How Trustworthy Are You? - Freelance Ethics
By Chris King

Both weekly and monthly, I receive a large number of publications that deal with business and technology. Ever since the whole Enron scandal became news, these magazines have and are featuring more and more articles dealing with business ethics, honesty and trust. In every profession, business and career, attention to ethics, integrity, honesty and trust are paramount to ultimate success. I suggest that there are ethics and principles that we, as free agents, independent professionals and freelancers should embrace and follow. I am going to highlight and explain the freelance lifer's ethics and principles in which I believe. I will warn you that in this article I am more opinionated than ever, but these are the beliefs that have worked for me over the years and have worked for those free agents, independent professionals and freelancers who are at the top of their professions and are still and ever earning a hearty income today.

A professional is up front and honest about what he or she does for a living and is willing to do for a client. First of all, we must be honest with ourselves. We must know our own strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes. When meeting with potential clients, I feel that it is of utmost importance to be genuine and sincere. It is also important to work ethically and with integrity - never performing a task that challenges our principles, no matter how much money we are offered. Even bending the rules a "tiny bit" will eat away at us and undermine our attitude and career. Being a fitness instructor, I was involved in an all day Yoga workshop given by a Yoga Master. She told us that Yoga was not only a physical discipline but also a whole way of life. She shared an example of what she as a Yoga Master did when driving up to an ATM machine and finding cash left accidentally by the previous user. She said that she knew right away to get out of her car and to take the money into the bank to be returned to its rightful owner. I have the sinking feeling that a good number of people might grab that money and drive away.

A professional honestly and accurately communicates his or her qualifications. This follows directly from the previous paragraph. We must never create qualifications - like college degrees we didn't earn or clients we never had or work we've never performed - to make ourselves look more experienced than we are. I know successful freelancers who are in demand, yet don't have that coveted degree, wealthy backgrounds or clients from Fortune 500 companies. It is more important to be able to professionally fill people's wants and needs - to discover and solve their problems. It boggles my mind when I read about all of the falsification in resumes, let alone small businesses' brochures and websites. Who would ever hire you for a job if they found out that you were lying in your written communications?

A professional can be trusted completely by his or her clients to do the best job possible. When we are hired for a job no matter how big or small, we must be willing "to give it our all." That means proper preparation (the unethical freelancer just "wings it"), excellent research, hours of getting it "right" and sufficient contact and communication with the client. This also includes minute attention to details, never assuming, always confirming. It means always "going the extra mile" to please one's client. This effort to please, however, leads to my next opinion.

The trustworthy professional doesn't agree to take on a job or project outside of his or her expertise or interests. Just because you would like to receive the fee, don't agree to tackle work that you are unprepared to do properly and easily or a project that won't be to your liking. I know that when times are tough, it is hard to turn down work. But working on a task that we are not prepared to do well or with at least a modicum of passion is the surest way to "turn off" a client and word does travel. A much better approach that will pay off in the long run is to recommend a colleague well-versed and well-prepared in that area. Both the client and your colleague will always remember you for your honesty and help. I also believe that "what goes around, comes around" so your good deed will eventually multiply in your favor.

The ethical professional treats all clients and other freelancers with respect and fairness. In my opinion this means never divulging confidentialities, charging different clients different fees according to what the "traffic will bear" or speaking badly of or spreading rumors about another freelancer or client. If, for example, someone asks what you think about another person's abilities and you are not impressed by that person's work or approach, it is better to say nothing or make a suggestion of someone "I am more familiar with."

A true professional asks, "What can I do to help others achieve their goals?" Even though time is one of our most valuable assets, I feel that we must take the time to help others when they ask us for assistance. I am not saying that we need to always be available for the "free loaders." You know who they are. But I am suggesting that when someone calls for information or tips on how to solve a problem, we are gracious and giving. The business people I know who are open and willing to share what they have learned from their mistakes and victories are those business people who are succeeding in today's shaky economy. They are sincere and genuine mentors. You will find that the more people we help, the more people who want to and can help us will appear.

My all-time favorite marketing guru, Robert Middleton, says that people will hire those they know, like and trust. Can you be trusted as an ethical and honest free agent, independent professional and freelancer? I would love to hear from you with your opinions about my opinions and beliefs. Just send me your FEEDBACK!


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