Just what does it mean to be a professional? Well, in the first place it means that you are no longer an amateur. That you are good enough at something that someone will actually hand you money.
However, you can be a really advanced amateur at anything. To some degree, some amateurs may even be more forward-thinking in their skill set than the so-called professional.
Is it only when money is exchanged that marks you as a professional, then?
You get paid to do something. In exchange for that payment, there are some expectations that I think everyone has in the back of their mind.
I can tell you what it is NOT. For me, the description of a professional is not the following three things:
You don’t have to wear a tie or a dress to be a professional.
I’m sure you have met a waiter, bartender, lawn care guy, or a creative designer that is more professional in demeanor than some accountants, lawyers, or bankers you know.
Don’t judge a book by the cover. I don’t care what you are wearing. That doesn’t make you more of a professional than someone in blue jeans and a t-shirt.
What someone puts on their business card doesn’t make them better or worse than anyone else. It’s the actions that I want to see.
Do they return a phone call or email? Are they helpful to you? That’s more important than their job title.
Besides, I know plenty of people with cute titles on their business cards like “Head Bottle Washer” or “Rocket Scientist.”
They were neither.
Also, you can’t be a true CEO if you are the only person in the company. If this is you, nobody believes that, and they think you are a poser. You might want to rethink that strategy.
If there is one thing that came out of the COVID situation, the “where” someone does their work matters little sometimes.
You can be just as professional working from your kitchen table, as you can from the back patio or corner office. What matters more than anything is the productivity that happens every day.
However, for many jobs you have to be present to win. A screen printer has to be at the press in order to print the shirts. Unless the shop is in the garage or basement, you can’t do that from home.
For the definition of professional, think about these ideas instead:
What matters most in any business relationship is how someone carries themself.
Their work ethic and attitude. How they handle situations. Every day or problematic. Performance matters.
To me, there are ten basic tenets for being a professional, in any business or vocation.
Professionals Are Curiously Interested
This means that they invest in themselves to get better constantly. They are interested in learning.
Often, they will be trying out something to see if it will work. They talk about ideas constantly with other professionals. A true professional will never say, “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
Instead it is always about “how we can” and not “why we can’t.”
Professionals Are Reliable
You can count on them. They get the job completed. On time. With quality. And a smile.
When a professional is on the job, you don’t have to wonder if it will be handled correctly or on time. It will be.
Because a professional has systems, procedures, and rules in place to ensure the expected result. Professionals begin with the end in mind.
Professionals Follow Up
A true professional will follow up with a customer to ensure that they are happy and meet their needs.
“Did you get that art approval?”
“I’m sorry, but we are going to be a tad late in shipping your order out, we just received the goods yesterday.”
“How did we do on that last order? “
“I’d like to talk to you about this new idea…”
Professionals Are Respectful
Of your time and theirs. They don’t require several follow-ups from the customer to see if the job will be completed on time or even started.
They tell the truth, even if it is painful. They are interested in the best possible outcome for their customers, even if it means not making the sale.
They think long-term, and are not transactional.
Respect is earned, not given. They want to be the first person you call.
Professionals Ask Good Questions
They know that to truly understand the situation or challenge they have to comprehend the big picture. They realize that their preparation will determine the successful outcome.
Professionals are big-picture people. They want to know.
Ideas are always celebrated, even if they don’t always work out, because they are stepping stones to something greater.
Want to see a happy professional? Get them in a room with other professionals and talk shop. To outsiders, it will be the most one-sided boring affair ever. It will be a landmark event for the professionals and will be posted on social media with a “you had to be there” comment.
Getting better is a team sport. Professionals appreciate this and will bring in outside help, other people’s opinions, and get more people involved.
What is the unknown known?
We don’t know, but we are going to do our best to find out. “Let’s try this first…”
Professionals Are Honest
They will admit when they are wrong or a mistake has been made. A professional will not shy away from communicating something a customer doesn’t want to hear…because they need to hear it.
There can only be one source of truth. Reality.
Professionals Are Self-Aware
They know their limits. What they can accept and what they can not.
They don’t mind saying “No,” especially for something that is out of the scope of what they can or want to do. They know the value of the work that they offer, and will not take less for it.
Unprofessionals take anything that comes along, and drown in unprofitable work. Being busy to be busy is dumb.
Professionals Know Their Numbers
They crunch the numbers. All. The. Time.
The phrase, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is first and foremost in their thinking. This is why they rely on math to help them make decisions.
Is it going to get better?
Stay the same?
Who knows? But the data will give us the capability to make the proper determination. Then, we can react.
Professionals Love Their Customers
Lastly, professionals know that customers are the heartbeat of their business.
They always come first.
That being said, there are good customers and there are bad customers. A professional knows the difference, and will happily send the bad customers to the competition with a smile.
They want more good customers, and actually know who they are and where to find them.
What Would A Professional Do?
Why am I posting this? Good question.
Take a look at your social media feeds lately. Look in the groups at some of the posts. There are countless people sharing the many different tales about how one company didn’t meet expectations or handle a job a certain way. They completely failed and didn’t take any responsibility.
Orders don’t ship on time. Instructions aren’t followed. The rep on the phone was a jerk. Companies are constantly been over-charged and under-delivered.
Currently, we are struggling with many different issues in this industry. There is a worker shortage. Inventory levels are flaky. Consumables are out of stock. Shipping is screwed up and often late.
The world has opened up finally, and now there is an endless row of speedbumps on the on-ramp to getting back to normal. It is so frustrating.
But you can still be professional.
Sometimes I think we need to simply remind ourselves of the basics. First and foremost we are in business to please and serve the customer.
Whatever chaos exists in your building, the customers you have absolutely don’t care about that. Ever. They get to vote with their dollars.
Want to scale your business? Be more professional.
Your first and foremost job is to help your customer succeed. Figure it out.
“If you think it is expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” – Red Adair
“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” – Alistair Cooke
“A passive approach to professional growth will leave you by the wayside.” – Tom Peters
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