Letting Personality Spoil Your Professional Reputation
Understanding that authenticity is of great importance online, many professionals go overboard, sharing far too much personal information. Do not let your personality take the place of true expertise. Though others may appreciate your genial, personal tone, only true expertise and value can garner sustained attention and true respect.
Think of personalty as the beautiful china on which you serve delicious food- not the food itself.
Muddling Your Online Brand
It is wise to separate work and play, but the separation must be carefully managed in online realms. If you choose to maintain a personal life online that is very different from your professional life, it should be kept private or shared under a very different name or username that clients, colleagues, and customers are not likely to associate with your professional identity.
Let us say you are a family law attorney who offers practical relationship advice and helps people build sound legal foundations that strengthen, rather than ruin, marriages. Let us also say that on weekends, you are quite the partier and serial dater. This gives rise to a discrepancy between your personal and professional images. To avoid damaging your serious, responsible professional brand with your rambunctious personal life:
- Make ALL of your personal accounts private and entirely locked down (plus only shared with a small group of close friends)
- Publish personal things publicly, but anonymously (see our guide to publishing anonymously for more information)
Even if your personal online life is not damaging, it would best be hidden if it is different from the professional image you project. Digital identities should be simple, straightforward, and clear. Anything that muddles them may damage their efficacy.
Letting Out-of-Date Content Haunt the Internet
Should you ultimately come to neglect an online property (e.g. an old social media account or blog), make sure that:
- It is deleted
- It is made private
- If left life, it at least showcases a current bio
- If left live, it is checked for old content that might reflect poorly on your professional image (which must be immediately removed)
Veering from Best Practices in Modern Design
Websites have evolved to look as they do because:
- Their elements have proven to encourage people to stay with the website longer
- They reflect aesthetics appreciated by mainstream society
- Years of user interface and user experience testing have yielded data attesting to the value of commonly-used layouts and user flows
There are many ways one can demonstrate one's unique style and taste; we do not recommend expressing eccentricity through web design. Though you might think your site's off-the-beaten path design is bold, beautiful, and attractive, other people might see it as a sign to run away from you, and fast.
Being Too Confident or Too Modest
Margaret Thatcher is known for having said "Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
Be modest in the way you present yourself. Do not claim to be a guru or expert in your field. Instead, demonstrate your professional prowess through your actions and insights.
Do not go so far with your modesty as to fail to show off your talents, or worse yet, express doubt in them. No client or customer will want to patronize someone who isn't comfortable standing behind his or her own work.
Sticking to the Beaten Track
When embarking on a serious career or launching a business, it can be tempting to get as much advice from books, articles, courses, and people as possible.
While it is wise to be informed about one's prospects, work, competitors, colleagues, and industry, focusing too much on those things might lead you to:
- Enter a state of analysis paralysis, in which you constantly conduct research without producing actual work of your own
- Only adhere to the practices, approaches, and tactics recommended by others
You must take risks and move forward if you want to build a professional reputation or robust business. You will never reach a point at which you will be fully prepared. You will make mistakes. You will embarrass yourself. You will have to work hard. Trying new things and entering into unfamiliar territory is not always fun, but it must be done.
Professionals and entrepreneurs do not succeed by following others' advice and doing as they say. They gain from questioning the status quo, acting contrary to conventional wisdom, and nabbing first-mover advantages in uncharted territories. Should you neglect to go off the beaten path, you will be doomed to a life of professional mediocrity.
Promising Too Much
Businesses and professionals win new clients and customers by exceeding others' expectations, not meeting them (or worse yet, failing to deliver on one's promise entirely). If anything, promise less than you know you can deliver, then leave clients pleasantly surprised with additional value.
Should you, for example, assure a client that you will teach his dog three tricks, make sure you absolutely can teach those tricks (plus a couple more). Your client will be delighted to discover that you went above and beyond.
Missing Opportunities by Being Inaccessible
You would be surprised by how many professional breakthroughs are the result of random events and chance meetings. The more you facilitate them, the more likely you will be to move forward with your career and business.
The fewer people you meet in person (through parties, mixers, meetings, conferences, events, and general friendliness), the less likely you will be to garner personal referrals and gain valuable new connections.
Failing to maintain a baseline online presence through which others can find and contact you is akin to conducting business in the physical world without an office or a phone number. If people cannot find you, they will find someone else. If someone cannot easily contact you, they will opt to work with someone else who is more accessible.
Many professionals receive emails about new opportunities (e.g. to write articles, take on a new client, fly somewhere interesting for a speaking engagement, etc.) from strangers who come across their content online. Should you neglect to publish valuable, insightful, relevant content or be impossible to reach, those opportunities will never come.
Focusing Too Much on One Dimension of Professional Life
As with so many things, balance is key. You will only hamper your progress if you focus excessively on any one thing, such as:
- Bolstering your portfolio
- Online promotion
- Offline promotion
- Analyzing your performance
- Producing work
Bolstering your portfolio is great, but after a certain point, you will need to start reaching out to people directly. Promotion exclusively online or offline ignores wide swaths of potential contacts, clients, and customers. Over-analyzing performance can detract from one's productivity. And producing work, while neglecting relations with others or one's outward (physical or digital) appearance, may lead to unsatisfied clients or a paucity of new prospects.
Failing to Reinvest in Your Business
"Success" is an odd word in the business world. One is never truly successful in the sense that one has finished one's work and is free to coast along effortlessly. Professional and entrepreneurial success requires constant adjustment, adaptation, and improvement- it is more akin to balancing a tennis racket on the palm of one's hand than holding it firmly in one's grasp.
Failing to constantly adjust and evolve will lead to a swift and inevitable downfall. Do not assume that all of your earnings can go toward new cars, homes, and toys. Do not assume your skills will always be relevant and in demand. Do not assume that your business model will always yield profits. Instead, constantly monitor your performance, reinvest in your work, and take measures to ensure growth rather than coasting or decline.
Poorly Defining "Productive" Work
It is incredibly easy to be pulled into the seductive spiral of unproductive sirens, masquerading as productive tasks. No professional can honestly claim that he or she has never become distracted by seemingly virtuous tasks that add no value to his or her career or business.
The following tasks often producing more wasted time than concrete value:
- Constantly checking social media channels
- Constantly checking email
- Entering contests (they are typically designed to promote the host, not your professional background or business)
To avoid unproductive work, make a habit of constantly asking yourself: "Why am I doing this? What value does it create?"
Assuming that Social Media Drives Sales
We have yet to hear from an online professional who has found a way to use social media in a manner that consistently drives sales. Though the occasional campaign might yield something, results are hard to repeat.
Social media appears to yield the most value in its ability to:
- Raise awareness
- Establish deeper connections with colleagues, clients, and employees
- Encourage others to introduce people to your work/services/products
Keep in mind that not every subject is meant to be discussed on social media. There are some types of businesses that we really don't care to hear from all that much. Take locksmiths for example: they're certainly needed, but few of us want to follow every update that comes from a locksmith company via social media.
Carefully consider whether your professional work or company is appropriate for a certain platform. If it isn't, leave it alone. You might feel like you've "failed" by choosing not to be active on a platform where everyone simply must be involved, but trust us, you will be saving a lot of time.
Working with Mean, Rude, or Poorly-Matched Clients
We all want money, and we all find ourselves working with people, out of necessity, who we would rather avoid. That said, try to minimize with sub-optimal customers and clients whenever possible. Taking on a bad client, colleague, or customer, whether mean or just a bad fit, can lead to:
- A lower quality of life
- Lower quality work
- Bad references
- Wasted time and resources
Failing to Establish Goals at the Outset
Even if you have an excellent relationship with a collaborative partner, customer, or client, it is important to kick off projects with clear and mutually-understood goals. Failing to do so can result in:
- Lost time due to tangents and distractions
- Products or services that do not actually meet a client's needs
- Bad client relations
When not tethered to goals, many clients and professionals inadvertently pull projects off track. What's more, a professional will have a much more difficult time talking a client or customer down from a poor choice or strategically-damaging demand should he or she not have a higher goal to use when re-framing priorities.
Goal setting will be impossible without mutual understanding. Strong communication skills are a key element of any professional's skill set. A vast majority of conflicts in the business world result from miscommunications (or a lack of any communication).
Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Depending too much on any one source for income and professional stability is incredibly risky.
Entrepreneurs who depend on one source for revenue, whether it comes in the form of a large client, the sale of one product, or an online ad partner, are setting themselves up for disaster. Even professionals who are happily employed at stable, thriving companies put themselves at risk by neglecting to maintain an active presence in online and offline realms and cultivate an active network of colleagues. Always look for new opportunities. Do not expect your top sources of earnings to always deliver.
Choosing a Bad Business Partner
Bad professional partnerships (be they between co-founders of a company or two employees working within a department) can destroy careers and companies.
Should a co-founder or partner:
- Duplicate your skills rather than complement them
- Not listen to you
- Not respect you
- Not have patience with you
- Have goals that run contrary to your personal aspirations
Carefully re-evaluate whether or not you should maintain that relationship.
Should you decide to work with a friend or significant other in some professional capacity, carefully evaluate the impact a business-oriented partnership will have on your relationship. Can your relationship handle the strain? Are you good at separating your professional from personal lives at the end of the day? Are you adept at resolving conflicts together? Can you be confident that the relationship would survive the failure of the business venture, or that the business venture could survive the failure of the relationship? The more open you can be with a friend or significant other about these issues before making a professional commitment, the better.
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