As a 19-year-old freelancer, I am often worried that potential clients will downplay my work because of my young age and because I'm not going to college. But the fact that I have gained every single one of my clients through referrals gives me confidence that I am a "real professional" who creates valuable work. Below are seven ways I believe I've accomplished my success so far.
I was hesitant to call myself a professional during high school, even though I was doing paid work at a software development company. After all, I had little in common with bald, white male business execs. But being "professional" is more than your outward appearance - it's a state of mind that you should have with every business endeavor. Here are seven principles that ensure you always act professionally and do your job well.
1. Be Polite
As a young person in the business world, most people will initially wonder if you know what you're doing, since you don't have many years of experience. They will look for signs that you are not up to interacting in the business world - and if you are not polite, you will blow every chance of working with them. People will not take a chance on hiring or working with you if you look sullen, never smile, don't thank people for favors, or gossip.
2. Be Confident
In middle school when I learned the violin, at first I moved only 6 inches of the bow across the strings and emitted horrible squeaking noises. But my teacher told us that we needed to draw long, powerful bowstrokes, even if we weren't confident about the notes we were playing. So I stretched my arm further and used the full bow length instead of only 6 inches. Much to the delight of everyone around me, that created much purer sounds that could almost be qualified as music.
Doing something with confidence is always better than wishy-washy half-decisions. Although you don't know everything about your career, you need to be confident in your ability to figure things out. Since the age 14, I've learned everything on the job. It is frightening to step out of your comfort zone, but after each new project went by and I successfully figured them out, I had the comfort of a track record full of times I was able to throw thinking juice at problems until I solved them.
So if a client asks you "Can you do this for me?" and you have enough previous experience that you think you can, tell them a decisive yes. Have confidence in your ability to figure things out.
Conjuring confidence, even when you don't feel it, is most likely something you will always do. Although I have never been one myself, my imagination and common sense tell me that even the most mature of business professionals still has to go out of their comfort zone to do their best work.
3. Be Consistent
If you are not consistent in your work, nobody will keep working with you. But if people know you will finish the job on time and well, you will be valuable to them.
- Get to meetings on time
- Complete items before their deadlines
- Answer important emails the same day you get them
4. Research Your Industry
Especially if you are self-employed, you need to know basic industry lingo and trends. Your clients need to know that their projects are in good hands. If they ever suspect that they know more about your industry than you do, they will wonder why they are paying you for something they can do themselves.
- Read blogs and the internet
- Watch video tutorials
- Read books
- Practice your skills by starting personal projects
- Don't constrain yourself to just researching the types of projects you do, but explore other related fields to broaden your knowledge
Most importantly, never, ever stop learning.
5. Ask Questions
You may be worried about asking questions since that will show that you don't know everything. But, sorry: you will never know everything. And you will not survive long without asking questions.
For example, if a client uses a term you are not familiar with, ask them what it means. They will respect you for caring enough to ask, and it will show them that you value your work's quality more than your pride.
6. Make Suggestions
Making suggestions to a client can be just as stressful as asking them questions. What if they don't like your feedback or you suggest something that doesn't apply to them at all?
But if you have a legitimate idea that will benefit their business, it is your duty to suggest it to them. I promise that they will value the fact that you are participating in their business, whether they accept your advice or not. And often you will make a suggestion that they love.
Your job is not to passively do work that is "just good enough," but to fully engage in whatever you do.
7. Do Good Work
If you do not produce quality work, nobody will care about how otherwise "professional" you are. Especially if you are young and inexperienced, it is crucial to be able to demonstrate that you produce quality work. Never send a client work that you're not happy with, and keep an easily accessibly portfolio with your best work to prove to potential clients that you know what you're doing.
If you are a young business person, here are some other posts you might be interested in: