This is an expanded excerpt from my upcoming book “Don’t be an Idiot: Learn to run a viable business“. Sign up to get updates and a coupon when the book comes out

It was the first full Christmas my wife and I spent in a house we owned. Typically I have all my shopping done before December even starts but this year I had a few things left on my list for my wife’s stocking and it was December 24.

Of course I expected the store to be full and my heart sank just a bit more when I saw the camera we had been eyeing for months was $100 off today only. A quick call to my wife confirmed that I’d be standing in a line to get the camera before I got to stand in a line to actually check out with those small quick items for which the trip was started.

Hunkering down in the line with my book (see I had come prepared to wait) and sitting in my shopping cart I was quickly immersed in Enders Game for the third time. Unfortunately I was shortly broken out of my semi-peace by loud complaining directly behind me in line.

As I listened I came to understand that the lady behind me was waiting to pickup pictures with her family sitting outside in the car. Then they had a 6 hour drive to get to the days intended destination.

The whole line came to understand that in fact.

Further we came to understand that she had been in the store 3 times in the last week to get the pictures and had left because of long lines.

After about 10 minutes of this I turned around and said “Seems like you’re in a big rush and it’s the day before Christmas I planned on a long wait. Why don’t you just take my spot in line.” When she protested (sheepishly) I just got out of line and got in behind her to the mouthed ‘thank you’ of a number of people in line.

The line was treated to silence from her and when she got up to the counter she was polite and calm.

I’m so important

Watching freelancer’s talk on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ you see the same attitude as the lady had. We act so self-important. We are the geniuses. We are in charge and our clients just get to bask in our greatness.

We create sites like Clients from Hell to complain about how bad our clients are.

I’ve done the same thing and I’ve killed lots of time reading the posts on Cliens from Hell.

But how about we act like professionals?

Whatever you do you’re in the business of customer service

I’m a programmer. I offer WordPress plugins, themes and custom whatever for my clients but my real business is customer service. You may be a photographer or designer or…but you’re really in the business of customer service.

If you don’t realize that then you’re just like the lady in my story that wasn’t expecting a long line and a long wait in the day before Christmas.

To be able to win programming jobs I need to serve customers with a smile, or at least imply the smile in all my communications. If I can’t serve customers with a smile I don’t have a job.

Even if you do products, you are in customer service. You have that complaint to deal with and you likely have thousands of customers. Thousands of people that you need to keep happy.

What does professional look like

So what does a professional look like? Well they don’t whine every other day on Twitter (which I have been guilty of). They don’t out clients that haven’t paid on time.

They do have contracts and they do communicate often and clearly. When there is a dispute they refer to the scope of work and contract and work it out as a business professional.

When they do get that ‘crappy’ client sure they ask for advice from a trusted group of friends but they don’t get in to a complain fest. They probably do cut the ‘crappy’ client as they hit the bottom 20% of their business and end up costing more than they are worth. They do identify why they got stuck with a crappy client and make decisions about how to avoid that in the future.

They do realize that they are in the customer service industry and they do reply to email and give lots of updates to clients.

The funny thing is that when I started acting like a professional my clients started treating my like one. My possible complaints started just going away since I was acting like a business and not like an entitled freelancer.

How are you going to take your next step forward in being a professional?

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc