Do you know what your greatest asset is for success?
As a writer, you may be thinking that it’s excellent writing skills. A strong command of the the English language — or whatever language you’re writing in.
And you’d be right. However, there is one asset that trumps them all.
Anyone Can Learn or Perfect a Skill
While necessary and important, improving your skill set is not actually the most important asset. Some people have innate talent, to be sure, but any good writer knows there’s always room for improvement.
Reputation – Your Greatest Asset
But when it comes to your professional reputation, it can either make or break you. And which it does is up to you.
Damage your reputation and that damage may be irrepairable. And often, the only indication that it’s happened is silence.
That’s right. Crickets. As in no one tells you or calls you out. You may not even realize anything is amiss. At first.
But people stop calling you. There are no clients scrambling to work with you. Your phone is silent and your email inbox is filled only with junk.
Because often people will simply disappear, without a word. They hire another writer. They find someone they can depend on.
And they never utter a word to you.
People Don’t Like to Be Blown Off
People do not like to be blown off or put on the back burner. They will not soon forget a missed deadline or a sloppy job. And worse, they’ll tell others. We live in a word-of-mouth society and you can control the content of said word.
My Work as a Legal Transcriptionist
I used to work as a legal transcriptionist. Often referred to as a scopist. I transcribed court cases and depositions for court reporters. Didn’t pay a lot and the work could be downright dull, but it helped with our household expenses and I got to be home with my daughters when they were young.
I had a steady, loyal clientele. I quickly learned that scoping was not something you could do well if you overextended yourself so I limited myself to two or three main clients and filled in the gaps with some occasional extra work.
I discovered early on that, on the whole, court reporters were very leery of using a scopist. Over and over again, I heard a variation of “I’ve tried it and the scopists didn’t make their deadlines and the work was sloppy.” I mean, I heard this all the time.
Those that worked with me told me repeatedly that they didn’t want to work with anyone else because I was the only one they’d found that did quality work, and got it done on time.
Quality Should NOT Be The Exception
I was actually floored by this. I could not believe that anyone who wants and expects to stay busy and have a continual flow of work, would, for lack of a better word, flake out on people. It was mind boggling.
I soon realized that I was the exception, not the norm. Once I developed a working relationship with a court reporter, it flourished. And I stayed busy.
But I was careful not to become so busy that I would be unable to meet my deadlines or end up turning in shoddy work.
The Unexpected Does Happen
Yes, there were times when emergencies came up, maybe two reporters needed a job expedited at the same time, or other unexpected demands on my time arose. But I always maintained a high level of communication with my clients so that everyone was in the loop, and adjustments, when necessary, could be made.
I knew, without ever having to be told, that if I dropped the ball in any of these areas, the working relationships that I had worked so hard to build would dissolve. And quickly.
How To Protect Your Professional Reputation
So how do you ensure that you protect your reputation? It’s not as hard as you may think, and it’s always been my experience that people are generally very understanding and as long as you communicate and keep them abreast of changing demands, they will maintain trust in you.
Here are a few things that worked for me then, and still do today:
- Don’t overload your schedule and make promises that you know you will not be able to keep. This is the fastest, surest way to sully your reputation. It’s better to take on a little less than you think you can handle than to take on so much that failure is inevitable.
- If you do have an emergency or something unexpected arises, communicate. Let your client know, immediately, what’s going on. You’ll be surprised at how understanding most people are in these situations.
- If you’ve made a phone appointment or set up a meeting and you’re unable to make it, it’s not okay to blow it off and apologize later. Nope, this one is a big time no-no. I’m sorry to say that this has happened to me much more often than it should, and every time, it — well, it pisses me off. Big time. Because I set that time aside. I rearranged my schedule so that I would be sure to honor my commitment. Leaving me hanging is wasting my time. And that’s unacceptable. Simply put, don’t do it. Text the person, call them, message them, do whatever you have to do, but let them know you’re not going to make it. Don’t just be a no-show. It’s insulting and it’s unprofessional. One would think this would go without saying, but in my experience, sadly, that’s not the case. Keep your appointments or let the other party know when you can’t. It really is that simple.
- If for some reason, you do forget an appointment or your work is not up to your usual quality — maybe you’re not feeling well and still trying to make a deadline — own up to it. Apologize. Admit your mistake and do whatever it takes to fix it. Redo the work, on your own time, without expecting to be paid. If you missed an appointment, don’t make excuses or try and talk your way out of it. Just apologize. And take steps to ensure that you don’t make the same mistake again. Put appointments on your calendar, with reminders. Most smartphones have a reminder alarm. Use it. None of us can remember everything. Make sure that you have a way of being reminded.
We’re only human. We will make mistakes. We may not always do our best work. We may, heaven forbid, forget an appointment now and then.
It’s not that we must be perfect. Only that we need to commit to doing our best and respecting other people. Apologies, communicating when issues arise, and knowing your own limitations all go a long way toward keeping your professional reputation intact.
You can learn to be a better writer. Continually. Words are your stock in trade. You should always strive to improve.
But your reputation can be the difference between success and failure. And unless someone bothers to take the time to tell you you’ve messed up, you may never really know.
People May Not Tell You When You’ve Messed Up
People don’t like confrontation and will often avoid telling you when they’re upset with you. If it’s purely a professional relationship, they’ll simply quietly go elsewhere. I know. I’ve done it.
And don’t assume that just because someone says to you, “Oh, no worries. It’s okay. I understand,” that they really do. They may just be avoiding an unpleasant conversation.
But your reputation has taken a hit. Make no mistake about it. Take too many of them, and you’ll be wondering why you’re stuck.
Be responsible. Be professional. Know your limitations.
And always, always own up to your mistakes.
If you do these simple things, not only will you maintain a stellar reputation, but you may find yourself having to turn down work because you’re known to be dependable, reliable, trustworthy, and your work is high quality.
And that’s the kind of reputation you’re going for.
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