5 Pro Tips to Elevate Your Professional Persona
per·so·na /ˌpərˈsōnə/ noun The social face a person presents to the world; “a kind of mask, designed… to make a definite impression upon others.”
As I detail in an earlier post, your professional reputation is built upon the characteristics and values you demonstrate day in and day out, which I believe ties back into the qualities and inherent values that provide the foundation for how you live your life.
And while it can take very little time to build a negative reputation—and years to change that reputation—you can begin to build a positive reputation by cultivating your professional persona, taking a cue from the world’s most revered leaders, and figuring out how to integrate what you stand for into your daily activities and behaviour.
If you’re feeling like you need to level up your professional persona as a creative freelancer, enlist these five pro tips to put your best foot forward:
#1. Be considerate of time.
While common courtesy dictates that you arrive on time, go one step further and show up early to meetings and calls! It’ll give you time to read prep material, focus yourself, and review the points you want to make and the outcomes you hope to achieve from the meeting.
Pro tip: Set each of your clocks ahead a different number of minutes between five and 10, so your brain won’t be trained into knowing how far you can push your timing.
#2. Be prepared.
It astounds me how many people try to “wing it” through meetings. In reality, lack of preparation can make you look like an idiot—and can lose you business, too (remember: reputation matters!).
To do: Do your research; review the material; formulate your fact-based argument; and, share your own documentation either prior to or within 24 hours of the meeting/call.
Pro tip: Create a cheat-sheet with top stats and points you want to make. (That cheat-sheet might even become the next client one-pager!)
#3. Sleuth your way to success.
If you’ve followed Step 2, you’re prepared. But how much do you actually know about the company you’re doing work with or its people? Why is this important? The more you know about the company and its people, the more valuable you can be to them, the better your relationships will be, and the more business you’re likely to receive from them as a result.
To do: Read through the company’s entire website (i.e., don’t just skim their home page). When searching, look at the first couple pages of search results (not just the top results, which are typically paid ads, meant to drive a specific perception of the company and its brand).
Pro tip: Go the extra mile to search for the company’s leaders. Look for details like previous employers/roles and publications that the person may have written or was mentioned in. Also: Look them up on social media: Find out if they’re a dog- or cat-person, whether they like coffee or tea, if they like to travel… All of this will help you have better conversations and make stronger connections with your contacts over time.
#4. Review before signing off.
Yes, we’re all busy and no one wants to spend more time in a meeting than they necessarily have to. But you’ll be demonstrating good overall time management skills if you take two minutes at the end of each discussion to summarize what you believe you learned and confirm your next steps. This helps to set mutual expectations on the work to be done and also, solidifies the discussion in everyone’s minds.
Pro tip: Dictate a numbered list of takeaways and then, a list of follow-up items. (Note: It doesn’t have to be a formal declaration; you can even do this as your client walks you to the door).
#5. Follow up within 24-36 hours.
This gets missed so consistently that it bears repeating: After a meeting or call, email the participants about next steps. Why is this important? First, it further solidifies your relationship, and also, if you’re new to working with the group, it provides your contact info, so they can easily reach out to you. Second, you’ll gain agreement on what’s expected of you from the relationship and can help to uncover scope-creep. Finally, it’s just a respectful and honest way of doing business.
Pro tip: Keep it short and sweet, please! But do—
*Thank participants for the insights you gained from their comments. (No need to list insights or people one by one. Just indicate your thankfulness…)
*List each person’s next steps as you understand them, including specific deliverables and ETAs. (If you’re feeling extra keen or are an Excel or Google Docs pro, why not create a workback schedule?!)
*Give them “an out”—if they understood any of the next steps differently, ask them to document via email to the group, so everyone’s in the loop.
*Sign off with a memorable line or words—not “best” or “regards” (too generic) or “yours” (too personal).
*Include an e-signature!!! (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to search for someone’s cell number because they didn’t include it in their email. Ugh…. big-time pet peeve!)
At the end of the day, putting your best foot forward as a freelancer comes down to the work you do and how you present yourself in the public eye.
Many creatives choose the freelance life for the freedom it gives them, including how they represent themselves and their own unique personalities. But remember: You can still maintain your individuality while presenting a positive and professional persona that entices new and recurring clients into your roster.
What do you do to cultivate your professional persona? Or—do you have any pet peeves of working as a creative freelancer? I want to hear about your experiences! Leave a comment below.
Until next time, keep on truckin’,