Can you be too professional? That might sound like a silly question to ask, and, to a point, it’s because, as a business owner, you cannot be too professional. However, there are some pretty intense nuances to that. 

What people deem as being professional isn’t always aligned with what is actually professional. So, as a business owner or an entrepreneur (or whatever label you want to give yourself), you are likely to be quite conscious of your professionalism. Professionalism in your presentation, in your speech and how you articulate yourself, your marketing and copy, and how professional you are in your delivery. 

Professional does not mean stuffy

The idea that people often have about being professional is much more aligned with the corporate world. It is about having a nice suit, not saying the wrong things, not being too personal, and never rocking the boat. And those things are not really anything to do with professionalism. That’s image management. It’s a guide to becoming invisible in the crowded marketplace, a guide on how to be boring and stuffy.

That’s image management and that’s not all the same as being professional. To be perceived as being professional by your customers and your peers is all down to your delivery. How do you deliver your product or your service? When you deliver that product or service, is the customer getting everything that they want to get out of it? Are they getting all the things that they were promised? From their perspective, are they getting it in the way that they were promised and in the timeframe that they were promised? Is the service or the product provided actually solving the problem that it’s intended to solve? That’s professionalism.

Being professional is about being the right person for the job with the ideal solution

Turning up in a nice suit, getting out of a nice car, talking to people using language that does not fit who you are is not professionalism. In fact, it is just pretension. Pretension has no place in the real world, even in the corporate world. It is out of place and your discomfort is apparent. The people that do really well in the corporate space, they might have the flash suit and the flash car, but they will talk to people in a way that is natural, they will talk to people as themselves. They will be bold. As leaders they will be, in some cases, quite garish and that’s okay because that’s what makes them stand out from the wave of vanilla, corporate suits. 

Your flash suit and your flash car doesn’t make you stand out because you’re not the only one with those things. There’s someone out there with a nicer car and a nicer suit. But, more importantly, the customers don’t care about those things. With regards to your perfect presentation, if you want to be professional then you need to consider who you’re trying to deal with and who you’re trying to market yourself to.

If you’re out networking for new connections for your business, or looking for suppliers and so on. Then, who are the people that you’re going to be dealing with? What do they need? How would they be most comfortable receiving what they need? Would they feel comfortable talking to and spending time with you? You are always dealing with another persons idea of professional. What is their idea of a professional? What is their idea of someone who is good to deal with, who’s easy to work with? Try your best to conform to that. 

What is important to your customer, addressing that makes you stand out as the professional

I’ll give you a clue. It’s not the suit and it’s not the car.

It’s how well can you solve their problem. How easy is it for them to get from you the solution that they need, how easy is it for them to implement that solution, and how comfortable they feel with you. 

If professionalism was about the suits and the cars, then your plumber, your electrician, your carpenter, and so on, would turn up in a suit and tie. But that’s not the case. If a plumber turned up to your house in a suit and tie you would probably think to yourself, “this person knows nothing about plumbing”.

For them to be professional in your eyes, as the customer, for them to look the part they have to turn up in something that they’re going to be comfortable wearing, that they’re going to be okay with it getting drenched, dirty, and ruined. They have to talk to you about the problem you are experiencing with confidence and certainty. And that is pretty much the end of that. What matters to you as the customer is, are they turning up with the right knowledge, do they have the tools for the job, and are they pleasant to deal with? 

Being professional is industry specific but the parameters are always the same

When you are looking to buy a car, do you buy your car from the person with the nicest suit? Or, do you in fact buy your car from the person that has the car you want at a price that works for you, and is pleasant to deal wit? 

When you go to a shop, which shops do you like going to the most? My favourite shop in the whole world is a comic book shop, a very specific comic book shop which is located in my local(ish) area. (You can check them out here ) There are ones that are actually a bit closer, but I like to go to this particular shop. The reason I enjoy going to this particular shop so much is to do with the person that runs the shop. He knows more about that world than just about anybody I’ve ever met, he has a shop where I can walk in and I can give him a snapshot of my interpretation of a story that he’s that I’ve read, and he’s able to tell me exactly what the story and exactly what issue it is that that was in.

He has all the knowledge I need and he is friendly and efficient too. I’ve never once gone in that shop and felt uncomfortable. He puts me completely at ease at all times. He is the ultimate professional in that field. Not because he has a flash suit because he doesn’t, he wears jeans and a T-shirt. Not because he has a nice car, I have no idea what he drives. But because when I walk into that shop. I get what I need, how I need it, and when I need it. It’s a pleasant environment and I feel completely comfortable with him and his team.

Professional should never be pretentious or stuffy

So when you are out in the world and you’re worrying about how you look, how you present yourself, and so on. Stop and think, what do my customers most need from me, what do they really want, and what do they care about. Do they care about what I’m wearing, do they care about me being as politically correct as possible, probably not. They care about the product or service you provide, the problem that you solve, the way you do that, how easy it is to access, how easy it is to implement, and how comfortable you make them feel. And that’s it. If you want to be professional, those are the things that you need to worry about. 

So going back to the original question, yes you can indeed be too professional, but only if your idea of professional is actually being stuffy. If you have a realistic view on what being professional really means, then no, you cannot be too professional. So stop worrying.

To be more professional starts with your positioning statement

Where do you want to be in the market? How do you want to be perceived? If you have a positioning statement then you have all the data you need to make an informed decision. Your positioning statement is how you differentiate yourself from the market, it is how you define what makes you unique. It is how you take a stand for and against things. It is how you bring the right people to your door.

If you haven’t already created a positioning statement then you can check out a post I wrote on the topic or you can listen to a podcast I recorded with Manny Wolfe. Manny is an expert in his field and we had a lengthy discussion about positioning statements, what they are and how to implement them. You can find the podcast on all major platforms but you can also listen to the specific episode I just mentioned by visiting the following link

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