How to be a superhero to your clients, costumers, colleagues, and supervisors.
Everyone is looking for a way to get ahead today. This is especially true in creative fields, where we have immense competition in the fields of graphic design, editing and writing, music, photography, and many others.
It’s tempting to believe that the way to stand out is to produce work cheaper and faster than your competition. But the road to success should not be a race to the bottom. Rather, it’s a race to the top. And the way to the top is not by fighting for the scraps, but by setting yourself apart as a true professional who is willing to do things others aren’t.
In my work as a musician, church worship leader, writer, college professor, and lead editor here at The Good Men Project, I’ve seen (and try to consistently execute) three practices that are increasingly rare. They are rare because they take a little more time and effort than most people are willing to spend. But they will instantly set you apart from the pack and make you a hero to those you serve and lead.
1. Send handwritten thank you notes.
In today’s digital world, sending any type of handwritten communication through the mail seems like a practice that is hopelessly out of date. But that’s precisely why you need to do it. A handwritten note tells the person receiving it that you cared enough to go the extra mile. You know this from experience: When you get something in the mail with a handwritten address, it’s the first thing you open.
Anytime I appear on a podcast or interview, or anytime someone has helped me in an important way, I send a handwritten thank you note. The tagline for my blog is “unlock your creative potential,” and many times I will include a small vintage skeleton key in these cards. After a few sentences thanking them for a specific way they have helped me, I’ll write something like, “P.S. I’ve included a little something to remind you of your incredible power to help unlock other people’s creative potential.”
Everybody, no matter how well-known or powerful, needs encouragement. I want to be known as a person who makes others feel good about themselves. You can read more about my system for writing thank you notes here.
2. Be on time for meetings and appointments.
This is one of the true marks of a professional. Creative people are sometimes known for being a bit scattered, so just by virtue of being on time, you have already set yourself apart from a good chunk of the population.
Habitual lateness is a character issue. It says to other people that your schedule is more important than theirs, and that you’re not able to manage your time very well. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances prevent us from on time for in-person or virtual appointments, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.
The best way to prevent being late is to show up early. Plan on arriving at your destination ten or fifteen minutes earlier than you need. If you have a phone conversation or Skype call coming up, make sure all your technology is working, and always have a Plan B in case something goes wrong.
3. Use correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
If you want to be perceived as a true pro, another simple way is to write like a professional. It’s probably an understatement to say that the overall quality of writing in the general population has taken a nosedive over the last couple of decades.
How many times have you received emails and text messages that were poorly written and had all kinds of mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation? If you’re like me, you probably receive these kinds of error-ridden communications all the time.
I’m a full-time college professor, but I’m also a writer and lead editor here at The Good Men Project. Both in my day job and in this “side gig,” it’s rare for me to receive content that has been written with careful attention to the proper rules of English. At the risk of sounding like a grump, I am often surprised at the lack of attention that many otherwise successful people give to the proper rules of English in their writing. As someone who grades and evaluates other people’s writing on a daily basis, I can say with 100% certainty that good, careful writing will absolutely set you apart as a professional. In fact, the bar for using proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation is so low these days, that if you only pay attention to this one area, you will immediately stand out from your competitors.
If writing well is something you struggle with—and that’s OK because we all have strengths and weaknesses, and not everyone is a natural writer—then you owe to yourself, your career, and your reputation to have someone look over any writing you do to make it the best it can be.
If you want to be successful and stand out from the crowd, you don’t have to be a genius or have a crazy amount of talent. You just need to be willing to do a little bit more than others do. These three simple practices—sending handwritten notes, being on time, and using proper English—will absolutely set you apart as a true professional and make a lasting impact on those around you.
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