I often joke that the difference between being an amateur and being a professional is that professionals have success on purpose.
Okay, I'm only half joking.
The truth is, everyone has a job. For some people, the ambition ends there.
But, professionals take pride in their work, and having a job isn't enough.
Succeeding at that job, and helping a business grow, is the mark of a true professional.
As we leap into the new year, I wanted to share some tips I've collected over the years that have helped me advance and guide the journey to being a professional.
Professional Habit #1: Maintain Important Relationships
This is habit number one for an important reason relationships even in our increasingly digital culture are still what drive business (and life) forward.
Remember those colleagues from your old job that you really enjoyed your time with? Don't just "check the box" by including them on your Facebook friend list. Send them a message, reminisce, tell them you're thinking about them, throw a party for them.
This is more than courtesy, too. We all go through highs and lows in our career, and a strong connection with a past colleague may be the key to getting back on your feet one day, or pushing your career further toward your goal.
Professional Habit #2: Always Say Thanks
A professional always says thanks because professionals understand that no one has to go out of their way to help you complete that project, meet that deadline, or have your back in a sticky situation.
Take the time to write a note out with a pen, too.
Have a stock of thank you cards in your desk, and don't hesitate to send one after being on the receiving end of some help.
There is something intimate and genuine about a handwritten note.
Emails are fine, but taking the time to write something out shows a bit of extra thanks that is often warranted.
Professional Habit #3: Find A Mentor
Professionals are tenacious about getting better at their chosen craft. To do that, you need experience (which takes time) and perspective.
A mentor can provide both, and a great mentor can even fast track your journey as a professional.
A mentor will also likely advise you on your appearance if they are good and you have built a trusted relationship. Take their advice on this.
One of my mentors, for example, said that professionals do not dress sloppy.
To this day I don't wear jeans to work.
Professional Habit #4: Be Prepared (and Early)
It's such a basic concept, but it's shocking how often t's ignored. Take the time to show up 10 minutes early to work and make your plan for the day. It won't disrupt your life that much, and it shows a level of preparedness for the day that will help you react to situations that pop up throughout the day with calm and poise.
I memorize my schedule for the next day the night before. This helps me float from meeting to meeting prepared and on time despite a busy and demanding schedule. I know what times of the day I have available to respond to email. This approach helps me make the most of every day.
Professional Habit #5: Build Trust with Everyone
Trust is built by following the first four habits, but also adopting some additionally useful habits that send all of the right signals to everyone around you that you are worthy of their trust.
Here are a few useful, trust-building habits:
1. Have a clean desk every night when you leave for the day cluttered desks make for cluttered minds.
2. Respond to every email within 24 hours even if it's to acknowledge you have received the email and are still looking for an answer. Trust is earned, in part, by responsiveness.
3. Volunteer for the stuff no one else wants to do.
The more challenges you take on, the more trust leadership has in you.
There is no position in a company immune to the need to be a professional. Anyone in any role should strive to be the best professional they can be.
As you build your plan for 2017, make sure you're making time to form some professional habits.
If you do, a successful and professional year awaits!
Josh Gordon is a marketing communications professional and president of Full Spectrum Marketing, a full-service advertising agency with digital roots based in Kent and Wooster. You can reach Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.