What does professional 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 to 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 get’s 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 6S and my Lumix 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 offer 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 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 E90D? 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 answering 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!

Swearing on LinkedIn

A friend of mine, Cara, wrote a fabulous article on LinkedIn and included the word “Fucking” in the title. Her engaging, thought provoking piece made a hard-hitting point about people who want to work from home. She added a few more “fucks” in the body copy.

Her article went viral and attracted many thousands of hits and many hundreds of comments.

80% of the comments were positive and everyone agreed with the sentiment of her article. But the other 20% criticised her for using profanity in her article.

Reading the comments, it’s clear some of them couldn’t get past the swearing and even consider how powerful the message in the article was.

They pointed out LinkedIn is a “professional” website and there should be no swearing in such a “professional” environment.

Does “professional” mean an environment devoid of swearing?

I’ve worked in many big corporates and experienced boardroom debates loaded with Fs and Cs and Bs and Ts. Boardrooms are “professional” environments, aren’t they?

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”.

Chris Marr who runs the Content Marketing Academy summed it up best, “Is the bigger problem here more about how people judge others on their own ideals? ‘This is how I think you should be behaving and you do not meet my expectations, therefore you are a lesser individual than I am and you are living your life the wrong way. This is how you should change your behaviour to meet my expectations…'”

It’s true in the case of Cara’s hashtag “swearygate”.

Photographer and content marketer, Anne Johnston said, “What gives you the right to judge Cara because in your eyes she doesn’t behave the way you think she should? People that are so uptight that they think their way is the only way? I ain’t got time for that! Professional does mean different things to different people but it certainly does not give you the right to treat people like shit because they don’t act the way you want them to!”

I like this take on the topic by software developer Phil Hearne, “I don’t have a problem with a word having two different meanings – there are plenty of examples. It’s the implication that anything that is not professional must be crap. And worse, those that go around thinking that ‘my standards are professional’ and anything else is not as professional. Who says?”

Here’s the thing.

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

Full stop.

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

If you want to make 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.