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5 Pro Tips to Elevate Your Professional Persona (While Still Maintaining Your Individuality)

per·so·na /ˌpərˈsōnə/ noun  The social face a person presents to the world; “a kind of mask, designed… to make a definite impression upon others.”

Source: Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7: Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. Edited by Gerhard Adler and R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press, 1966. p.190.

As I detail in an earlier post, your professional reputation is built upon the characteristics and values you demonstrate day in and day out, which I believe ties back into the qualities and inherent values that provide the foundation for how you live your life.

And while it can take very little time to build a negative reputation—and years to change that reputation—you can begin to build a positive reputation by cultivating your professional persona, taking a cue from the world’s most revered leaders, and figuring out how to integrate what you stand for into your daily activities and behaviour.

If you’re feeling like you need to level up your professional persona as a creative freelancer, enlist these five pro tips to put your best foot forward:

#1. Be considerate of time.

While common courtesy dictates that you arrive on time, go one step further and show up early to meetings and calls! It’ll give you time to read prep material, focus yourself, and review the points you want to make and the outcomes you hope to achieve from the meeting.

Pro tip: Set each of your clocks ahead a different number of minutes between five and 10, so your brain won’t be trained into knowing how far you can push your timing.

#2. Be prepared.

It astounds me how many people try to “wing it” through meetings. In reality, lack of preparation can make you look like an idiot—and can lose you business, too (remember: reputation matters!).

  • To do: Do your research; review the material; formulate your fact-based argument; and, share your own documentation either prior to or within 24 hours of the meeting/call.

Pro tip: Create a cheat-sheet with top stats and points you want to make. (That cheat-sheet might even become the next client one-pager!)

#3. Sleuth your way to success.

If you’ve followed Step 2, you’re prepared. But how much do you actually know about the company you’re doing work with or its people? Why is this important? The more you know about the company and its people, the more valuable you can be to them, the better your relationships will be, and the more business you’re likely to receive from them as a result.

  • To do: Read through the company’s entire website (i.e., don’t just skim their home page). When searching, look at the first couple pages of search results (not just the top results, which are typically paid ads, meant to drive a specific perception of the company and its brand). 

Pro tip: Go the extra mile to search for the company’s leaders. Look for details like previous employers/roles and publications that the person may have written or was mentioned in. Also: Look them up on social media: Find out if they’re a dog- or cat-person, whether they like coffee or tea, if they like to travel… All of this will help you have better conversations and make stronger connections with your contacts over time.

#4. Review before signing off.

Yes, we’re all busy and no one wants to spend more time in a meeting than they necessarily have to. But you’ll be demonstrating good overall time management skills if you take two minutes at the end of each discussion to summarize what you believe you learned and confirm your next steps. This helps to set mutual expectations on the work to be done and also, solidifies the discussion in everyone’s minds.

Pro tip: Dictate a numbered list of takeaways and then, a list of follow-up items. (Note: It doesn’t have to be a formal declaration; you can even do this as your client walks you to the door).

#5. Follow up within 24-36 hours.

This gets missed so consistently that it bears repeating: After a meeting or call, email the participants about next steps. Why is this important? First, it further solidifies your relationship, and also, if you’re new to working with the group, it provides your contact info, so they can easily reach out to you. Second, you’ll gain agreement on what’s expected of you from the relationship and can help to uncover scope-creep. Finally, it’s just a respectful and honest way of doing business.

Pro tip: Keep it short and sweet, please! But do—
*Thank participants for the insights you gained from their comments. (No need to list insights or people one by one. Just indicate your thankfulness…)
*List each person’s next steps as you understand them, including specific deliverables and ETAs. (If you’re feeling extra keen or are an Excel or Google Docs pro, why not create a workback schedule?!)
*Give them “an out”—if they understood any of the next steps differently, ask them to document via email to the group, so everyone’s in the loop.
*Sign off with a memorable line or words—not “best” or “regards” (too generic) or “yours” (too personal).
*Include an e-signature!!! (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to search for someone’s cell number because they didn’t include it in their email. Ugh…. big-time pet peeve!)

At the end of the day, putting your best foot forward as a freelancer comes down to the work you do and how you present yourself in the public eye.

Many creatives choose the freelance life for the freedom it gives them, including how they represent themselves and their own unique personalities. But remember: You can still maintain your individuality while presenting a positive and professional persona that entices new and recurring clients into your roster.

Next steps:

What do you do to cultivate your professional persona? Or—do you have any pet peeves of working as a creative freelancer? I want to hear about your experiences! Leave a comment below.

Until next time, keep on truckin’,

Ruthy Z

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Welcome to Lessons Learned from a Creative Freelance Life.

A space for personal-professional reflection and tips and tricks on how to make your freelance work-life more fulfilling and successful.

Why a blog? Simply put: It’s time!

I “hung up my shingle” in 2013 as a freelance writer, editor and digital strategist, after advancing for well over a decade in omni-channel media, marketing and sales sectors.

Since 2013, I’ve produced and perfected B2B and B2C content for dozens of different companies in a range of industries. From Canada’s Big 3 telecom companies to an eCommerce jewelry start-up; from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPAO) to three different novels for a writer in Trenton, ON; from a national healthcare procurement firm with ties to 80% of Canada’s hospitals and clinics to a boutique real estate brokerage in downtown Toronto…. and beyond.

And I’ve learned quite a bit of lessons along the way… about how to balance my creative interests with my business practice, and also, that freelance life doesn’t always have to be hard, but it’s not always easy, either.

It may sound idyllic, but creative freelance life isn’t always easy.

If you’re naturally introverted like me, you might fall neatly into the typical freelance way of life, where working from home and not having to interact with many people throughout your days is not just comfortable but preferred!

  • Your work hours can flex to meet your responsibilities;
  • Your commute might be 15 steps to your workspace and 20 steps to your kitchen (if your kitchen IS your workspace!? even better!); and,
  • You may choose to work in your pyjamas or whatever attire suits your work-life best.

But… if you’re going to be successful in your creative freelance life—that’s to say: make enough money while carving out time to have some work-life balance—you’ve got to invest some time and energy into the business side of your freelance practice.

Balancing “the art” with “the business”—where this blog comes in.

Business smarts aren’t necessarily a priority for all creative folks. (At the same time, getting a business person to do creative work might seem like unnecessary torture to them!)

Yet, with a little guidance and attention to particular details—including recommendations for balancing your creative pursuits with your professional persona, the importance of managing your reputation, branding, and more—I’m confident that any creative freelancer can thrive in our economy, taking advantage of the need that’s out there, now more than ever, for professionals who can walk the fine line of pursuing their creative practice and making money from it, too.

Join me and we’ll walk the creative line together.

Follow my blog, post comments and above all, get ready to have some fun and get inspired!

Ruthy Z