I think almost every person I work with writes somewhere in their questionnaire that they want to appear friendly, approachable and personable but also professional and like they ‘know what they’re doing’.
This is totally logical.
You can’t grow a successful personal brand or small business with only one of these attributes. You really do need to practice and showcase both.
If you produce exceptional work but have a poor communication style, then who would want to hire you when the next person makes work that's just as effective and also responds kindly and promptly whilst doing it?
The same idea works the other way around, if you are bubbly, smiley and attentive to your clients, but the work you make for them isn't actually the work they needed doing, then they aren't likely to recommend you or leave a good review.
Of course, these are not the only important values we hold as self employed people, but they are probably two of the checkboxes highest on the list of attributes of your dream clients as they choose which copywriter, photographer, interior designer or bespoke jewellery maker to work with.
I know I don't need to really explain this to you because you should very well know that you are both an expert in your field and a damn good person to work and go to the pub with (round of pool anyone?).
However, there is one word in that first sentence that I think needs correcting. Can you guess what it is?
It's the but.
(He touched the butt - IYKYK)
When using that phrase, I always replace the BUT with an AND.
You can be friendly, approachable, personable AND professional, hard-working and dedicated.
Being friendly shouldn’t automatically mean you’re not also professional, but as with everything subjective, our versions of these words are varied.
Growing up, my version of professionalism was based upon an image of a white middle-aged man in a boring suit, leaving a big fancy skyscraper, carrying a briefcase and company branded umbrella and shouting into a phone held to his ear by his shoulder as he’s hailing a yellow cab.
On the other hand, my idea of friendliness, was a nice old lady with curly hair, sitting on the porch of her cute suburban bungalow in a yellow smock dress, offering free apples from the tree in her garden because, well, she "couldn't possibly use them all herself".
When I dissect this, I can see some main attributes that divide these two characters:
One appears demanding
One is offering something for free
***I just want to mention how annoying it is that these characters were somehow engrained in my mind. Maybe the old lady was actually a supremely talented chef who made the BEST apple pie in the world!?***
Anyway, back to my original point.
I'm proud to say that I now see the world in a much different light than when I was 10 and have experience of both corporate and freelance photography industries. I've since learned that both friendliness and professionalism entail a broad range of values that present themselves in diverse ways.
Being Professional can include:
Making jokes with your clients
Offering free advice, products or services when appropriate and planned out
Asking for feedback so you can improve your offerings
Being Friendly can include:
Setting (and sticking to) boundaries to ensure you can keep making high quality work
Replying to emails at a time that's suitable for you
Sending payment reminders in a tone that works for your brand and bank balance
When you are an expert in your field (yes, I’m talking to you, you are an expert!) you are automatically a professional. Yes, that is different to acting professionally, because remember when you spilled bolognaise down your top the other day? That wasn't so cool was it...
But even then, covered in sauce and watching your families reaction to your clumsiness yet again, your brain is still full of the unique experiences and skills that others in your industry, as well as your clients, admire. They might not be being used at that moment, but that's because you are resting - and, well, you know how I feel about rest!
Let's try something different...
What would happen if we switch up these words? Because I think we all have the same goal here right? We want our audience to see that hiring us will not only end up with them receiving a high quality outcome, but they will also enjoy the experience of working with us because we're nice people....most of the time anyway!
Maybe these two words are just too constricting? Maybe they don't fully encompass the breadth of everything we are - because let's face it, we are a lot.
So, instead of 'friendliness' why don't we refer to it as your Personality?
And instead of professionalism, let's call it your Brand Values.
Nice. This feels a bit more freeing doesn't it. A bit more...human...
Let's get down to the nitty gritty of it then.
Why should your online presence combine your Personality and Brand Values, rather than offering them as separate entities?
Energy Saving - There are so many different parts of your personality and work life that make your Personal Brand or Small Business unique. Imagine if you had to split and label each one as being either 'professional' or 'personal'? Sounds exhausting right? You don't have to do that once you know that just being you, is enough.
You will attract your Dream Clients - Presenting images and stories about your niche hobby of collecting seaside stones or your changing your profile picture to one where you're wearing your favourite colourful outfit will showcase your personality in a way that sharing a post about your working process can't. Imagine if your dream client is choosing between you and another brand who offers a similar service and rate, but seeing a photo of you at the beach collecting stones, resonates with them because they also love to do just that! They'll pick you because they know you already have something in common - and it's not even related to your work.
You will gain Confidence - By sharing with the world all the parts of yourself that you love, and maybe even some of the things you're working on loving, you stand to gain a shed load of confidence. When I first started using Instagram for my Brand, I didn't show my face on my grid or stories for 2 years. For 2 whole years, no-one knew who was actually behind the camera that would be telling their story. But, when I started to share stories of my day to day life, spoke on stories about things that went wrong and what I was proud of achieving that week, even what silly thing my dog was doing, everything changed. My engagement went through the roof and I felt confident that people wanted to work with me, not just because I make great photographs, but because they wanted to take advantage of the experience I offer through my personality. I have had people hire me because we have similar types of dogs, because they love my honesty about mental health, because they have seen that I am both professional and personable.
All of these aspects of your personality and your life, combine together perfectly to make you, you. Be proud of them and how they influence one another. Let your personality seep into your business without shame, or fear of judgement. After all, if someone is going to judge you so intensely for your utter love of collecting seaside stones then why would you want to work with them anyway?
You have so much to offer the world - both in a professional, skilled and master-of-your-craft sense, but also in everything else you provide to your clients, future clients, family, friends and strangers on the street who have just dropped their bag of oranges.
Thank you for reading this longer than usual blog post. I've really enjoyed putting out my thoughts about this really important aspect of every Self Employed persons life and I hope you've gained something from reading them.