Reputation is Everything
Remember growing up when our mothers would nag us about who we were hanging around with, what we were wearing and how we behaved in public? Often her response when asked why we should care was “because I said so”.
But as we grew into teens and young adults more often than not, the response was “because you’ll get a bad reputation”.
My reply was usually something along the lines of “Who cares about reputation? Reputation isn’t anything.”
The usual retort from mom: “You’re right. It isn’t anything. Reputation is everything”.
She was right.
As adults, we quickly learned that reputation does matter. And as business professionals, we’ve learned that it matters now more than ever before.
At this point, I’m not going to go on and on about the internet, social media and online reviews and how we need to be diligent about monitoring our online reputations – by now, you’ve probably read a lot about that stuff. If you haven’t just check out this info from Dragon Search on online reputation management and this blog post from Sean McGinnis on online reputation management for lawyers. (I figure, any technique that works for lawyers should work for anyone.)
What I’m talking about is plain, old fashioned reputation management IRL – that’s “in real life”.
What others think of us offline is just as important as what others post about us online.
So let’s talk about managing our real life reputations. We need this more than ever today because we no longer have the opportunity or the ability to reformat public perception. And when we try, our attempts to fix a bad reputation either don’t work or make matters worse. Online or off.
So let’s dissect the main reputation rule we learned as teenagers:
Be careful who you hang out with because their reputation will quickly become your reputation.
The “who” in the above statement is rather broad and runs deep, and it gets more and more difficult to make decisions the deeper you go.
At the uppermost level, are other businesses that you align yourself with, partner with and those you recommend.
Be sure, and I mean very sure, that any business that has your rubber stamp of approval is truly worthy. Don’t ever align yourself with another company because your friend, cousin, neighbor, etc… works there. Don’t refer another company simply to collect a finders fee. Don’t refer another company simply because you belong to the same organization, group or club.
The most important rule though, and the one most often overlooked: Don’t ever recommend a company that you have not personally witnessed the quality of their work. This one will bite you in the ass every time.
Just because a company website states they design websites, provide cloud services, design logos, or write blog content doesn’t mean they do it well. Ask for work samples and client recommendations from any company you’re considering referring that you do not have first hand experience of the their work.
Referring those who do shoddy work, ruins not only your reputation but your credibility as well.
The next level gets a bit more hairy: your political associations.
Plain and simple, when you publicly align yourself with a political figure you inherit his or her reputation, both present and future.
When times are good, it’s great for you. But when it goes bad (and it will go bad, it always does), you and your reputation will go right down with it. The damage is far more reaching, both in breadth and depth, when the political entity is local rather than national.
We’ve become accustomed to those with different political leanings than our own when discussing national politics – most can do so as civilized adults. But locally, it’s far more personal, and therefore far more damaging when things go awry. We often know local politicians personally, are seen with them in public and may be quoted by them to the media. We may have their signage on our lawns or storefronts and their bumper stickers on our cars.
So when they get caught lying, cheating, or swindling (and they usually do), you’ll wear their screw up like a badge of dishonor for a long time to come.
When it comes to publicly supporting a politician, don’t do it. Not ever.
Finally, at the deepest, and most difficult level are the individual people you associate with.
This one is the toughest because often you’ll find yourself in a situation where you truly like someone but they have behaviors that draw negative attention, scrutiny or ridicule and you find yourself suffering the consequences professionally.
Maybe they drink too much and get loud and obnoxious in public places. Maybe they always have to be the center of attention, at any cost. Maybe they start every sentence with “I don’t like to gossip but…” (btw, people who say this love to gossip). Maybe they lie, and lie often. Maybe they’re what I call a “shit stirrer” – always causing friction among others and enjoying being in the center of it. Or maybe they simply have very poor judgement about appropriate behavior in public places.
Red flags: You often have to make excuses for their behavior. A trusted friend, colleague or mentor doesn’t like them.
What do you do? I know it may be difficult, but you have to walk away.
Your reputation, your business, your other relationships, your clients, and your friendships may depend on it.
There you have it, some tough but necessary rules to help you maneuver the tough job of managing and protecting your offline reputation.