One of the best ways to build your business, and your career, is to focus not on the business itself, but on the one, unique item you have to sell…yourself. Making your profession personal means giving your clients a direct and personal connection to the work you do. The professional/personal concept came to mind during one of my monthly Career-Op Skypecasts. These are open teleconferences where readers and podcast listeners can ask questions of myself and other attendees. On two separate occasions, I have been asked what workers can do to protect themselves against outsourcing and layoffs. While my own work situation as a freelancer is unique, I believe that others can make use of some of my methods.
Clients hire you, not your company
In my own computer consulting business, people hire me, not a company. When they call The Geek Squad or other computer support company, they are unsure who might show up at the door, which means they are unsure if their problem will be solved. When they hire me, usually as a direct referral from an existing client, they are 100% sure that it is I who will respond. In my case, I am my business.
No matter where you work, you should seek to establish similar feeling in your clients, even if they happen to be your fellow employees. Co-workers shouldn’t feel they are calling the IT department (if that is your current assignment), but they should be calling Bob in IT, or even better, they should simply be calling Bob. You want the client to associate your excellent work first with you, then with your company or department.
There are several reasons for taking this personal approach. First, regardless of how or when your manager recognizes your exceptional service, your clients will already be aware of it from direct experience. Secondly, your own personal relationship with your client can’t help but outweigh any negative associations with your company or department.
During my time in corporate IT, clients would often praise my work while complaining about the IT department in the next breath. It was a bit surreal, having to divide yourself from your department, but it is essential to your own mental well-being. The truth is, it is often IT workers themselves who have the biggest issues with IT policies. It is nearly impossible to agree with everything your management does. So ally yourself with your client. They should feel that you are on their side and a partner in solving their problems, not another drone from a nearly nameless department.
I believe that my ability to develop a personal relationship with my clients saved me from, at least one layoff. I had been marked for a layoff from my IT position, but then another department, someone I had worked for in the past, heard of this plan, and I was transferred into their department, as their own divisional IT staffer. Had I not performed well in the past work for this client, and developed a relationship beyond my IT role, it is very likely that I would have ended up just another anonymous layoff. Success in your career is truly related to “who you know” in some ways.
You should also be developing personal relationships with your management. The more your manager knows about you, the more difficult it will be for them to add you to the layoff list. It is your goal to remain employed and build your career as much as possible. Isolating yourself from management only makes you a question mark — an anonymous cubicle dweller of whom your manager knows little. No matter the quality of your work, if your manager is unaware of your accomplishments, if is as if they never occurred.
Regardless of whether you are running your own business or working inside a large corporation, you must make the professional personal. You must connect with your clients as a unique individual, as well as an IT worker, salesperson or accountant. It is through these personal relationships that you will build your career, increase your client base and cement your position within any company.