With the recent announcements that Aol and Facebook are introducing a new look and new features, I’ve got email on the brain. It’s no surprise, then, that an invoice I received hit a nerve, and prompted today’s post on professional email addresses and your personal brand. In today’s economy, I know a number of PR professionals, marketers, and graphic designers are doing freelance work for bigger companies. Contractors have always been utilized in the business world, but never more than today, due to increased connectivity, better tools for a remote working arrangement, and cost effectiveness. That being said, one would think that freelancers would take more time and energy creating, presenting, and maintaining their professional brand.
Make your email address professional. My mom gave my brother and sister nicknames when they were little, including “bubba” for my brother, and “chickie” for my sister. I started calling my sister “Tootsie” years ago, and the term of endearment has stuck with her all the way to her present college days. She also played soccer in high school, and thus, her email address throughout high school was firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, this may be fine for a few harmless emails from one 15 year old girl to another… but to use that to her current professors or potential employers? NO. Similarly, my brother would never want to be known as the guy with email@example.com as his contact information on his resume. And yet, the invoice today had an almost equally ridiculous email address attached to it. In fact, I’ve received several emails from this freelancer from another silly email address. This person has not one, but TWO unprofessional email addresses from which to do business! If you’re going to work as a professional among other professionals, pick a professional email address. Choose something like firstname.lastname@example.org, or a first initial and last name. You want people to remember your brand with confidence, not snickers over the nickname your mom or sister gave you when you were a kid.
Choose a professional provider. Ok, we all know Aol gave a lot of people their first email address. But let’s be honest, who actually uses Aol anymore? Out-of-touch people still use Aol, that’s who. Or, what about all the random providers that no one has ever heard of? I know some more remote locations use these providers, but most professional environments use a major provider. Even if your name looks professional, if the provider to the right of the @ sign looks unprofessional, you’ve canceled yourself out. You can get free email addresses from major providers, like Gmail or Hotmail, that garner much more respect for your tech savvy, hard-working, professional brand. But it’s not just the address that needs to be professional, it’s also the first connection. Which do you take more seriously, the invitation to “friend” a potential business partner on Facebook, or the invitation to “connect” with a potential business partner via LinkedIn? Do you really want your new bosses to see you in a bikini on your last vacation? Make it a policy to put your professional brand at the forefront by including a professional email address on a professional medium.
Make your signature professional. Give yourself a title, even if it’s just “Independent Contractor”, “PR Consultant”, or “Marketing Professional”. Include your professional email address, phone number, website URL, and possibly “on behalf of [company]” in the signature line, so that members of the organization know you’re a legitimate member of their team. When you just sign your emails with your name, people within an organization may question your credibility or right to have information, payment, and decision-making power on their project. Improve your professional image by being professional down to the last word of your electronic correspondence.
Back it up with other electronic information. If you plan to freelance long-term, create a website and a business name. A well-maintained, informative website lends credibility to you and your work, and allows potential employers to vet you before paying good money for your services. Set up a LinkedIn profile, and post updates about projects you’ve done, with links to the information on your website. This ensures that companies receive a professional image, rather than a personal image, when they are looking to hire a contractor. Give your business a name, and set up payment options for the business. Nothing says “suspicious” like an invoice requiring payment to an individual… especially when that individual has not established credibility elsewhere on the web. Once you have a business name and website, you can then use the domain name in your newly created, professional email address.
If you want to be taken seriously as an independent professional, you’ve got to present a professional image, starting with the address on your correspondence. Don’t be email@example.com, be firstname.lastname@example.org, Marketing Professional, with a proven track record of success!