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‘You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well’. – Jeff Bezos
The founder of the world’s largest online retailer is on to something here. Being an interim requires all sorts of superhero skills. Doing difficult things goes with the day-job. Nevertheless, one of the hardest things when starting out is building – and maintaining – a good professional reputation.
When you take the step from corporate life to independent contractor, you become less able to trade on where you worked before. On planet interim, it’s results that matter, not job titles! And, once you are up and running with that first assignment, it’s what you do, and what others say about what you do that builds your reputation and secures the subsequent engagement.
How can you create a professional reputation you would be happy to invite round to meet your nana, if it was a person? Here’s my take on some practical steps:
Network. Never underestimate the power of a good conversation. It’s an old adage but still true: Business is based on relationships. So make sure you spend sufficient time cultivating contacts and building a real connection with prospective clients and peers. Clearly, this is not about love-bombing every Linked-In contact you think you might know. It’s real life, not Tinder! Network selectively. Consider where you can genuinely connect with like minded people, and remember it’s a two way process. There is a give and a get, so be genuinely interested in the person you are talking to, even if they aren’t a headhunter.
Speakers’ corner? Do you have a ‘lessons learned’ case-study? Are you an expert in a particular field? Do you have a point of view that will spark debate? One of the best ways to showcase your talents (and your winning personality) is to be a speaker at Industry events. A word of warning, though. The ability to tell your story, and do so in an engaging way is likely to make you stick in the mind of your audience. A self-aggrandising sales pitch for ‘you, you, you’ isn’t the same thing.
Write it down. If standing up in front of a bunch of strangers makes you want to emigrate to Antartica, how about writing, instead? Social media has made it really simple to get your message out there. Creating a blog is fairly straightforward using packages such as WordPress and Blogger. So why not use social media to show the world what you are capable of, professionally speaking. And if your writing skills are not worthy of a Pulitzer, you can of course comment on other blogs, or join on-line discussion forums.
Keep your promises. Do what you say you will do. This is particularly challenging on assignments where the written job description/brief is pure fantasy. It happens more than you think, so if you get to Kansas and the red shoes aren’t working, then be professional, be pragmatic and make sure you – and your client – are clear on the expectation for delivery. That way everyone goes home happy.
Start where you are. Every interim has a unique skill set. Whether you are a financial turnaround wizard or a change maven, you have something to offer your clients. When you start out, it can be daunting. Especially when faced with other interims who are more experienced. Firstly, don’t compare yourself- it’s a waste of energy. Second, everyone had to start somewhere. Find a way to describe what you do – this will become your sales pitch. Do it well – this will become the cornerstone of your reputation. Do it consistently – this is what builds interim tenure and helps to maintain your personal brand.
What do you think? Does reputation matter? What advice would you give an interim starting out? Answers and comments on the blog, please.