An Ounce of Professionalism
(previously published on FreelanceSwitch.com)
When you work in a creative field, certain assumptions are made about you. It's assumed that you listen to bands that no one has ever heard of (guilty), people are predisposed to believe that you'll eat strange foods (uh oh), and you're generally expected to look and behave like an "artiste" - dressing like you're from the future, not paying attention to schedules, being unresponsive to e-mails - that sort of thing. The image of the turn-of-the-last-century Parisian impressionist - complete with beret - is not wholly invalid here. I've seen it happen.
It didn't take me long to learn that even the slightest professional behavior - wearing an ironed shirt, preparing detailed outlines - even speaking clearly on the phone - has earned me points with clients. These things aren't exactly huge efforts - in fact, I once believed they were necessary to running a business - but apparently, not so.
It bugs the stuffin' out of me that the image of the aloof, carefree creative person still exists - but clearly, there are many of us out there helping to perpetuate that stereotype. "Ah, maybe he'll get to our urgently-needed website updates tomorrow - he probably got stuck at day two of Wizard World." Sheesh.
Clients have told me horror stories - designers took on their project, developed it 80% of the way to completion - then stopped answering e-mails and phone calls. What?! I even heard from one client that a prospective Flash developer said, on their first get-to-know-you phone call, "I'll call you back later - I have to take a [expletive deleted]." Come on, dude - you're messing it up for all of us!
But there's a benefit here - those low expectations can work to our advantage. It doesn't take much - timely responses to communications, well-designed business documents, sending source files before they're requested - to turn things around and impress clients. A little goes a long way.
Here's the flipside, though - I think there's a danger of looking too straight and clean when meeting with clients - especially clients working in an overly corporate environment. I think it's important to let a little of that creative edge leak through so clients see you as what you are - a "creative professional". Both words are equally important.