For years I thought I knew what it meant to be a professional. A professional got paid for what he or she did. Pure and simple. If you did it, whatever it was, for fun and pleasure, you were an amateur. The minute you got paid, you moved over the magic line into being a professional. Money was the defining factor. Not a better truck to drive, or a better tool to use, or even a uniform, or a letterhead. Money, pure and simple, drew the line between the amateur and the professional.
I’m wondering if that has changed, or was I just misinformed?
Another thing I seemed to remember is once you crossed that line, you didn’t get to go back. Professional sports figures couldn’t hop back over the line to be amateurs during the Olympics. Pros couldn’t jump back into collegiate sports events willy-nilly. Pros were pros and that’s what they were because, by George, they got paid.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
We have all kinds of pros. We have good pros and bad pros. Pros that make lots of money, and pros that don’t make lots of money. We have pros that don’t know how to act in the real world, and pros that are consummate gentlemen and gentle ladies. Some pros can manage their money, and others make millions only to find themselves facing bankruptcy. Some pros sign contracts for millions upon millions of dollars only to find themselves booted off the team because their toe won’t cooperate at the end of a football. But through it all—tall, short, good, bad, man, woman, ice hockey, basketball, tennis and golf—the defining factor is the cash.
And then we come to window treatments. Pardon my confusion, but I hear the “P-word” thrown about everywhere. We’re being urged to be professional, or more professional, or heaven help us the greatest insult of all is to be called unprofessional. And then we have all of this stuff that is supposed to make us professional if we’re not quite up to the professional par.
We have vans, cars, signs and letterings for our cars and vans, and now we can wrap our vehicles in a hormonal explosion of signage one-up-manship. I thought good signage was clear, easy to read and to the point, but now we must have our vehicles completely tattooed in a flurry of sense numbing verbiage and color. (Bear with me. It takes me a while to digest new trends; next year I’ll probably have all my vehicles tattooed—I mean wrapped.)
We have business cards with logos and letterheads and brochures and printed invoices and printed proposal sheets to make us professional. If that’s not enough, we have special printed envelopes that we make all smelly like flowers to draw attention. We have our laptops to make our proposals for us so we won’t have to and that will make us look professional. We are told we have to brand ourselves, because without the whole package we’re not professional. And we have to hire people to measure for us lest anyone think we would be so unprofessional as to measure for ourselves, and heaven forbid if we get up on a ladder . . . how unprofessional is that? We need e-mail, a receptionist, a Web site, a Webmaster and a portfolio done by a commercial photographer at $300 a pop. We absolutely have to be published and lauded in all types of newspapers and magazines or we’re not quite up to snuff. We have to dress a certain way and talk a certain way and act a certain way, or we’re not professional.
Some of us say that hand-sewing only is the most professional. Not too many years ago it was said that hand-sewing was not professional, you weren’t truly professional without a professional blindstitch hemmer. So, I have an idea that being professional has a lot to do with the current thinking of the day. We have the cotton versus monofilament debate, which is a whole other raging question, each side looking askance at the other in ful-blown doubt of true professionalism. I hate getting drawn into that one. The question, What type of thread do you use, matching or monofilament? produces a guilty look on my face. I know that however I answer I have a 50 percent chance of being wrong.
I’d like to go back to a simple answer applied to the window coverings industry. If you can convince somebody to pay you for window treatments, you have jumped over the line. You’re a pro. Now, with that said, remember that we have all kinds of pros. Some pros being more professional than others. Some are more polished than others. But if you are making money at what you are doing, you are a professional. Does that mean you always act professionally? Probably not, as I type away in fluffy slippers looking decidedly unprofessional at this moment.
Some things that are done can be absolutely classified as unprofessional. At the risk of making myself the arbitrator of unprofessionalism, let me list a few:
• Delivering products wrapped in a plastic trash bag. Probably ought to rethink that one.
• Using just any old thread that is handy, throw caution to the wind. Just close your eyes and pick one.
• Top-stitching hems, probably not a good idea.
• Showing up at an appointment in your kid’s souped-up monster truck.
• Writing proposals on table napkins.
• Not returning phone calls and not doing what you promise.
• Spending all the money on yourself, let the vendors fend for themselves.
• And last, but certainly not least, no spitting, cussing, crying, or throwing yourself on the floor in front of the customers.
I’m sure there is more, lots more in the list of no-nos. But I guess it all depends on your market. In some circles, driving a monster truck to an appointment not only would be accepted but seen as a sign of superb taste.
The point is that professionalism isn’t about all the add-ons. It’s about you and your behavior. The add-ons can make you a better professional, but they can’t make you be what you are not.
It’s hard to really define professionalism. We know it when we see it. I think it’s more of an inner strength that shows through as confidence. A person that is confident in his or her ability to serve the customer, confident in making a profit and confident in his everyday walk exudes something that clothes, vehicles wraps or any other gizmo or gadget can’t disguise. Customers are drawn to that. While you’re trying to be the best professional you can be, don’t overlook the fact that the inner core of you makes you what you are. Work on that. It’s never trendy, always in fashion, and truly professional.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.