Project Management

What would clients think of your online image?

Clients (including prospects) may see what you post on the Web, so consider what message you're sending with your online image.

 In my previous column, How you look matters when you're visiting clients, I mentioned that I work from home 99% of the time; thus, the vast majority of my "meetings" with clients occur online -- through email, virtual conferences, social media, and Google. I have never met one third of my clients in person, so the only impression they can have of me is via the Web or the phone.

I see that trend growing, as more people become comfortable with conducting more of their lives and businesses online. Whereas 15 years ago almost no business came from the Web, the majority of my first contacts now come from search engine traffic -- for better or worse. Back in the old days when most referrals came from someone who knew me, their judgment qualified me for the prospect before they made the recommendation. Google is getting smarter all the time, but it still requires a lot of effort to make sure that I'm a good fit for the prospects who find me.

What else prospects find about me can have an impact as well. Even though certain sites are designated as professional (e.g., LinkedIn) or personal (e.g., Facebook), what curious candidate client isn't going to check out the photos from the bachelor party posted on Flickr, the political rants on a personal blog, or the NSFW humor linked from Twitter accompanied by the profound commentary "lmao :D"?

That's not to say that you shouldn't be open and genuine online -- just that you need to be aware that anyone may see it. I prefer to err on the side of pissing people off. I like for them to know that I'm a straight shooter -- that I don't say one thing to their face and another behind their back. If they don't appreciate my sense of humor or my libertarian (not to say libertine) ethics, then maybe doing business with them would just be too much of a hassle anyway. But in order to be that open, I must not try to be two different people in those different venues because there is no barrier between them. On the Web means "in public," so you never post things that you don't want your client to see.

As with meeting people for the first time in person, your first impression online can make or break a potential connection. The photo that first accompanies your name will often stick in the mind of the googler, so choose the right profile picture for social media sites. TechRepublic member AnsuGisalas called out my TechRepublic profile picture for generating a bad first impression; the shades, I guess, seemed flippant. For a long time, I used this more professional-looking photo instead (which I clipped out of a family Christmas portrait). I found, though, that in most cases it was too formal -- like showing up in a suit at every engagement. I chose my current picture precisely because it's more laid-back. I want my clients to know that I not only bring the dedication to solving their problems that enabled me to buy that waterfront property pictured in the background, but also a sense of humor and a desire to make the experience enjoyable.

There isn't one "right" message for consultants to send online. Perhaps there isn't even one right message for you -- maybe complexity is part of your mystique. But it's important to understand that everything you do online from forums to YouTube says something about you publicly. Make sure it's what you want to say.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

28 comments
Jaqui
Jaqui

F them if they can't take a joke. :D I can't be bothered with trying to be other than who I am, if a potential client doesn't like that, oh-well, we wouldn't have a good business relationship anyway.

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

I think it's important to be who you are as well, but when does that start being a detriment? I take a hard line on many issues (religious and political, not so much technological) and while that shouldn't make or break my ability to pull in clients, I'm sure it does.

santeewelding
santeewelding

If there is a hard edge to you, I haven't seen it here.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but I think he means that he takes a strong position on those topics, and is passionate about them. If he allows that to spill over into his relations with his clients, it's sure to alienate at least some of them. That's a price that everyone must evaluate for themselves.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Your photo has always struck me as, deer caught in the headlights, as well now, as your question, Alex.

AlexNagy
AlexNagy

I take very strong positions, especially on issues of religious belief (I do some teaching on that subject from time to time, as well). If it's alienated people I know personally (and it has to some degree), it's definitely going to do so for some potential clients. As for not having a hard edge on TR, I do try to keep things light for several reasons. Not the least of which being the fact that I'd rather, to some degree, keep personal and professional separated where possible. For me, TR is somewhere to go to keep up on what is being said about technology and not a place to engage in religious discussion (unless done in PMs). He's also right in that is a price everyone must evaluate for themselves. I'm trying to mitigate that cost by not worrying about the clients I would probably alienate from my strong religious beliefs and focus on those who would be attracted to them (such as churches and other religious-based business). Still, knowing that there are clients I am alienating is kind of depressing. I would rather be evaluated purely on ability. Anyway, I've rambled long enough. (:

tfox
tfox

This is a great article. I have found that clients like to get to know us as people, but we still need to be mindful that it remain a professional relationship - online and off. Focus your professional online content on providing interesting and useful information for your target audience and you'll be fine.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Thanks, tfox. Yes, it's getting a bit more challenging now that social media makes intimate the new formal.

CTOS
CTOS

You are absolutely right Chip! People raised in earlier generations, realize that our dress, hair, accessories and public views DO make a difference. Younger generations, they are used to wearing ripped jeans, with the pants crotch to their knees...etc. They need to know these things if they wish to succeed. Thank you Chip for a great article!

herlizness
herlizness

> I'd like to think this is right but the dictates of fashion and style are becoming more and more elusive from my perspective; I wear dresses, skirts and nylons most of the time I'm with clients or attending anything "professional" and I have to say that there have been many, many times in recent years that I feel like I'm from Mars instead of "dressed for success." One day a while back I even overheard a guy say, "WHAT IS with the white nylons, navy skirt and blazer on her?" I didn't know it was a problem. oh well, sorry, I just can't do ripped jeans, tattoos, body piercings, bare legs, pointy toes with 4 inch heels or purple hair and will remain classically un/stylish, thank you. sorry for the girl talk, guys ... I'm sure you have your equivalents on the issues, though

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Constantly renegotiated. As always there are professionals available for consultation on the latest neutral.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It's now easier to catch 'em with their pants down -- OTOH it's easier for them to show their butts. Greater democracy, greater demagoguery.

herlizness
herlizness

ahh! Nixon! He's lucky he passed on before the 'net came of age ... no judge would have had to force him to turn over the Watergate tapes; he'd have had it all on YouTube nightly ...

herlizness
herlizness

> I don't think necessarily so, but I think it does correlate to the *perception* of minimized risk-taking; if you look/dress "conservatively" -- or perhaps "at the mean" -- I think you get more leeway to take risk because people have already decided that you're not too much of a risk-taker ... of course it's got limits, though

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It's good if your apparel [i]fits[/i] the imago that comes with your role. Going more neutral than that can be a bad idea. Going for a bigger impact than the expectation can be good, if you can meet the increased expectations, or perform well enough that people will file your deviation in the "cool" box, rather than the "odd" box. >make it work.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... between expected dress and expected work. Is the desired "neutral ground" in dress code a symptom of not wanting to rock the boat? Does it correlate to minimized risk-taking in business?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Blew me away, the part about the watch, here or in some other of Chip's threads. You don't [i]even[/i] want to know how I present myself to the world; in dress, that is.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Well, perhaps one day the ripped jeans will become expected, conservative dress. After all, full-length trousers for men became stylish as an anti-aristocratic dress protest.

santeewelding
santeewelding

This deeper-than-most familiarity with the long past that continues and reaches even today, this very moment. Hard not to be on top of things, that way.