The Importance of Being Professional

(as opposed to being Ernest … but that’s besides the point.)

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There are some things that seem to be real no-brainers, but the reminder to always stay professional, even in the face of great adversity or the risk of your veins popping out of the side of your head, is something to remember always. Trust me, it pays off.

Everyone has a difficult client. Some of us have them in spades. They’re the clients who make you want to tear your hair out and bang your head against the wall.

I had one of those clients. I literally spent many mornings dreading the day and not wanting to open my e-mail because I knew there were going to be 10 billion e-mails from said client. I found myself continually frustrated because I had to explain a lot of things about the web that said client didn’t understand. I had to spend countless hours — many of which I wasn’t really being paid for — slaving away on this project.

(Side note: I must have this gene that doesn’t allow me to half-ass things or leave things unfinished or leave things done badly. It’s a blessing and a curse.)

Anyway, I persevered. Maybe against my better judgement. I vented a lot to friends. I wrote a lot of cryptic Twitter vents. I cursed a lot in my studio, in the presence of only my cats. I wrote an e-mail in a fit of righteous anger but happened to be on the phone with a trusted colleague at the time. In a moment of clarity, I read it to her and she of course smacked some sense into me and made me edit it.

But in every dealing with my client, I stayed nice. As much as I possibly could. I was forceful when needed (like when explaining that something was downright impossible). But mostly, I tried to educate — I am a teacher, after all — and keep a smile on and joke around and just be pleasant. I set firm deadlines when it seemed like the client was trying to monopolize my time and held my ground without yelling. I was killing said client with kindness (and trust me, most people who know me on a personal level will tell you I don’t kill anyone with kindness … it’s not my thing).

Finally, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The project was wrapping up. It entailed an epic exit meeting, but I was determined to stay and spend as much time as was needed to make sure the project was put to bed.

And then came the time when the client handed me a check … and it was for double what I was expecting. “We want to thank you for being a trooper and for all your time and give you something extra,” was what the client said.

So yeah, professionalism pays off, yes?

I could have popped off but then I would have lost the client and it would have gotten ugly. Instead, I got a satisfied client who now understands the value of my time. Said client wants more extra work done, but now the client is willing to pay me at my regular rate.

I’m not saying that all bad clients wind up like this. But it’s nice to know that niceness still carries some currency in a society where civility sometimes seems it’s gone down the drain.

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