I’ve worked as part of a team, I’ve worked with freelancers, contractors and I’ve managed a design and development studio. I’ve seen a lot of great things and a lot of mistakes that people (myself included) make over and over again.

Today I want to talk about being professional at work, with a few basic ideas to start you off being professional and keep you there.

Emails

Let’s start with your emails. Emails are still pretty prevalent even in today’s wild world of social media. A lot of people don’t seem to realise that the emails they send are an extension of not only them as a professional but the company they own or work for. Lines can easily be blurred if you don’t treat an email as a professional response.

When you send an email to a client or prospective client you need to keep it professional, be warm, be friendly but never tease or joke and most importantly keep it on topic and as brief as possible. You can show you have a sense of humour by being amusing but remember the client is not your friend (even if they are a friend).

Always keep emails professional like this, no matter how friendly the relationship becomes. If you don’t, you may overstep the mark and go too far in your responses, or you’ll slip into a similar pattern with a different client by accident.

On the flip side of this, please don’t do one liner emails that are too curt and obtuse and don’t write the email in the subject bar!

I’ve seen client’s upset by over-familiarily, too many jokes, sarcasm and also brevity. Just keep it clear, concise and warm and you can’t go far wrong.

Always re-read an email before you send it and double-check you are sending it to the right person(s).

Phone calls

Phone calls are difficult, you don’t have time to compose something like an email. You may be in the middle of something when the phone rings, it may be interrupting your flow. That doesn’t matter to your client, they want to talk to you. So before you pick up the phone take a breath, take a moment and answer with a smile on your face, that will project warmth.

If the client asks you about a deadline or something you are not comfortable answering, just say you’ll need to double-check with your calendar or boss or something else and you will confirm it later. If the client is asking silly questions (in your opinion) try and answer them as honestly and calmly as possible, you need to work together and not drive a wedge between you. This is hard sometimes but believe me it is always better to take the time to understand your client’s needs and answer any question they have, they are paying you after all!

In person

This is probably the hardest situation to be in, you’re going to need to read the conversation and the atmosphere. Again, you can defer questions to another point in time if you need to. If your client is a jokey person, that is their prerogative but try and resist joining them as you may overstep the mark and cause friction. If you’re “socialising” with them and alcohol is involved, don’t overdo it. If you can cope with one or two drinks and it doesn’t effect your demeanour or behaviour then that’s fine. If you can’t, you can always say you don’t drink, you are driving or on medication that prevents it.

In summary

Keeping it professional will mean:

  • You will gain and keep your client’s respect.
  • You will both be clear on the boundaries of the working relationship.
  • The relationship with the client is likely to last longer.
  • The client is more likely to recommend you to others.