The essence of professionalism

I’m not looking to proselytize here, but professionalism goes a mighty long way in building a small business and simply operating in the world in general. In the six months since starting my small business, that much is clear.

Poor Richard is right: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

This is a concept that seems to escape the majority of the small business owners that I have dealt with down the line. I try not to burn bridges, as you never know who you may run into on the way up, or need to depend on if you’re coming down. I try to live my life this way.

Some relationships, whether personal or business, cannot proceed or improve any further — they just are what they are. From their, either you attempt to squeeze blood from the stone, or allow these liasons to run their course.

Most times, you get one or two shots with me. After the second, the microcosm is evidence of the macrocosm — in other words, if they’ll do something shady on a small level, they’ll probably do it on a larger level.

Here are the top three unprofessional things I have heard a vendor say to me, in no particular order (I’m paraphrasing):

1. (from a potential vendor soliciting my business on if I would have received a return phone call during a personal emergency) “If you were one of my paying clients, I would have returned your phone call.”

2. (from a potential vendor as to why I did not receive a promised call back on a quote after a few days) “Hey (to someone in the background)! We got so busy that we forgot to call him back!”

3. (from a potential vendor on how he/she would complete work for me when they had a regular 9-5) “When I shut the door to my office, [my employer] doesn’t know what I’m doing, so I can do work for you.”

Is it an antiquated concept to be above board? If you do work for me on someone else’s dime, won’t you do work for someone else on my dime? If you are too busy to ignore a return phone call that could potentially bring you money, will you be too busy for other things? And if I have to pay you to get attention and respect, what is that attention and respect worth in the first place?

I did not end up working with any of these vendors, nor would I recommend them to anyone else. They may do exceptional work and have more connections than I can imagine. At some point, you have to value yourself, your time, and what you are willing to do to become successful. I refuse to step on, or be stepped on, to make that happen.

I used to work retail sales in another life and I was not taught to ignore the people who looked like they could pay less than the man in a business suit and tie.

Subsequently, I still have conversations with people who approach me during book signings and have no clear means to buy my book. It may not result in a sale there, but who is to say the word of that person won’t result in a sale or two down the road?

Oprah didn’t become Oprah overnight and few people remember the days of her humble beginnings. We all begin humbly, and though your checks may not include five zeroes in the outset, that does not mean you deserve any less respect, attention, or professionalism.

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