Reputation Counts – Part 5

My daughter is afraid she’s becoming a hermit.

No, I’m serious. Now that she’s started kindergarten, she doesn’t have as much time to play with her old friends, and she’s worried.

She’s mostly worried how her little boyfriend, “Prince” Thomas, will feel about her neglect. She’s been scheming ways to stay in touch with him. I’m afraid she’s going to try and ‘friend’ him on Facebook or start texting him on my phone.

It’s funny to watch. But her anxiety makes sense to me because I know it’s essential to stay connected.

To some extent, we are who we know. In almost any field, you’ll find advice about connecting with the right people, surrounding yourself with the right peer group, and staying in contact.

Staying connected can be complicated for freelancers. We’re isolated. We’re potentially out of mind. And we have a tendency to hole up when we’re busy.

But if you do a good job of managing your contacts and staying engaged, you’ll have a ready pool of advocates who stay connected and support your success.

And without connections, without advocates, you’ll be without a positive reputation.

Two decades ago, staying connected was a lot harder than it is today. Email changed that. And now, many of us use social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ all provide ready frameworks for staying connected with old clients, colleagues, friends, and prospects.

I use those — and have about 500 connections overall. Many of my clients have come from that pool of connections.

Once a month, I go through my connections and send an email to those I haven’t spoken with recently. It takes a very short bit of time, and I usually get a few positive responses.

But I don’t just rely on social media because I don’t think it’s adequate. It’s easy to have superficial connections through social media, but it’s much harder to deepen professional relationships through those networks.

Most people don’t deeply value your status updates and tweets — they can be very generic. They do value generosity — and generosity builds connections which lead to a strong reputation.

I’ve taken to sending thank-you cards and gifts to clients, collaborators, people who have helped guide me, and professional friends. Yes, these are old-school approaches, they almost seem quaint.

But I think they’re valuable because they’re so unusual.

A month ago, I sent a thank-you card to a well-known small business web consultant for a talk she gave. She offereda detailed consultation at a discount. I never asked for her services, didn’t expect her help, and was absolutely delighted to receive her help.

Another thing I’ve started doing is rounding up the total when I write checks for bills I’ve received. I have a designer who works with me now and again. If he bills me $250, I’ve rounded up to $300 — especially when he’s provided something unique or finished ahead of deadline.

I do it because I value his contribution and I take pleasure in being generous. But if my generosity results in him prioritizing my work, taking extra care, or referring me to another client — I’m getting unforeseen benefits.

I’m building a good reputation by standing out from the crowd. And my actions are reinforcing my reputation as a fair, positive, engaged consultant, client, and collaborator.

I don’t mind that. Would you?

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Published: August 16, 2012

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