“Reputation, you know – a lifetime to build, seconds to destroy.”
—Captain Shakespeare, Stardust (movie)
People say lots of things about me. Sometimes those things aren’t particularly flattering. But, even with the haters, my overall reputation is such that, 10 years after I started writing online, I’ve got a good business and people throw terms like “influencer” at me.
Recently, I’ve thought about my reputation and how I got here. From what I can tell, building a solid reputation isn’t much about flash and promotion (although some self-promotion could probably help me). In my experience, it’s been mainly about work. With a pinch of telling it like it is.
What are Your Goals?
Before you begin to build your reputation, it’s important to consider your goals. When I started writing, I wanted to pay rent and buy groceries. I wasn’t overly concerned with much else. My biggest hope was that I could stay at home with my son while bringing in a few hundred bucks a month.
As things took off, I found the personal finance niche (or it found me) and began building a reputation in that space. Even then, my goals revolved around being considered a decent writer and being the “go-to” person for content. I wasn’t concerned with “making it big” or becoming a personality.
While you build your reputation, you need to know your end goal. If you want to be considered a thought leader, or if you want to build a following, the way you go about creating your reputation is a little different. In that case, creating your persona and reputation is a lot like marketing. You need to promote yourself (or hire someone to help you) on social media, and appear in as many places as possible.
If your goal is to be seen as a solid freelancer who gets the job done, you might not need to be so flashy. I’m not the highest-profile writer or money expert. But I have steady work and I make six-figures a year (at least until I cut back intentionally). Not only that, but financial services companies hire me to help them reach other bloggers, and sometimes people ask me what I think about things.
How I Built My Reputation
For the most part, I built my reputation without thinking about it. Even though I don’t believe there’s such a thing as true overnight success, I did wake up one day and realized that people thought well of me. (Not everyone. You can’t please everyone. There are plenty of people who think I’m awful and crazy and weird and stupid. But I hang out and work with people who think I’m mostly awesome.)
Here’s how I built my reputation, and how you can build your reputation as someone solid:
- Do good work: It seems cliché, but the reality is that there is no substitute for good work. While I don’t claim that everything I do is my best showing, most of it is decent. Or at least better than what you’ll find for $5 an article on a freelance marketplace.
- Under-promise and over-deliver: My business partner, Tom Drake, thinks I undersell myself too often. That might be true. But when I talk about what I can and can’t do, I err on the side of under-promising. That way, when things go well, I look good. You won’t find me extolling my amazing ability to get you clicks or bring the SEO.
- Be upfront about offerings: Along with under-promising, I’m very clear about what I offer. I don’t promise a lot of promotion, pageviews, or conversions. That’s not what I do. And sometimes I express that in a very cut-and-dry (and probably offensive) way. I provide content, and if you want something else amazing to happen with it, that’s on you. Sometimes, that means a potential client goes and works with someone else. And that’s fine. I have a list of people I refer potential clients to when I’m not a good fit.
- Meet deadlines: One of the most important things you can do to build your reputation as a freelancer is to meet your deadlines. Get the work done when it’s supposed to be done. While I’ve fudged deadlines in the past (especially while I was going through my divorce and moving across the country), the reality is that I had years of being on time all the time. It bought me indulgence when I needed it.
- Integrity: Like everyone, sometimes I tell white lies. On occasion, I emphasize certain things over others. But, for the most part, people know what I’m doing and where I stand. When someone asks me to place a link in an article I’m writing for someone else, I don’t do it. No double-dipping for me. And I’m clear about it. I also tell it like it is. I’m not selling the dream of going from zero to six figures in six months.
- Willing to help: I answer questions. I refer people. Should I do more? Probably. But most people know I’m willing to take the time to help. And that can be a reputation-builder as well.
Building a reputation, no matter how you do it, is hard work. Figure out what kind of reputation you want, and then set about building it.