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The things I cannot say.

A recent chat with a colleague began with, “now promise me you won’t tell anybody about this.”

More and more of my discussions these days begin with a sentence very much like that.  Often in the freelancing business, it’ll be referred to as ‘consider this under NDA’ as well, without actually having a document to sign.  An NDA, for those who are unfamiliar, stands for Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is usually a legal document that basically says that if you sign it, you’re agreeing to keep your lips zipped about any information the client shares with you.  In my experience, it usually refers to an upcoming book, project, app, software or hardware release, and anything else where the launch would be severely damaged if word got out to customers and competitors.  NDAs are serious business and I’ve been asked to sign a few, even just to hear about a project that I either ultimately turned down, or it turned out that I was not right for.

As my time has worn on in this business, I’ve come to the conclusion that unless the person I am speaking with has specifically told me I can talk about it, whatever ‘it’ is, everything is under NDA, even if I haven’t signed anything.  In any business, trust is an immeasurable asset when it comes to forging and maintaining long-term relationships.  Work with people long enough, and show them that their confidence is not misplaced, and pretty soon, they won’t even bother to ask you to keep it confidential because they already know you will.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the excuse some will use for unethical behaviour, ‘it’s not personal, it’s just business.’  As long as you’re talking to a person, business IS personal, and if you tick that person off, you’ll likely never do business with them again.

Gossip is rampant.  Always has been.  With social media, however, people are sharing far too much information, far too often, simply to be popular and dish the dirt on anything and everything.  If a company hires you to do a job, it can be tempting to spill the beans in order to inflate your image in the eyes of your colleagues, but if that company has taken a risk on you and finds out they can’t trust you to be discreet, it will be the last time they hire you.  Popularity on social media doesn’t pay the bills, but a solid reputation as a professional certainly does.

Over the past year, I’ve worked on a number of projects that I couldn’t talk about while working on them.  There have been paintings I couldn’t share for a month or more after delivery, because they were gifts and the risk of the recipient seeing them would irreparably damage my relationship with the clients who hired me.  I’ve had illustration clients who’ve hired me for jobs where my contribution has long been finished, but their project is still in development and to this day, I can’t share even a sneak peek until they launch.  Just recently, I wrote an article for Photoshop User magazine that was written, finished and submitted well over a month ago, but I was only allowed to talk about it last week.  I made a point of asking early on, and was given the exact date after which I was allowed to reveal my involvement, and I even double-checked with the editor on that date to make sure.

The only way to gain a reputation for being trustworthy is to consistently prove it to every client and professional with whom you come in contact.  This is beneficial in many ways.  A client that trusts you will not only hire you again, but they”ll refer you.  Just as important, people that trust you will share information with you, and in this industry, information is power.  You can find out when new products, software, and projects are being launched, what advancements are coming soon from which companies, and most importantly, which people and companies are great to work with and which ones you want to avoid.

Trust is always a gamble, and sometimes those with whom you place your trust will abuse it and make you regret it.  If you’re smart, you won’t allow them to do it twice.  Word spreads fast and people don’t want to work with those who can’t keep their mouths shut.

To be trusted, you must be trustworthy.

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