Tips on Professionalism for a Small Business OwnerWay back in 2013 I wrote a post on my personal blog about being a professional in the digital age.  I filed it under Behind the Screens.  Not long ago on this blog I wrote Don’t Call Yourself a Freelancer which reviews some tips on being a solopreneur.  As hard as we all try, working alone just has it’s challenges.  For many of us, we didn’t really plan on working for ourselves in a service industry, and in my day, this wasn’t a course on the way to my degree.

A few nights ago I broke one of my personal rules and my phone was turned on next to my bed.  Suddenly I was getting messages from people in the Facebook Group that a post had gone pear shaped.  Someone asked a question regarding a site they had launched and commenting broke out, people started commenting about the client (which wasn’t even the question), turns out the client is in the group and saw the post and commented, another woman was basically calling a man a jerk, other people were sharing photos of the snacks they were eating while following the thread. I deleted the post because I have three teenage girls and I have enough drama in my life and seriously, by 10pm I am already a pumpkin.

All of that brought me back to how we interact from behind the screens with clients.  Are we the same people that would show up for a meeting?  Are we more brave or less confrontational?  Are we bringing what is going on in the day into the project (by that I mean our joy, anguish, and frustrations)?

When you work alone, as many of us do, you don’t have anyone to bounce a hey is it me or them?  Does this sound right, how do I navigate?  Which is exactly why we have found so much support and comfort in the Facebook Group.  However, clients are smart.  Really smart.  And many outsource stuff they don’t want to do, but still have a hand in WordPress and their sites.  And they should.  For most of us (and “them”) the website is pretty much everything for generating new business.

There are some times when you may feel like a project isn’t running as smoothly as you would like. There are lots of reasons for this, all of which I categorize into one bucket: LIFE. We all have external bits that creep into work and being professional means something different to everyone.

This is my personal take on professionalism in a digital environment which I originally posted in 2013.  It is all still relevant.

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t vet your clients BEFORE you sign the contract then you own the headaches.  

1. Telling people your plan for returning calls and emails. You can put this in your signature, reply with a quick email that you will respond later with more details, use an auto responder stating when you answer emails or let people know when you will be traveling.

2. Do what you say you will do. Meeting deadlines on time is seriously important.

3. Have a contract. People know you are in business when you spell out your responsibilities, their responsibilities, and timelines.

4. Be a value add. Give more than expected. This doesn’t have to be physically more. It could be bringing new ideas to the table, a new connection or introduction or something related to your business.

5. Thank you goes over big pretty much all the time.

6. Try to keep your personal issues personal. A client and I were once held forever while we waited for her graphic person to get what we needed. Finally, we learned that the designer had been working on another project, planning a funeral for a cat.

7. Send invoices on time. Unorganized finances are annoying.

8. If you are billing on an hourly basis then give warning when you are closing in on the budgeted time. If things are taking you longer to complete than anticipated and your time may run over budget, explain. If you are moving more quickly, suggest tasks which you can do that weren’t in the contract but could be helpful.

9. Don’t call someone if you don’t have time to talk.

10. Be current. Know trends in your industry. If asked about something you haven’t yet heard of be honest and do your research so you can answer.

11. Be nice.

Let me be clear, each of these has been violated at one point or another by yours truly, so the queue forms behind me for “work in progress”. However, it takes two to be in a relationship and unless you are bloody amazing you won’t get repeat business from the non-cat lovers out there (reference rule #6).

What are your guiding principals for professionalism in a digital industry? Are you treating and being treated professionally? What have I missed or what do you think that I mentioned isn’t a big deal? Comment below so we can all improve!

PS I took that photo while shopping in Dallas.  I love Texas.

EIleen Lonergan
Eileen Lonergan was an integral part of this company. Unfortunately, Eileen Passed away on the 31st of October 2018 after a short battle with Cancer. She leaves behind the legacy of the Divi Theme Users Group and hundreds of people that she helped through coaching, building outstanding websites and just being - accessible. We miss her every day!
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