How to Act Like a Professional - Even When You Don't Feel Like One

Have you ever felt like a fraud?

Do you sometimes doubt whether you really have what it takes to run a freelance business?

How to act like a professional

Don't worry, you're not alone. You're suffering from imposter syndrome, and it's very common. Most people whose professional lives are on an upward trajectory suffer from it at some point.

You can take heart from two things:

  1. The genuinely incompetent don't suffer from imposter syndrome. If they actually recognized they weren't up to the job, they'd deal with the ways in which they fall short.

In other words, your feelings of doubt are good. They encourage you to grow and learn.

  1. As long as you act like a professional, no one will notice. You can "fake it 'til you make it" and learn on the job.

How Acting Professional Is Good For Your Business

Not only is acting professional a good disguise for your feelings of being a fraud, it also adds value to your service. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that for most clients, your professionalism is more important than your skill level, as long as you're competent at the service you offer.

Think about it from a client's perspective: would you rather work with a freelancer who's a creative genius, but who rarely answers your emails, never meets deadlines, and sometimes completely forgets about projects they've been assigned? Or would you rather work with someone who's a solid professional, delivering quality work on time and communicating well?

I'm not denying that there's a place in the world for the haphazard and forgetful genius. But most businesses would rather work with a reliable, steady professional.

Being professional adds value to your services. Act like a professional, and you'll quickly build up a family of clients who value your work and pass your name on to their networks.

How to Act Like a Professional - Even When You Don't Feel Like One

The good news: acting like a professional requires no special skills and only a little knowledge of the industry in which you're working.

With some basic principles in place and a desire to learn, you can act professionally with any client, from a one-man-band to a Fortune 500 blue chip company.

Here are our top tips on acting like a pro:

  • Meet deadlines. If you learn nothing else from this article, remember this: clients love freelancers who deliver on deadline. Prove yourself reliable, and you'll get hired over and over again.

Make deadlines sacrosanct, even if that means putting other areas of your life on hold. If you frequently find yourself panicking at the last minute to meet deadlines, you'll find time management software such as Cashboard helpful. Tracking your time helps you complete projects on deadline and gives you an idea of how much work you can realistically tackle in any given week.

  • Keep your word. Don't make promises you can't keep. When you've said you'll do something, do it.

Depending on the work you do, you may be working via contract. If that's the case, then make sure you read contracts before you sign them, so you know exactly what's expected of you.

If in doubt about what you should do, ask. Clients will respect you for seeking to do the best job you can.

  • Be friendly. Being professional doesn't mean you should act standoffish. You want your clients to look forward to hearing from you because you add a ray of sunshine to their day.

Remember your manners every time you talk to clients. And you should follow their lead when deciding how formal to be in your communications.

  • Invoice promptly. Being sloppy with your invoices indicates to clients that you don't give your best to everything you do. If you find invoicing a hassle, consider using invoicing software to make light work of sending invoices.

  • Dress professionally. From our teenage years, we all know how important it is to look the part if you want to fit in. Donning a professional outfit when you meet with clients helps you feel more confident and reflects well on your business.

The way you dress doesn't only apply to the clothes you wear. Make sure your website looks the part, too.

  • Use the right language and jargon. This is where you might have to do a little learning before approaching potential clients. Knowing the right words to use will make you appear as part of the in-crowd, which is exactly what you want.

You can usually learn how your clients talk with a little research. Check out their websites. Take a look at online forums where people like your clients hang out. You'll quickly pick up on the right things to say.

Still feel unsure? Then use my favorite tactic: listen. Ask good questions, then sit back and let your client do the talking. You'll learn their way of speaking, and you'll discover what they need and how you can help them.

Your Feelings Are the Real Fraud

Now you know how easy it is to act like a professional, you've learned that you don't have to feel like a fraud.

If anything, it's your feeling of being a fraud that's the real con artist here. So stop listening to your doubts, and start acting like the pro that you are.

Written by David Masters

David Masters helps businesses find their sweet spot of creativity, productivity and making money. He's been earning his bread as an online business writer since 2008.

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