3 Ways to Look Like a Professional (Even If You Have No Clue What You’re Doing)

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

 

3 Ways to Look Like a Professional (Even If You Have No Clue What You're Doing)- WordsbyErynn

 

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  Being meek and withdrawn won’t win you any accolades, since the higher ups are most impressed by forward thinking and an air of self importance.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.

Right?

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.

But seriously:

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!

 

7 Simple Strategies for Breaking Through a Creative Block

As creatives, we’ve all run into a seemingly impossible space where the ideas just. won’t. flow. Writers seem particularly susceptible to this dilemma, but we’re not the only ones! Fortunately, since I’ve consciously employed the following strategies, I’ve been circumventing that pesky creative block. Next time you’re up against a blank screen or blank paper, try one of these seven ideas to get the bright ideas glowing again!

 

7 Simple Strategies for Breaking Through a Creative Block

 

Next time you're up against a blank screen or blank paper, try one of these seven ideas to get the bright ideas glowing again and banishing creative block. Inspiration from WordsbyErynn.com.

Do something you’re terrible at to switch gears.

No, really.

It’s not to make you suffer:

Not only will you encourage your mind to switch gears, you’ll also appreciate your own craft more when you return to the task at hand. I wouldn’t advise delving so deep that you get frustrated, but sketching instead of sewing or cooking instead of computing can help to reroute your creativity and knock down creative block.

 

Bust out a coloring book and get to stress-relieving.

How it helps:

It may be “mindless,” but this lets your thoughts wander and morph, potentially leading to a breakthrough. Plus, there’s something super satisfying about coloring inside the lines and sharpening fresh pencils (or is this just me?).

There’s a reason grown-up coloring books are everywhere, and it’s because kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from getting their scribbles out.

 

Get out of your comfort zone to discover fresh perspective.

Rather than holing up in your office, or gluing yourself to the work table until the project finishes itself, take your work space out of the equation.

For me, this means chasing my kids and/or engaging in adult conversation. Both serve as brain-distracting tasks that take me out of my creative prison! When I return to my work, it’s a welcome change to jump back within my own mind and creative process.

 

People watch for inspiration.

Bonus points for venturing out into a public place, since this can be done via your favorite sitcom. Yes, this is explicit permission to load Netflix and begin binge watching!

But don’t just mindlessly indulge:

Make sure to keep an eye out for visuals, topics, or character developments of interest.

 

Check out others’ work for innovative ideas.

I always get a jolt of inspiration after reading others’ blogs, or analyzing the copy on their business websites. Look to a peer (or idol) in your genre to see what they’re up to.

Definitely don’t plagiarize, but consider expanding on idea they’ve shared. Or, try a project in the same medium they use. As long as the end result is uniquely yours, no one needs to know which artist or entrepreneur you secretly stalk.

 

Plan an event or outing to check off to-do’s for a refreshing change of pace.

Upcoming birthday? Far off vacation? Need to make a grocery list?

Now is the perfect time to start on another task- either necessary, or frivolously enjoyable. Diving into a personal project can refresh your desire to work on, well, “work.”

Plus, thinking ahead to your to-do list ensures that you’re making progress in your personal life too, not just the business arena.

 

Give yourself an assignment to encourage meaningful work and end ongoing creative block.

I always work most efficiently with a client’s guidelines (and timeline) in my toolkit. For my own projects, I have to develop each from scratch, and decide on the parameters.

I’ve found that following a template and answering key questions always get me on track for writing my own blog posts and developing content. Revive the meaning behind what you do, by following ‘rules’ for completion, and guarantee that you’ll consistently turn out work you’re proud of.

 

Think you’ll try one of these strategies to get rid of a looming creative block? Or do you have your own secrets to get the brainstorm brewing?

7 Simple Strategies for Banishing Creative Block from WordsbyErynn.com

Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner

Before my career change to freelance writer and web content evaluation consultant, I spent ten years in customer service. I held a variety of front line customer service positions over the years, and at one company earned a few recognition awards for giving great guest service. So, I think I can claim to know at least a few things about customer service. For example, if I had performed any job as abysmally as the staff at an auto service center I visited last month, I would have been counseled extensively, if not fired.

How is my experience relevant to you? If you own your own business, the time will come when you’re faced with a complaint. Or a whole lot of complaints. How do you handle a disgruntled customer when you’re the face of the entire company, from front line service to CEO? I recommend 5 simple guidelines to ease the process.

Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner. 5 strategies for handling unhappy customers. WordsbyErynn blog

CEO reality check: Guest service is always my job.

Even if you’re not routinely interacting with your customers (lucky you to have minions to do the work!), you are still responsible for the messages they receive and the way they’re treated. By the time a customer reaches you, the situation is likely to escalate unless you acknowledge that your employees, your website, your written materials, and any other representation of the business are all your responsibility.

It would not have served me well in my former guest service life to have told a customer that something wasn’t my job, or disregard how another person in the business treated them. It doesn’t serve you well to shift responsibility in your own business either, boss person!

Marketing: My customers just want the truth.

If you haven’t completed a project on time, let the customer know. If something went wrong and you need time to fix it, just tell them. The worst that can happen is they’ll be irritated- which will happen anyway if you lie and they find out later!

If you must, be creative in your explanations, but don’t lie! For example, “We’re waiting on a response from the warranty company, and policy doesn’t allow us to release your vehicle” is a hundred times better than, “There’s a lot more that has to be done so we’ll call you when it’s ready.” Yes, that happened to me, and as you can see, I am still annoyed about it. The truth will always serve you better in small business than a lie will!

Guest management: Guest service as a process.

Before I even handed over the keys to my vehicle, I told the service rep that I’d had a bad experience the previous visit and wasn’t thrilled to be back (location and convenience for the win). He apologized profusely and thanked me for returning.

While an apology is a nice way to open, I don’t want people tripping over themselves to tell me how bad they feel. I want action, and your customers do too. If a customer feels wronged, apologizing only acknowledges the error. Let them know how you’ll take action to fix it.

Offer an item or service at a discount (or free!), provide additional support or services that aren’t normally included, or just make yourself available if they have future troubles. Take note of the fact that a customer with a previous or existing issue, might very well continue to have issues, so be proactive in offering ways to help.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet. WordsbyErynn blog. Remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet.

When I picked up my vehicle from the aforementioned service center, I was well over the one day rental cost allowed by my warranty company. My service rep covered the additional rental fees without hesitation.

I know that for a business of their size, this was not a huge bullet to bite, but to you and me, our work might be worth a lot more than forty and some change. There may be times when granting a full refund might save your business a terrible review, however tough it is to make up the difference for your bottom line. It can be disheartening to essentially throw away the time you spent on a service or product, not considering the cost of materials or supplies. But remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Public Relations: Reduce opportunities for gossip and public embarrassment.

Have you ever gone on Yelp to check out reviews for a business, and read a particularly scathing review followed by the business itself commenting? I personally will not patronize a business that airs its issues with customers publicly on social media or review platforms. I even take issue with airing my own complaints about businesses on public forums, because I don’t want strangers knowing the details of my experiences. It’s tough to balance the need for validation and the need for privacy.

If someone posts a negative review or complaint about your business, take a deep breath and try not to take it personally. Being defensive will only hurt your business, and further impact that guest’s perception of you. Contact the complainant discreetly, but mention in a comment that you’ll be doing so. Have a plan of action for what you’ll do to fix the problem this customer experienced, and be gracious about it!

I can’t guarantee you’ll never have to deal with dissatisfied customers (though hopefully the number is small), but having a positive attitude and a plan can help alleviate the stress and uncertainty that come with handling complaints.