Saturday, March 03, 2007

Reputation management for independents

Craft your reputation and watch your business grow. Judette Coward Puglisi

Call yourself a free agent? Then you identify with a group of people who have shown their finger to the corporate world. You celebrate your freedom. You no longer respond to the whims of an unreasonable boss, the vicissitudes of corporate strategising and the politics around the water cooler. You can pack up your talent and take it elsewhere. You have choices. Or do you?

After 4 years of flying solo and 3 years of growing a successful strategic PR firm, I know all too well that freedom you seek can be constrained, not by an intemperate boss, but by things more ominous. Cuts in the corporate budget, a client’s revised strategy, a negative turn in the economy all serve to curtail growth. This, I know, can be terrifying because in the pursuit of freedom what you really crave is security. The thought is not at all oxymoronic, not when you consider that end-of-month financial commitments don’t ebb and flow. The question then is how do you create stability in your career as a free lancer which in itself is governed by an ability to move quickly and be flexible? I believe the answer lies in how you decide to carve your reputation.

Your free lance reputation is built the first day at work on the job, whether that space is in your bedroom, garage or well appointed office. It develops with every phone call you make, with every ally, and in every negotiation. Columnist Margaret Hefferman writing in the business magazine Fast Company Inc. says that, “every detail of every relationship combines to form one big reputation. Whether good or bad, each exchange you have at work, about work, says something about you. And while the business world may be a big place, your industry and your company are surprisingly parochial.”

The truth is through word of mouth, everyone knows whether the goods or services you sell are good, if you are reliable, if your fees are commensurate with your products and whether or not you deliver when you say you will.

“Reputation,” Shakespeare once said, “is the immediate jewel of your soul.” He was right. More important I have found it is the one thing, as a free lancer, that sticks with you and if negative can have an earthquake impact on your career. Consider the case of Michael, a free lance designer I started to work with when I started out on my own seven years ago. Michael was brilliant, one of those artistic types who you can hire by just looking at his portfolio. Sadly, I did just that and while his genius could never be questioned, Michael should never have struck out on his own. Lazy and defensive, he constantly missed deadlines and landed me in trouble with one of my clients because he failed to deliver a design that complimented a script. A background check on Michael revealed a past that was littered with similar behaviour, he had created a negative impression that would soon become a permanent part of his career.

As a free agent projects will come and go but clients will stay with you once you deliver; they will also spread the good news about you as your reputation for service builds up over time. Having never had the time for social networking a colleague, Jane, spent most of her free time not in bars or water holes but coming up with mind expanding programmes for her work in volunteer organisations. As a project leader her ideas were successfully executed and she developed a reputation for being a strong strategist with an uncanny ability to harness the energy of teams. 5 years of working at it consistently, she found that her ideas were more readily accepted and that she could easily get resources committed to her ideas from her group’s senior executives/ board members. Her reputation had made her job a whole lot easier.

Crafting your reputation requires some soul searching. You’ve got to understand your values and take stock of who you are now and what you’d like to stand for in the future. Don’t expect it to be easy. It requires honesty. There's no point trying to build up a reputation as a team player if you're a loner, or a brainstormer if you love tactical work. But when you can define what you'd like your reputation to be, you're effectively defining your career narrative as a free lancer. That will help you make choices. It will draw you the right staff and keep you focused on accepting the projects that are consistent with how you want to grow. More importantly, as you continue to build your good name you will see that no matter what the vagaries of business, clients will continue to work with you.

Judette Coward-Puglisi is the managing director of Mango Media Caribbean (, a strategic PR and brand development firm. She is the founder & current president of the International Association of Business Communicators, Trinidad & Tobago

Friday, March 02, 2007

Judy large size pic