What does professional REALLY mean? If your equipment is bigger than mine are you more professional than me?

What does “professional” mean?

I mean, what does it really mean?

When I was a little boy, my Dad was the captain of one of the local golf clubs. Every Sunday we used to go there for lunch. Tangy tomato soup. Delicious plates of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings soaked in gravy. Followed by ice cream gâteaux.

After coffee, we often went into the Pro’s shop.

I remember asking my Dad why they called it the Pro’s shop.

“It’s short for professional,” he said.

What does professional mean?
My Dad explained the professional played golf for money. The golf club paid him to play golf, teach people how to play golf, and run the shop for them. His occupation was a professional golfer.

Dad went on to say, even though he was the captain, and he played golf 2 or 3 times a week, he was an amateur golfer. Because he played for fun.

All these years later my Dad’s is the best definition of the word professional. It’s when someone gets for the services they offer and not doing it as a hobby, for fun.

A professional photographer takes photographs and gets paid for taking photographs.

I take photographs. I enjoy taking photographs. But I don’t get paid for taking photographs. I’m an amateur photographer.

Easy isn’t it.

Size of camera

But recently I’ve seen people using the term professional to imply superiority. And in some cases, to have a go at people they feel are inferior to them.

Sticking with the photography example, I was talking to a design agency about producing video.

They reviewed some of the videos I’ve made using my iPhone 12 and my Lumix G85 camera. They said complimentary things about my results. I was happy with their opinion. But they also said, if I wanted them to help me, they could make my videos look much more “professional”.

I asked them what they meant by more “professional”.

The answer was, “We can use a better camera. We can add more sophisticated graphics and we can introduce tighter editing.”

No one’s paid me for making my videos. I’m an amateur videographer not a professional. The agency is offering to film and edit videos for me for money on a professional basis. So the agency does meet my definition of professional.

But that’s not what they meant, is it?

What they really meant is “professional” is using a more expensive camera. Using more expensive software to edit the footage. Using tighter, i.e. better, editing.

But would another, bigger, agency with an even bigger camera and even more sophisticated software offers an even more “professional” service to the first agency?

And is a film studio or the BBC more “professional” than the bigger design agency simply because they have access to bigger, giant, cameras and even more sophisticated editing equipment?

Vlogging a roadshow

A few days later whilst talking to a big financial services corporate who are about to do a series of roadshows, I suggested they got someone to Vlog it. Their reply was they couldn’t afford to hire a cameraman.

I said to get one of the staff to do it on an iPhone. Or go out and buy a good point and shoot.

They said that wouldn’t be very “professional”.

So, their view is it’s not “professional” to do a corporate video on an iPhone or a cheap camera? Or to get one of their staff to Vlog a roadshow.

Do they think iPhones or cheap cameras shoot crap video?

What does professional mean?
Let’s be clear. iPhones and cheap cameras can shoot 4K video. Better even than standard BBC broadcast quality.

So if 4K on an iPhone or cheap camera isn’t “professional”, when does it become “professional”? On a Canon E90E? Or a great big BBC outside broadcast camera?

Passive language and jargon

Another time I was talking to a client about the language they use in their brochures. I found the language very passive, dull and full of management speak and jargon.

We did an edit of the brochures and introduced a much chattier style which I felt was much more engaging for potential customers. I’d researched their ideal client type and recommended words and language the clients had used themselves to answer questions.

However, once the legal and finance people within the company got their hands on the redrafted copy, they wanted to change it back to the dull old style.

I do you get paid for writing copy for people and I do you get paid for creating marketing material. I’m a professional marketer. But it’s clear what this lot felt was more “professional” was the dull language, management speak, passive sentences and jargon.

Even though that language won’t engage their customers.

They’ve defined “professional” by their own corporate standards. And in their case professional means dull language, management speak, passive sentences and jargon. Just as the small agency’s definition of professional is shaped by the quality and size of their video equipment.

What does professional mean?

That’s fine I have no problem with people having standards.

It’s when people and companies start judging others by their standards that problems start. And if they imply someone else is “unprofessional” because they don’t have the same standards. Or the same sized equipment!

Being Professional on LinkedIn

Have you ever seen people who post pictures of beautiful scenery, or their cats on LinkedIn getting pulled up for not being professional? 

Some people say LinkedIn is a “professional” website and there should be no personal stuff. 

Does “professional” mean an environment where we don’t get to see a bit of the real person behind the “professional” person? I quite like getting a bit of a peek into their real lives – it might make me keener to work with them.

All these examples made me wonder what the word “professional” really means.

You are professional

And the answer is it means different things to different people and different companies.

It only becomes a problem when they judge others by their self-imposed standards. And imply that anyone else not living up to those standards is “not professional”.

Whatever your job, if you get paid, you are a professional.

Full stop.

You deliver a professional service at the standards you set for yourself and your customers.

If you want to make a video on your iPhone or camera. Do it. Go ahead and crush it. Don’t let anyone put you off. Okay, an agency might be able to put a more “polished” production together but never let them say it’ll be more professional than yours.

Other people and companies might have more expensive, or bigger, equipment, different standards and different outlooks but they have no right to judge you or imply you are inferior if you don’t meet their own expectations.

If they do. Well, how unprofessional of them.

Now it’s your turn:

I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic. People can be professional and act in an unprofessional way, can’t they? What was bugging me was the “superiority” professional implies. What examples have you come across? Please leave a comment or share on social media.

Helen Wilkie on writing, publishing and marketing your business book – MAF121

In this episode, my guest is communication specialist, Helen Wilkie.

She’s helped accountants and other professionals launch their own business books.

We chat about the process of writing, publishing and marketing a business book.

Welcome to episode 121 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Helen Wilkie on writing, publishing and marketing your business book - MAF121

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • Helping “numbers” people to better use words
  • How to decide on the best subject to write your book about
  • Why “author” is the root of the word “authority” and why this is important for your personal brand
  • Why the fact other business people might have written a book on the same subject shouldn’t put you off writing your own
  • How to avoid going too broad and focus instead on “a thin slice of expertise”
  • Planning, editing, production and whether to self-publish

Who is Helen Wilkie

For over 25 years, Helen’s worked with a variety of clients from multinational corporations through professional associations to government departments. She specialises in delivering more her flagship program, “Effective Business Writing for Accountants”, to firms and conferences across North America.

She’s written eight books on business communication, including “Make Your Words Count: a short painless guide to business writing for accountants”, available on Amazon.

Helen’s links:

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Answer 3 questions to get to a simple marketing strategy

Stop making strategy so complex and soul destroying.

As companies grow, do they intellectualise the marketing process too much?

Do they lose touch with what their customers want from their products and services?

Answer 3 questions to get to a simple marketing strategy

The reason I ask is since I left big corporate nearly 4 years ago, I’ve worked with smaller businesses on their marketing strategies and the experience feels less of an intellectual exercise and more of a genuine desire to let insight guide their business decisions.

Complex and expensive needn’t be better

When you have giant pots of cash to spend on strategy, and you involve high-end international consultancy firms, they start throwing around terms like SWOT analysis, PEST analysis, Boston Grids, the Ansoff Matrix and good old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All good tried and tested exercises, they’ve formed the foundation of countless business strategies

But if we over intellectualise the process we risk missing the real nuggets. I’ve seen some agencies boast about their ability to build “doctorate level” analysis into the process. Is this a good thing or would it miss the real customer insights that could lead to genuine new ideas?

I’m as guilty as anyone for being swept up by a mass of paper, post-it notes and spreadsheets. I’ve been in teams emerging from the other side, exhausted, with a strategy declaring the company is going to become an industry thought leader. How excited would our customers be about that?

Smaller businesses don’t have the money to spend on such massive undertakings. And it can be so refreshing to go through a simpler process.

A simpler approach

You can get just as good an analysis of the lay of the land, as you would from SWOTs, PESTs, Ansoff’s and Maslow’s, by answering three simple questions.

  1. Who is my customer?
  2. What is their problem?
  3. How do we solve their problem better than anyone else?

Combine this with a goal, such as a revenue or profit target and you can then get on with planning your tactics. Your products, service, and communications, content and social media activity.

You’ll find you’ve put together a simple strategic plan.

Give it a try. You might find you can summarise your strategy on one or two pages rather than in 200-page report. Your whole reason why and your brand and come emerge from answering this questions.

But once again it’s important not to over intellectualise it.

Big corporates can afford to do qualitative and quantitative research, including focus groups, to tease from customers their likes and dislikes. They ‘ll employ insight analysts who can spot the trends that lead to opportunities for product developments or service improvements. And sometimes it’s possible to bias the questioning to get the answer justifying the strategy. No one would ever do that, would they?

Again, without deep pockets, insight for smaller companies, comes from one to one meetings, phone calls and possibly a post-sale questionnaire, and genuinely knowing their client base intimately.

But for everyone, in any industry, there is another way to hear what people are saying.

Use social media to listen

We all have access to social media and this is where our customers shout loudest. This is where they will unload their thoughts without mincing their words. They’ll be candid, critical, and scathing.  But often they’ll be constructive, complimentary and supportive. And we can learn so much from what they are saying.

Are you using social media to listen to what your customers want?

Vast expensive intellectual exercises have given birth to complex products, complex processes and me too marketing in many industries.

The next time you set out on a strategic review, wouldn’t it interesting to try both approaches? Try and get to the answer using the nimble, small company, small budget, 3 question thinking and compare it to the traditional academic exercises?

Would the simpler approach lead to a more relevant and engaging customer proposition?

Now it’s your turn:

Do you recognise the situations I’ve described? Have you been in a soul-sucking strategy situation? I’d love to hear your stories about keeping strategy simple. Please leave a comment below or share on social media.

Do you need help with your strategy?

And if you need help with your strategy please get in touch. We can arrange a Skype call to get you up and running with a simple strategy. There’ll be no soul-sucking complexity I promise.

Cover Magazine recently published a version of this article.