We all have to start somewhere! Although you might be new to being a professional biz personality, that doesn’t mean you have to look green. Maybe you’re not a people person or aren’t sure how to handle your first day on the job. If you’re lost and need direction on keeping up appearances while managing your fledgling business, I’ve got you covered. Here are three tricks I’ve learned to help you look like a professional, even when you have no clue what you’re doing.
3 Ways to Look Like a Professional… Even If You Have No Clue What You’re Doing
Dress to impress (online)
Dress for the job you want, not the one you have, right? We’ve heard the tired line of advice about faking it ’til you make it, but did you know there are statistics to back up the fact that your physical attributes and even professional attitude can impact your career?
Forbes has an entire article about executive presence, and reported that your career advancement is directly connected with how confident and authoritative you appear- and this presence counts for about a fourth of your promotional potential. While this data was gleaned from an executive boardroom type environment, the bottom line is the same. You literally have to fake it ’til you make it (and keep ironing those dress pants). Being meek and withdrawn won’t win you any accolades, since the higher ups are most impressed by forward thinking and an air of self importance. Physical appearance plays a part, but it’s a small component of the overall package that is uber professional and authoritative you.
But what if your business doesn’t happen in a boardroom or office building with endless rows of cubicles and highly sought after corner offices?
In the digital business world, transactions take place over email, and “face to face” can often just mean via Skype. In this setting, professional dress and the ability to dominate the company meeting with brilliant biz ideas can only take you so far. If your business involves regular, digital face time with clients, you already know wearing a tie or ironed shirt will help your image.
For the rest of us that seem to only exist in the cyberspace between our laptop screens and our clients’, this 3 step non-physical-appearance guide translates that physical executive presence into actionable online business communication. After all, the client on the other end of your electronic communication won’t have any clue what you look like, so there’s no banking on good looks to float you through.
1. Don’t say, “I don’t know…”
This is a valuable yet straightforward gem I learned from years in customer service. For a concept so simple, it seemed difficult for many a retail employee to digest. Bottom line: if I don’t know the answer to your question, it’s my job to find it. Whether I’m the janitor or the CEO, it’s in my job description to be helpful. Particularly in my own business, because, after all, I should know everything about it.
The truth is, we all forget details on occasion (usually the worst occasions). Another truth is, there’s no excuse for not keeping track of the ins and outs of your business. If a client doesn’t recall the amount you quoted them on a project, is it really in your best interest to answer with “I don’t know, I emailed you the quote weeks ago”?
Nope, definitely not. It’s worth the ten minutes of outbox searching (or better yet, taking notes in the first place- hello Google sheets!) to find the exact figure. But as a conscientious business owner, you wouldn’t dream of being outright rude or unhelpful to a client. At least, I hope you wouldn’t.
But, there are other ways this lackadaisical approach to information sharing could hurt your business. If a client asks for a quote on a new project and you’ve never billed for that type of work before, there’s no reason you have to flounder helplessly. Hopping online can help you figure out how to structure project proposals- and to bill for the work you’re doing- without letting the client know you were desperately skimming Pinterest for invoicing tips.
There were times in my early days of freelancing when I’d head to search engines for advice on any number of small biz topics. Just when I was praying for expert advice on filing freelance taxes, up came a result perfectly suited to that conundrum. There’s no one comprehensive guide to making it all work, as a freelancer or any business owner. However, there is no lack of super helpful information that can be found and stored in your savvy biz owner information receptacle. And by that, I obviously mean your secret Pinterest board.
2. Don’t say, “I think…”
You’re the expert.
Your opinions are not opinions, they’re facts.
You're the expert. Your opinions are not opinions, they're facts. Click To Tweet
If you’re giving advice to a client, or making suggestions for a project, think about why you’re tempted to preface a comment with “I think.”
Is it because you’re not sure about the proposition? Are you hesitant to put yourself out there for fear of failure? If these worries are holding you back, you likely shouldn’t be giving that particular piece of advice at all. If what you’re saying to a client isn’t something you’d want plastered on a billboard, or across Twitter, it’s probably best left unsaid.
On the other hand, if you’re saying “I think” because you’re trying to be friendly and gentle with your client…
Knock it off.
You’re the expert for a reason. Clients come to you and trust you for that reason. You know why formula X Y Z works. Just because you’re scared to offend a client doesn’t mean they don’t need the help that you’re poised to offer. A key strategy is to offer advice in the form of “this is great for you because…” rather than “I think this might work for you because…” There is a huge difference between being approachable and being timid, and we want conversational, helpful input- without the wishy washy.
There is much to be said about the language we use with our customers, but overall the idea is to focus on positive phrasing and a problem solving attitude. Consider your client’s perspective when answering questions (even if it’s the 100th such inquiry today). Definitely don’t write in all caps. Emojis should be used sparingly, since we are serious business persons, after all.
Your clients want results, and you’re [obviously] the pro to deliver them. Just make sure your delivery comes across pro, too.
3. Don’t over-apologize
Of course, apologize when necessary. As in, when you actually screw up. If you constantly apologize for every little thing, from a misunderstanding that wasn’t your fault, to not answering an email the moment you received it, you risk looking like a doormat. Also, you look a little guilty, not to mention awkward.
Save those apologies for when they’re truly needed. Like when you’re so deathly ill you can’t crawl to the computer or get to the post office in time to meet a set deadline. Or when tech malfunctions keep you from accessing important documents (because even the Cloud isn’t foolproof, right?). There will be times when your client deserves- and likely expects- a sincere apology. But over-apologizing can cause your clients to lose confidence in you, because it can start to sound hollow.
As a people-pleaser, holding back the sorries might be difficult for you (*raises hand*). You might want to save people from their problems. Make sure their coffee has just the right amount of sugar, fold their napkin just so, wipe away any crumbs. But if you’re caught up in fine-combing the less significant details, then you’re not wholeheartedly invested in your actual work. Besides, it’s highly unlikely that every snafu that comes up is legitimately your fault in the first place.
There’s no point in apologizing solely for your tendency to take up space (or breathe!). We all miss an email occasionally, mean to reply and forget, or need time to think a prospect through. If you’re offering customers awesomeness 99% of the time, that 1% of oops will be covered.
Keep your eye on the prize!
Ok, that one’s just a bonus.
A few months from now, or even years from now, you’ll look back on your new biz owner days with pride. And without flinching! Earning an actual paycheck through your ingenuity and hard work is the coolest grown up feeling ever. So is earning trust and respect from your clients. After all, without them, you wouldn’t have a business!
We’re all scared to venture out of our safe spaces, but to brand yourself as the expert in your craft, it’s wholly necessary! Your reputation is intermingled with every sale you make. The key is being aware of how you portray yourself in your business and in your client interactions.
How do you ensure that your online “executive presence” and your brand are being represented in the absolute best light? I’d love to know!