How to Look Like a Pro (Even When You’re Not)

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Be the queen of winging it.

Ed’s note: This post was written by guest editor Tess Robinson of Smack Bang Designs.

I am the queen of winging it.

I dropped out of uni at the age of 22, with zero degree, zero savings and zero experience.

A little spark flared up inside of me that shouted, “Let’s start a design business!”. Before the rational side of my brain had a chance to frame up its cunning rebuttal, my automatic response was, without even thinking, “Yes! Great idea!”. I was starring in my own Herbal Essences commercial, cheesy smile and slow-motion hair flick included.

I swear I wasn’t smoking anything. But I might as well have been. Within a week, I had created my online portfolio and told the world I was capable of creating branding suites, corporate identities and full-blown websites. Little did they know that I only knew how to do two out of the three of those things, and to be honest, not awfully well.

“If we truly are, as they seem to say, a result of the top five people we hang out with the most, you should make a concerted effort to hang out with the people who you truly admire.”

The best part about the world in which we live is that the democratisation of absolutely everything by the world wide web means you no longer need a black briefcase, salmon suit or corner office in a high-rise tower to be taken seriously in the business world. But it also means that, before long, you might find yourself wading into the unfamiliar territory of ABNs and trying to learn the art of balancing income with expenses.

Entrepreneur is the buzz word of the decade and it’s little wonder. Starting your own business is easier than ever before, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. So what if you’re just starting out? And you’ve got little to no experience, but a fire in your belly and a pocketful of dreams? Don’t let those big doggies talk you out of it. If I’ve learned anything in my last five spins around the sun, it’s that learning on the job is as rewarding as cultivating a perfectly colour-coordinated pantry. Maybe even more so. Maybe.

And what’s more, a bloke by the name of Zuckerberg is a prime example of winging it. Old mate started a little networking site to communicate with his Frat House pals as a mere means to an end, and before he knew it, more than 1 billion people around the world had poked him.

So if he can do it, surely you can too.

Buckle your star-studded seat belt my friend, because this is the secret sauce to looking like a pro, even when you’re not. The key ingredient? Fake it till you make it, baby.

1. Have the vision

Imagine, for a second, that anything is possible. Now stop imagining, and make it happen, because guess what? Anything really is possible. And the sooner you believe your vision will come true, the sooner your staff and your paying customers will get onboard too. Laying down the vision for your brand, even before anything remotely close to grandeur, will keep you and your people on track towards seeing it realised. Have faith in the yet-to-be-seen!

2. Don’t have a fall-back plan

Everyone has a Plan A. You know the one – the happy ending where everything goes right, you get the smoking hot guy, your business cracks a few million dollars, your skin stays lustrous. Your eyes remain sparkly, you spend your days eating soft blue cheese and crusty fresh sourdough, you drink biodynamic wine with your loved ones in a sunny home on the coast of Australia with a kelpie at your feet and offspring that live happy, healthy, heart-filled lives. Well, that’s my Plan A, anyways. But people bang on about having a Plan B all the time. In my 27 years on earth, I’m still wondering – why? In my opinion, a fall-back plan is a plan to fall back. As W. Somerset Maugham said, “It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it”. I couldn’t agree more.

3. Know what you want

If I go to the grocery store without a list, it can go sideways as fast as a toddler in an ice-skating rink. Send me to the shops without a list and I’ll come home with 90 AAA batteries, fairy floss soldiers and more chocolate coins than that of a mint. I will often buy what I want rather than what I need, and the expedition turns into a travelling circus, rather than a functional stopover. Knowing what you want is a very powerful thing. And without getting all new-agey on yo’ ass, if you know what you want, then the universe knows what to provide you with.

4. Hang out with the pros

Some people have a magnetic influence. Shooting stars seem to fly overhead whenever they open their mouths to talk, they have smiles that could light up a suburb, and integrity worthy of 20 gold stars. If we truly are, as they seem to say, a result of the top five people we hang out with the most, you should make a concerted effort to hang out with the people who you truly admire. Trust me, their shine will rub off on you.

5. Be consistent

Consistency is the secret weapon you never knew you had. Keep it consistent, and I guarantee you will look more professional than the masses around you. Keep all things consistent – your tone, your visuals, your marketing, your language – and see your people respond with loyalty. They will love the stability you provide, and your brand will be stronger and better for it. Being consistent will win you brownie points all over the shop, and everybody loves brownies. Every. Body.

6. Say ‘no’ when you need to

Saying ‘yes’ might seem like the right thing to do. The positive, friendly, polite thing. But saying ‘no’ pays dividends as it means you are actually prioritising what to say ‘yes’ to, and, in turn, everything that falls out of the domain can wait. Steve Jobs was just as proud of what Apple did not do, as he was with what it did. He famously reduced a product range of 350 down to 10 products in just two years, simply so he could bring a home run to each, rather than spread himself extra thin over hundreds. It’s a big one: what you are saying ‘no’ to?

7. And the final secret?

Do anything for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, year after year, and you’re bound to become reasonably good at it. Work. Your. Ass. Off. The rewards will flow.

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