Wednesday Take: Professionalism in All Things

What I’m listening to: Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2

shhhh-1433634-1279x1705It’s over. Amen. I voted. You voted. Rather than go into who won/lost, I’d much rather talk about the day. Here, it was 33 degrees  at 7:00 am (that’s Fahrenheit for my Celsius friends) with clear skies. I stood for an hour and a half for just one minute of voting.

Then I watched a live feed of people in Rochester, NY showing up at the grave of Susan B. Anthony — they waited longer than I did to vote — just so they could place their “I voted” sticker on her headstone. She dedicated her life to gaining the vote for women. Women (and men) were lining up to thank her.

About time this election provided some feel-good moments. Unfortunately, there were too few of them.

That’s what I want to address today — not the “feel good” part, but the fact that professionalism seems to have bled out of everyone during this most hate-filled election cycle. It makes no sense, either. It’s a known fact that politicians vilify each other in order to win votes. As people, we can argue until we’re out of oxygen over the he said/she said.

As professionals, we’re fools to go there.

I don’t hide my affiliation on my personal Facebook page. I don’t tout it, either. It’s one thing to talk with friends over a table, yet entirely another to get into heated discussions on a public forum. For the most part, I avoided discussing politics directly with a few exceptions.

With my professional side, I avoided it completely. No way I was talking about politics with clients or colleagues in public. Nope. So it shocked me when a contact did just that. I know the person meant well, but to tell someone who they should vote for and why, particularly if this is someone you’ve worked with, is weird. It’s injecting yourself into a conversation you shouldn’t be having, and subjecting your contact to your political leanings, which they may or may not share.

Yet there it was. So what do you do in that case?

Nothing. You do nothing. You say nothing. You walk away from that conversation as though you’re avoiding nitroglycerin.

That’s the sort of discussion that alters relationships. That it’s brought up at all alters the relationship plenty, for now one person is uncomfortable and the other is certain they’re being helpful when the opposite is true.

Yet that’s only one instance of Professionals Behaving Badly. I’ve seen freelance writers do some pretty strange, completely awful things, including:

Copping an attitude with clients. You just can’t tell the client they’re full of it, even if they are. You’re not paid to judge their character — you’re paid to do the work they’re paying you to do. Yes, some clients do need guidance (“You’re targeting the wrong market here” or “I think the larger point is one we’re overlooking”), but they don’t need you putting them down for their decisions or even their tirades (those you address by severing ties professionally).

Complaining about other clients. Not cool. Not cool at all. You’re sending a message to that client that the moment your relationship is over, they’re going to be the topic of conversation with your next client. I know you’re dying to tell them about that jerk who stiffed you or the guy who badmouthed you to others. Don’t. If it’s not relevant to the project (and 99.9 percent of the time, it’s not), don’t go there. Save that for your writers’ support group.

Not finishing the job. It happens. I never realized it, but it happens quite often that freelance writers will simply disappear. You get in over your head, the client is a jerk, you suddenly have more exciting projects to do… tough. If you’ve committed, see it through. Or if you’re done, tell them you’re done. Even in one of my worst cases, I let a client know I was done by stating that I’d met the job parameters and pointed to the client’s own words before I signed off. But I’ve worked with freelancers who have simply disappeared with no word. In one case, I had to chase her down to find out where my article was. Her response: “It was hard, so I decided I didn’t want to do it.” And she’d decided not to bother telling me. Don’t be like that freelancer (who is no longer a freelancer — no surprise there).

Undercharging. You don’t think that’s unprofessional? That screams “amateur” to most legitimate clients. If you’re charging $45 an hour and three other freelancers are charging between $125 and $150 an hour, you don’t look like a bargain — you look like a beginner. That’s not to say $45 an hour isn’t your rate, but make sure it matches the clients you’re targeting. Otherwise, your price is sending a message that you’re not serious.

Phoning it in. Once upon a time, I worked with a sought-after freelance writer. He commanded and got high rates. But after editing his articles for a few years, I saw a disturbing pattern. The life was slowly slipping out of his pieces, and in a few cases, I saw the same phrases showing up. He was recycling content, and it was obvious he no longer cared for what he was doing. Don’t be like that. Yes, you can use the same sources (particularly if you’re working within a niche where that’s common practice), but do mix it up when you can.

Writers, what are some examples of unprofessional behavior you’ve seen, either in a client or another writer?

What conversations are you comfortable having with clients, and which ones do you avoid?


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