen up your professional image and be a successful freelancer – you have to have good manners, an understanding of social etiquette, and have a measure of charm.
6. Deliver On Your Promises
If you promise to do something to a particular remit and a set deadline, do it. Unless there’s a major catastrophe, a commitment is a commitment (and even then, you should make sure your client is the first to know if things go awry).
Don’t ever provide less than you say you will. Act with integrity – make sure if you say you can do something, that you are able to deliver it. It’s unfortunately common to say you have more experience than you do, or that you’re an expert in something you’ve only glanced at – but if your lies are exposed, they will shatter that carefully built professional image. Don’t do it.
Improving your professional image is a matter of making sure that you pay attention to some key details. The important messages include:
- Be very careful about what you post or “like” on social media, because it can get back to clients in roundabout ways.
- Keep your personal disasters to yourself.
- Associate yourself with people and organizations that match the image you want to project.
- Find ways to be positive, even if you have to disagree about something.
- Always treat people with respect, whether or not they’re clients.
- Always deliver on what you promise.What else would you say is important in presenting yourself as a professional? Let us know in the comments section below!
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