Professionalism

I’ve been a web pro for about 7 years now. I’ve come a long way in that time, but there is still a long way to go in maturing and wisdom. I’ll share with you my findings and hopefully get some feedback from other professionals on how they handle the day-to-day.

Rule #1: Keep your home life and work life separate.

I used to not care one bit about keeping personal and business compartmentalized. Though, I now consider it the most important thing. Not just in keeping things professional on the work side, but keeping your sanity on the home side.

My biggest mistake was using my personal cell phone as my work contact. This was fine at first, but became a disaster after not too long, especially as my reputation built and I was taking on more and more client work. Since I work with people all over the world, this became a phone call at any hour, anywhere nightmare. Since I decided to use my personal cell I couldn’t just turn it off, I needed to stay in contact with friends and family.

Eventually, the solution for me was not to get a second work cell (which might be a good idea for say loan officers, car dealers, doctors, etc.). For me, the solution was to simply no longer do business over the phone. A bit risky and I certainly don’t recommend it for everyone. But for me, it cut my stress down an incredible amount.

Another mistake was using the same username for everything. Most notable, with the obviously bizarre and misguided name of my main web design site calmest_ghostDESIGN. At the time (2006), that was the same username I used for my MySpace account, for geeky movie forums, you name it. This started to become a problem because as my website gained PageRank and the name was being searched more, clients and potential clients were now possibly seeing personal stuff I’d said, perhaps religious or political or whatever which is a big no no. This includes using the same Facebook account for personal and work. Just don’t.

Finally, using my home address for various accounts online and for various business needs which is just the dumbest thing you can do. Sure, if someone wants to track down your home address they’re going to anyways, but don’t make it easy for them. It also just looks unprofessional using a residential address.

Tips

  • Don’t use your personal cell or home phone for work. If you can’t afford another phone (though with TracFone, that’s hard to believe), you can always set up a Google Voice account (which you can forward to your personal cell). When I was still doing business over the phone, I had a second line with Vonage — which you can also forward to your cell.
  • Don’t use the same username for everything (just like you shouldn’t use the same password for all your accounts). Decide whether it’s personal or work related and use an appropriate username. Don’t use the same Facebook (or any social account for that matter) for both personal and business use. I don’t even use Facebook for personal use anymore, but if you do, create one just for family and friends and one just for business, co-workers, employers, etc. Since many employers like to use Facebook to research potential employees, lock your personal one’s privacy up tight. Keep your online identities separate.
  • Don’t use your home address for anything business related. Get a PO Box or virtual address instead (unless of course you really do have a brick and mortar storefront — just use that).

Rule #2: Don’t take it or make it personal.

We are human, by definition, unpredictable and emotional creatures. But, you can still learn how to handle situations better. Let’s face it, whenever money is involved, a high level of stress is involved. If you’re a seasoned pro or otherwise run a business, you already know that not every business deal, partnership, transaction, or project is going to work out flawlessly. It just doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes, expectations aren’t met or properly understood to begin with. Sometimes, you think you’re on the same page, but really you’re not even in the same library going forward. Sometimes someone is unable to pay you on time or refuses to at all. Sometimes you need to provide a refund. Sometimes, it’s just a bad fit. But, what you need to realize is that it’s never ever personal even if someone throws a petty and personal insult at you, it’s still just business.

Back in the early days (2006-2007), whenever I got a crazy, unreasonable client or customer (we’ve all had them), I made the mistake of matching their tone. If they were throwing expletives my way, I was throwing them back. This is huge waste of time. You will never gain anything, but stress. I used to fight over refunds especially when I had already put a lot of hard work in. But, it’s just pointless. The best thing to do is remain calm, give them a refund, and move on.

If you read my blog, you already know I’m not afraid to speak my mind. If I feel something needs saying, I say it. I think it’s important to stand by one’s convictions and I don’t think it’s ever a sign of weakness to do so, especially when you know people are going to attack you over your opinion. To me, that’s courage and integrity.

However, you should never ever mention individuals by name, no matter how wrong or even criminal they may be. Just don’t do it. I learned my lesson the very hardest way on that. Besides the obvious litigious concern of defamation, libel and slander, I’ve learned that it’s simply the higher moral ground to not name names and still make your point.

Tips

  • Don’t expect every single business dealing to go flawlessly. Take precautions and remember that no matter what, it’s just business. You’re only one in over 7 billion people on earth. Life goes on.
  • Don’t ever use profanity or name-call, be sarcastic, or make snide comments. If someone you’re dealing with is, let them tire themselves out and remain calm and objective. You will always be more on top of the situation and more stress-free that way.
  • Don’t fight until the bloody end over a refund (unless it’s just insane, like you’ve done all the work and the client or customer has praised you and given the final acceptance of the work only to come back a month later and ask for a refund — this has happened to me). Even so, if you’re doing well, that means you’ll be working with a large number of people. In return, that means that you will naturally deal with refunds every now and then. This is perfectly normal and everything, for one reason or another, isn’t always a good fit and to be professional is to understand that. Immediately provide a refund and move onto the next thing. Don’t ever threaten someone over compensation. When you do provide a refund, don’t do so in a petty and personal way, just let it go.
  • Don’t ever oust individuals for non-payment, shoddy work, or really anything. Just don’t do it. It won’t make you look good either and will just create a worse situation if they decide to retaliate.

Rule #3: Quality over quantity.

Attention to detail is everything when it comes to quality. The kind of attention that only comes from integrity. Meaning, that even if it’s something the client is naive to or couldn’t care less about, you still do. As a web designer, I care about code quality, validity, and SEO-friendliness even though on the front-end to the customer, nothing looks any different.

This is why I always advise people to work with one, specific professional. You’ll get quality with that kind of one-on-one attention. With a firm, you’ll get quantity because they’re not specializing, you’re on a conveyor belt with a thousand others getting the cookie-cutter treatment.

That’s certainly not a be-all-to-end-all list of rules, but the 3 key rules that come to mind in what I feel makes a professional. No one’s perfect, I still work on this all the time and slip up from time to time. I have a lot to learn. It’s always best to have more questions than answers. I’d love to get some feedback and tips from everyone else on their experience.