Recently my wife and I purchased a bit of land and have begun the process of getting everything together to eventually build a house on it. Which basically just means we now have no money, have to make a bunch of calls and research a mess of questions, and we fight a lot.
One of the items I needed to look into was getting a septic system installed, and I contacted the local county health department and got a list of septic system designers names. I called the number of one of the people closest to me and I got this:
"Hello?" came a woman's voice on the line, clearly disgusted that I interrupted whatever task she was in the middle of.
I told her I was calling about a septic system design and she said that was her husband but he wasn't there right now. Apparently, the number the county had given me, which he listed as his business line, was in fact his home number. I gave her my information and she said he would call me later.
That night at 8:30 pm I got a call back from him. Because of my hectic schedule, I was away from my phone and he left me a voice mail. He left me a number to call him tomorrow which I did. I figured it would be his cell or his work line, but it was in fact his home number again.
After a couple days of round and round I discovered something about this particular small business owner. For one thing, he had no professional line, and no cell phone. He routed all calls through his wife, who did not act like a business secretary so much as a stay at home mom, upset at each interruption. He only returned calls at night. When I finally did speak to him over the phone (again around 9pm one night, well after 'normal' business hours) he gave me a two week turn around for work. I had talked to other guys in the business with better rates, better turn around time, and much easier access via phone, email or text.
Suffice it to say, I passed on using this persons services.
I am not being a snob here, but rather using this as a good illustration for the need of professional presentation when it comes to doing business. Even in today's electronic and web-rich world, your company or services should be readily available during normal business hours. If this individual were only moonlighting as a septic designer, and doing some other work during the day that kept him from answering phone calls, I understand that. Then have a business line with someone who answers the phone legitimately. It's not about if the phone rings to an office building somewhere or rings to a phone by a lazy boy recliner next to the fire place in your house; it's about the presentation you offer to the public about your company.
I realized the importance of this, while attending a writing seminar in Provo Utah a few years back. There were no real big agents or publishers there, it was much more about the craft of writing, but there were a few publishers who were willing to listen to pitches by prospective authors and provide feedback.
I watched as several of these prospective writers approached said publishers and with all the social grace of a rutting boar covered in manure, delivered pitches expecting positive feedback. Many of these men, walked up to pretty, and professionally dressed female publishers from New York, while they were dressed in rumpled, dirty and ragged clothes. They had unwashed hair, breath that reeked of week old McDonald's, cigarettes, booze and chronic halitosis. I am not being mean when I say they looked like this was honestly the first time in months or even years they had left the cozy confines of their parent's basements.
While jokes about the everyday attire of writers are as prolific as the rumors of doping and Barry Bonds, those individuals still represented a business. That business was just one person; but it was still a business.
Professionalism is more a mindset. It's more about doing what you should be doing, even if no one is watching. It's acting like a big name, before you are a big name. It's about approaching each interaction, be it in person or online or whatever, with a professional mindset.
Those individuals might be the best writers on the continent, bursting with talent and promise and potential. But if they cannot present themselves well enough, it only makes their road to their objective that much more difficult to traverse. Perhaps they are the next Hemingway in waiting, but if they look and act like the next Ted Kaczynski, publishers and agents (who are just people after all) are more likely to withdraw from them and form negative perceptions from their interactions.
No matter what you are doing, or what you want to be, are you providing a professional experience to your customers, clients and bosses? Or are you making your own road, a little rougher by your lack of professional mindset.