I won’t pretend that this post is going to cover the entire spectrum of the debate, but there are a few points that I believe are important to mention, and keep in mind.
Anyone can call themselves a professional, but what does that really mean: That their sole source of income is brought in by this profession? That they have years of experience? That they’ve been “professionally trained”? The line is blurry and subjective, and does not even touch upon the issue of the quality of the work.
In my opinion, no matter the criteria any individual holds, there are a few traits a person must have in order to call themselves a “professional”:
An understanding of the industry, more so than the average Jane or Joe. This covers knowledge about standard industry rates to charge clients, definitions of terms and phrases used in the industry, competitors in the market, best standard practices, available resources, and more.
The ability to deliver competitive results. This requires an understanding of the appropriate specifications your work must follow, as well as ensuring that the quality of the work meets industry standards. Examples would be: A photographer and photo dimensions, a voice actor and sound quality, or a writer and formatting standards.
A confident grasp of what your clients need. You go to a professional because you trust they know more about the service than you do, that or because they have the means to execute the service better than you. That’s what you pay for: their expertise in the service. This expertise comes from understanding what the client requires, and in some cases having to educate the client when the client makes requests counter to their goals. Only a well-versed “professional” can make that call with confidence.
Acting like a business. This doesn’t necessarily mean you keep business hours, but you might. Invoicing clients properly is important, treating clients with the respect a business owner treats a customer, and being reliable, punctual, and attentive.
Again, there’s plenty of ground I’m not covering, but these are a few basic points that must be considered (in my opinion), if you truly wish to call yourself a “professional”.