Is there a correlation between success and pissing people off?

I saw a post on Craigslist today that I’ve seen a few times for the last week or so on my feeds from around the country. Here’s the link:

http://losangeles.craigslist.org/lac/cpg/646621213.html

Anyway, there are numerous red flags in the post, such as:

  • looking for a “webmaster” (it’s 2008, not 1998)
  • focusing on cheap work
  • client has been “burned” (which MAY mean they are a bad client)
  • capitalization of “PhP” (could be a fluke, but still)
  • no explanation of what “inexpensive” means to them
  • general tone is a bit amateurish and naive

I went ahead and sent a quick response where I basically said that it was unreasonable to expect people to respond if they don’t know what your idea of “inexpensive” is, and that you can expect to pay $50 – 60 / hr at a minimum for someone really good.

This lady emails me back and berates me for my “rude” response, tells me that she was considering me for these other projects until now, tells me that she has lots of work and is always being asked to recommend people, etc. Basically that I have blown a huge opportunity by being honest with her. We went back and forth via email a few times, but in general, her position was that my email wasn’t polite enough, which is true. My email was abrupt and not at all polite, but I didn’t go out of my way to be rude to her either. I was simply stating the facts and trying to help out someone who, by her own admission, had been burned multiple times before. I explained to her that my clients pay very fair rates and expect (and get) great work in return. In return I’m very honest with them, rather than telling them what they want to hear. So far, the only jobs this behavior has cost me are the ones I don’t want in the first place. I’m a professional and I want to be hired by professionals, not amateurs who expect to hire a brilliant PHP developer with 5 years experience for $25 / hr.

This individual was also peddling the classic “do this one job for cheap and then there’s lots more high-paying work down the road” scam, for which I have trouble expressing my opinion without resorting to profanity. The bottom line is that this bridge is obviously burned, but I have trouble imagining a situation in which I’d want to cross that river anyway, so I won’t lose any sleep over it.

But it did get me to thinking about her general assertion that I should be more polite or it will cost me business. Now obviously, as professionals, we are required to act professionally and conduct ourselves in an ethical manner, maintain integrity, etc. But the question I have is: does building a strong personal brand mean that you’re not going to anger people, make enemies, etc? Or even more extreme, does it mean that you MUST make people angry, make enemies, etc?

I’m not entirely sure, but I see a lot of people that I admire who have no shortage of detractors and enemies and who are constantly stirring up storms of controversy. However, these people have very strong personal brands, very strong networks, and have experienced a great deal of success. Most importantly, they’ve actually gone out and accomplished something worthwhile. They’re not unprofessional, to the contrary: they’re ultra-professional. They’re not afraid to tell it how it is, regardless of whose feathers they ruffle, who gets upset, who finds it offensive. I think part of this is just the basic reality that disruptive technology, business models, and trends tend to upset those too attached to the status quo or those that feel they’re owed something by the system. When things change faster than they can adapt, they often point the finger of blame at those driving the change, rather than learning to thrive in a dynamic environment.

I think the bottom line for me is that making sure you don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers, make enemies, anger people, or stir up controversy is a good way to build a bland and boring personal brand, and you’re not likely to have a significant impact in your space. Yes, there’s always room for professionalism, integrity, and even a little tact, but the bottom line is that if you want to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.