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Riffs on marketing, writing, creativity and life ––

Business etiquette isn’t dying, it’s just changing… drastically.

business etiquette

Jack shit. That’s about how much business school taught me on the subject of business etiquette. Granted, I’m not your standard “businessman”.

I don’t have an office. I work from coffee shops or anywhere I can find a strong wifi connection.

I don’t have employees or colleagues or a boss or a board of directors. I hunt alone.

I don’t wear a suit and tie, tuck in my shirt nor show up to work clean shaven. I sport earrings, tattoos and sneakers most days.

I’m a twenty-five-year-old marketer, entrepreneur and writer that runs a small creative writing shop that helps brands craft pretty words that sell things.

The world I do business in is much much different than the world my father and grandfather did business in.

The brands I work with will pay me tens of thousands of dollars and won’t ever ask me to sign a contract nor meet them in person nor hit the golf course nor send them a resume nor even remotely give a flying shit whether or not I went to college.

For me, the business world my professors told me about does not exist and so the business etiquette they spoke of simply doesn’t apply.

I worked in a small advertising agency for a month or two before quitting and starting my own thing and that has been the only taste I’ve ever had of what one might call the “business world”.

However, despite this, I’m successful. I own a thriving writing business, sell a hugely popular writing course and run a badass marketing newsletter that goes out to 5,000 entrepreneurs, freelancers and snowcone vendors interested in learning how to sell like hell with the written word.

This success, naturally, has caused me to reflect on what business etiquette actually looks like in a business world that is becoming wildly different than it was a decade ago.

I recall taking a course in college on business etiquette, which felt a bit stuffy. It was littered with business buzzwords and felt like a ridiculous manual to navigate the political hierarchy of Corporate America or at the very least avoid getting fired.

And, as I’ve perused the web for other people’s takes on business etiquette, I’ve found absurdly obvious advice like… maintain good personal hygiene.

(If someone can’t brush their fucking teeth in the morning, they shouldn’t be working, anywhere).

Anyway, I decided to put together my own rules on business etiquette, if you can even call them that.

A few short rules on business etiquette from a renegade of sorts.

Scratch that. Let’s not even call them rules on business etiquette. I would just say they’re a nice little reminder for myself and others to be decent human beings in the workplace.

And, speaking of being a decent human being, let’s kick the conversation off with apologizing when you’ve messed up.

1. When you f*ck up, apologize.

In my three years building Honey Copy, I’ve had my fair share of fuck-ups. Some of them have been other people’s faults, most of them have been mine.

Regardless of whose at fault, I generally find myself apologizing.

I wrote an article a little while back about publicly apologizing after making a silly comment in my writing that offended the entire Twitter Comic Book community. In it, I offered a simple rule I try to follow… clean up after yourself.

Generally speaking, folks will respect you more than they ever did before, once you’ve said sorry for hurting them. Not to mention, it’s just the right thing to do.

2. Constructive criticism should never include an audience.

The other night, a friend of mine delivered some constructive criticism to me in front of five other very close friends. While there was some truth to what he said, I found myself feeling very offended because I felt humiliated.

In business and in life, remember that constructive criticism does not require an audience.

If you have a problem with someone, speak to them face to face far out of earshot from others. The conversation will go much better when humiliation isn’t in the picture.

3. Send emotionally charged emails (tomorrow).

If there is any part of you angry, frustrated, offended or annoyed while writing an email, don’t send the email. Write it. Then, come back to it the following morning. I can almost guarantee there will be a few revisions.

4. If you say something about someone behind their back, be prepared to say it to their face.

One of my favorite writers and admen was the late great David Ogilvy. He ran a massive advertising agency and had no patience for office politics.

In fact, he hated politics so much that he would fire the worst of the politicians. He made a policy in his office that everyone must settle conflicts face to face (not through paper or what today would be email).

He offered the following advice to managers struggling to control the bad-mouthing that can easily become commonplace in office…

“When somebody comes to your office and denounces his rival as an incompetent rascal, summon the rival and make the denouncer repeat what he has just told you.”

Whether it’s a client or an employee, don’t get in the habit of spitting venom behind their back. Ranting is one thing, consistently talking shit about someone is just called being a shitty human being.

5. It is never just business.

My least favorite cliche of all time is… "It’s just business.” I’m not sure who coined the term but it’s preposterous.

Business is never just business because we are dealing with living breathing human beings who have feelings and emotions. Not to mention, when you throw money into the picture, these feelings and emotions can become super-charged.

So, if you expect to be successful in business, you better realize that business isn’t just business but also human psychology, a practice in empathy and relationship-building.

Many times, folks think they can thrive in business by being overly analytical; removing their emotions and operating strictly on the basis of fact.

I think the best businessmen and businesswomen are emotionally intuitive. They understand they’re doing business with people not businesses.

6. Don’t sleep with clients and coworkers.

Just don’t do it.

7. Always pick up the tab.

Whether I am going out to dinner with my girl, a friend or a client, I always pick up the tab.

This is more or less a life rule I have for myself. My father has always done it and I grew up watching how it made people feel.

I couldn’t give a shit less about what you wear to a luncheon or the proper manners you should follow at dinner parties.

But, I do think picking up the tab speaks light years to the person you are having a meal with.

It says in not so many words…

I care about you and cherish my time with you enough that I’m willing to pay for it.

8. Never do anything for profit your momma wouldn’t approve of.

If you wouldn’t feel comfortable looking your mother in the eyes and telling her what you did to make a sale, land a client or build your business, just don’t do it.

Sacrificing your ethics and morals for a quick win is a sure-fire way to go out of business.

A little while back, I realized ghost-writing went against what I believed in, so I walked away from it entirely and cost myself a shit ton of money in the process.

But, I can sleep at night now.

9. Give people your undivided attention.

Stop looking at your fucking phone when someone is talking.

10. Never use people as a means to an end.

My dear friend Ian Holbrook works in sales at Predictive Index by day and owns an awesome newsletter called The Backbeat by night.

He is one of the most talented people I know when it comes to building real, honest relationships both in and out of business.

A philosophy he follows closely was one thought up by Emmanuel Kant: human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else.

It is a refreshing take in a business world that seems overly obsessed with using people to get what they want –– a sale, an introduction, a promotion, a foot in, etc.

Business etiquette, to me, really comes down to treating colleagues, clients and employees like people –– as an end rather than a means.

It’s constantly asking yourself the question… how can I leave someone better than you found them?

By Cole Schafer.


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Cole Schafer