The word professional is bandied around like nobody’s business. It seems to be the go-to word to add a bit of leverage to any given phrase. Professional writer. Professional singer. Professional tea-lover. Why can’t it just be “writer”, “singer”, or “tea-lover”? What does the word professional add to it? Or, more importantly, what is professionalism?
For a lot of people the word professional implies there is some sort of money involved. If you look at the second dictionary definition of the word “Professional”:
“Engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur.”
The proof is in the synonyms, though: Paid, salaried, full-time.
The first dictionary definition is a little vaguer:
“Relating to or belonging to a profession.”
In this day and age a profession can literally be anything. It used to refer to a job that required a skilled worker, but today the meanings are all blurred.
What is Professionalism?
Over the past few months there’s been debate raging in the travel blogging world about what constitutes a professional blogger. Whilst this post is categorically not an addition to that discussion, I thought it was an important titbit to point out. Why? Because there are so many different viewpoints about the term professional that it’s difficult to get a straight answer at all these days.
People will probably never agree, but it’s interesting to see the scope that the description covers.
A lot of travel bloggers, when asked what is professionalism, said it pointed towards behaviour. I find this point one of the most interesting, because “being professional” (whatever the ho-diddly that means) isn’t about being corporate and stuffy. You don’t need to crack out long words in every other sentence to reap respect from your colleagues.
Decent behaviour can mean anything and, ultimately, it depends on what you do or what you want to be considered professional in.
Tips for Acting Like a Professional
On one side of the coin there is the whole “being a professional”, and on the other the whole “acting like a professional”. It’s all in the semantics, I know. From past experience and from working with a lot of people over the past few years, here are some of the ways in which you can “act” professional.
Take things seriously
There’s a lot to be said for not taking life too seriously, but when it comes to work and being professional, it should be a motto you abide by. Do things to the best of your ability and don’t skimp on time or effort if there’s no need to.
This also translates across to mistakes, too. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you accept responsibility when you make a mistake you’ll a) not have it looming over you, and b) go up in everyone’s estimations.
Politeness goes a long way
There’s nothing worse than rude people, whatever the situation and whatever their relationship is to you. Throughout your career and life you’ll be working alongside hundreds of people and, let’s face it, there are going to be a few bad eggs. Instead of getting all up in their grill, remain pleasant and polite. Not only will it keep your blood pressure in check, but you’ll also get a gold star for good behaviour.
That being said, speak up
Yes being polite is incredibly important, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. In fact, as a professional you should be assertive and know when to speak up – when there’s a problem, or when you know there’s a better way to do something. This tallies up with taking ownership of your work and your actions, an important trait of any professional.
If you’re flaky when it comes to appointments you need to up your game. Being professional goes hand in hand with being reliable. Of course, there are going to be occasions when you can’t make a meeting or you can’t make the deadline for whatever reason, but for the most part you should keep communication channels open and strive to be reliable.
An important part of being professional is presenting yourself well and getting across ideas and thoughts in an articulate way. Don’t be that person who shuts down when everything goes wrong. Instead, admit that you feel out of your depth and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
The Traits of a Professional
Professional people aren’t necessarily the ones earning six figure sums each month. In fact, money rarely has anything to do with being professional. You can be the richest man/woman in the world and still act like an unprofessional jerk (I’m sure we can all think of some fine examples here). What you do need, though, are a certain set of character traits.
Consideration: Being considerate towards those around you goes hand in hand with being polite. Selfishness is ugly and doesn’t even make a guest appearance in the term professional.
Respect: If you want others to have respect for you and your work, make sure you do the same in return. It’s all about give and take, but when it comes to respect, hand it out willingly and abundantly to those you think deserve it.
Honesty: Lying isn’t a nice trait in anyone. As soon as you nip it in the bud, I guarantee you’ll feel a new-found liberation and it will encourage others to be candid in return.
What is Professionalism in Freelancing?
This could fill a whole post on its own, but I wanted to touch on it briefly as so many of you are freelancers. There seems to be a whole lot more responsibility that comes with being a professional freelancer because you’re working for yourself and, therefore, in charge of how your image comes across to potential clients and colleagues.
When you’re a freelancer you slot into so many roles – accountant, marketer, PR person, designer, and more, so it’s important to uphold a sense of professionalism in everything you do. But what is professionalism for a freelancer? Well, there are a few things you should abide by:
- Always hand work in on time: Meeting deadlines is an important part of being a professional and reliable freelancer.
- Hold your tongue: There have been so many occasions where I’ve wanted to hit reply straight away to a client who’s sent a snarky demand, but it’s always better to wait, cool down, and send a thoughtful but assertive reply.
- Treat clients with respect: This goes without saying, right? Treating your clients like human beings can go a long way, especially when there’s repeat work to be snapped up.
- Know your skills: As a freelancer it can be tempting to have fingers in too many pots (that’s the saying, right?!), but if you want to excel in the industry you should be pin-pointing a few of your best skills and building on those. There’s nothing worse than a freelancer who promises something they can’t deliver.
- Be humble: I’ve seen a few freelancers on forums and blogs that seem way too self-important. Sure, it’s good to be confident and assertive when it comes to your brand, but remember that in this industry it’s important not to make enemies (especially with other freelancers, as they’re the ones who often recommend you for jobs).
Being professional isn’t just a label you can tack on to any old phrase. Instead, I think it’s more about mindset and behaviour.