Professionalism is a word we’ve all heard in one context or another – as a compliment or a criticism. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person” and “the following of a profession (as athletics) for gain or livelihood.” This is not inaccurate, but it hardly scratches the surface of what we understand to be professionalism. Let’s explore what professionalism really means and why it matters to the concrete contractor.
What Is Professionalism?
As it is commonly understood, professionalism refers as much to an attitude and behavior as it does skill on your chosen area of work. Some master craftsmen are terribly unprofessional and it hurts their business, as a result. To be professional, you must conduct yourself and your business dealings in a way that encourages trust between you, your customers, your vendors, and your colleagues. Show that you know what you are doing, you can be trusted to keep your word, are pleasant to work with.
Why Is It Important?
Maintaining your professionalism is a good deal of work, but it is not without its reward. Demonstrating professionalism makes your work more desirable to the client – after all, people are more likely to recommend or return to a contractor they perceive to be friendly, competent, and honest than they are someone they see as rough, gruff, and shifty. Professional attitudes and behaviors also help your business run smoothly, promoting better relationships with your vendors and crew.
How To Act Professional
There’s no “silver bullet” for creating professionalism, but here are a few ways you can build it:
Be Honest – Being straightforward and honest is perhaps the most vital trait towards being professional. It’s an unfortunate fact, but it’s a common perception that contactors are shysters. Everyone has a horror story or knows one that does. Buck this trend by being as open and honest as you can with your customers and vendors.
Be Accountable – Following through and keeping your word goes a long way towards building trust and displaying professionalism. It is as simple as doing what you say you will do. If you make a commitment, such as a meeting with a customer or a project deadline, do everything you can to come through on it. If you suspect you won’t be able to, let your customer know as soon as you can. The same goes for your suppliers and crew. Hold yourself accountable to them by paying your bills on time, making payroll, and generally doing what you promise.
Be Kind and Personable – Act like the kind of person you’d want to be around. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend, but be kind and courteous to everyone you work with. This includes clients, vendors, other contractors, and your own crew. Ask how they are doing, don’t be afraid of small talk, and be genuine about it. Respect and kindness breads positive attitudes for everyone.
Don’t Cut and Run – The job isn’t over when the project is complete. By maintaining a relationship with clients, even after the check clears, you show them you care and you support your work. This not only builds a good reputation, but it creates more opportunities for work down the line. You could net ongoing repair and maintenance work, later projects, and customer recommendations just by making a couple brief phone calls to check in. Always stand by your work.
Admit Faults and Limitations – Nobody is perfect or all powerful, so there’s no reason to act like you are. If you cannot do what the customer is asking, be candid about it. You can always recommend something you can do for them instead. If there’s nothing you can do to please them, recommend a course of action. It is always better to part ways on good terms (which can still lead to future business) than promise the world and be held liable for failing to meet expectations. Likewise, if something goes wrong, be upfront about it. Whether it’s your fault or just an unfortunate circumstance, don’t hide it or shift blame. The customer will eventually find out. Come to your client early and with a solution, and most of the time they will be happy you did.
Be Prepared – It’s a simple, but often overlooked detail. Have everything you need for the job before you start. Of course, you can never account for the unexpected, but do your best to have all of your materials and tools ready, available, and in good condition before you start. The same is true for pricing information, samples, and photo albums before a consultation. It saves you time, makes your life easier, and customers notice when you are prepared.
Get Your Crew On Board – Remember that you aren’t the only one to make an impression. Many a reputation has been sunk, not by the estimator, owner, or salesman, but by an unruly installation crew. Encourage your crew to demonstrate all of the qualities you strive for when acting professional. This means they should be considerate – don’t leave trash, soda cans, or cigarette butts all over the job site. They should be presentable – don’t curse excessively or play overlay loud, offensive music. Most of all, they should exhibit the same customer service values you do. It may be tough to change old habits, but a good crew should be able to adapt if they are given patience and good reasoning.
Going The Step Beyond
There are the basics to acting professional that everyone should work for. But there are also other steps you can take that really make you stand out. These steps aren’t always feasible for every contractor, but they should be something you aim to achieve.
Up Your Presentation – It is often said first impressions are made within the first 7 seconds of meeting someone. That is why it is important to consider your image and presentation. Imagine you walk into a client’s home for a consultation. Will they think more highly of you if you’re clean and groomed, wearing a nice polo or if you’re stinky, in your work clothes, and covered in release powder? In the world of business, image is everything. Do what you can to create a professional and consistent image for yourself and your business. This could start with grooming for consults and handing out company branded shirts to your crew. It could go as far as having matching, branded company trucks. Do what your resources allow and you will be pleased with the results.
Become a Resource – Chances are, the customer is not the expert in decorative concrete. But you are. Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise by helping to educate them. Explain why and how you need to do certain things. Let them know what their options are. But don’t overwhelm them; know how to simplify when needed and stop when necessary. Use your experience and knowledge to guide their design choices. The customer is always right, so it’s your job to help them make the right decision.
Master Samples – You can pour over photo albums with clients for hours, but at the end of the day, it’s always going to be a picture of someone else’s house. Ultimately, clients respond best to something they can touch, feel, and place in context. Sample slabs are always recommended, if feasible, but you can takes steps before that point to help guide the customer’s decision. Create samples of your work - be it stamped concrete, stains, or overlays – that you can bring to the customer’s home during a consultation. If you can, build a showroom at your shop that has samples pads so you can let customers browse your standard or popular offerings. If your distributor has similar samples placed, and allows it, use their sample pads for same purpose.
Professionalism is important to continued and sustainable success. It can be difficult to maintain, but professionalism pays off. When you demonstrate the core values of a professional – competency, honesty, preparation, and consideration – you improve your chances of making the sale and developing long term, repeat customers who gladly recommend you to others. Respect your customer, respect your crew, and respect yourself.