Fix Your Track Record: What to Do About Embarrassing Projects From Your Past

899403_utilitiesTwo years ago I was starting to get conscious about my online presence, so I Googled my name. One of the first things I saw were links to my earliest projects, which were how-to e-books about dating and seduction. I remember using a pseudonym at that time so I was surprised to get the byline.

While I believed in my output and knew that the customer was satisfied with my work, I didn’t want these projects to be the first thing that potential clients saw. After all, I hadn’t written about dating for several years. I wanted to focus my writing efforts on business, freelancing and travel.

If you’ve ever done low quality work, accepted a project only for the money, changed niches, or even worked on something ethically dubious, you might understand this situation. There are just some past projects that should be buried by your current ones.

How can you make sure that happens?

Highlight your best work. To reduce the negative effect that an embarrassing project has on your portfolio, focus on promoting your best work instead. Revamp your portfolio to include only relevant, high-quality samples. If you use social media, put them at the foreground when discussing your work.

Work the search engines. My problem with the embarrassing e-book projects was that they belonged to the top three search engine results for my name. This meant that anyone — from potential employers to curious friends — would find that project if they typed my name into Google. If you can easily find your “bad” project using your name as the search term, here are some ways to fix it:

  • Purchase your own domain name if you haven’t done so already. Many new web workers tell me that they just can’t afford to buy their own domain name and set up a blog. But what they really can’t afford is the lack of control over what shows up first when you enter their names (or the name of their business) in search engines. This is why it’s important to get domain names based on your real name and your business name. Anything you pair up with it — a blog, a splash page or a static site — has a good chance of ranking well.

You don’t necessarily have to buy hosting and code your own site, either. You can point your domain name to your LinkedIn or Facebook profiles or to a free hosted blog (such as Blogger or Tumblr).

  • Get backlinks. Once you have your domain name make sure people link to it. This is easier to do with a blog, since it’s more encouraging to link to something that contains an interesting idea or discussion, rather than just a personal profile. Also, it’s better if they use your real name as the anchor text.
  • Learn the basics of on-site SEO. You don’t need to be an SEO (search engine optimization) guru to get your professional blog to rank well for your name. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and using some of those techniques might make your blog look spammy. Here’s a good introduction that talks about capitalizing on simple, long-term tactics rather than the “SEO trick of the month”.

Contact the person in charge, if applicable. Since the agreement with my previous client involved using a pseudonym for the dating e-books, I immediately contacted him about it. In a polite email I asked if he could use my old pseudonym for the books. He apologized and told me that he had simply forgotten about our agreement when he had his site and the e-books redesigned. He then corrected this oversight and changed the byline.

This approach may not be useful to those who have different arrangements. Still, if you can do it without upsetting anyone and it’s within the limits of your contract, it doesn’t hurt to ask a previous client to change the credit or byline. They can be very understanding if you explain the situation well.

Become more conscious of these projects from now on. As the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure. Go uncredited or use a pseudonym for projects that aren’t up to your usual standards or that are incompatible with your personal brand. Your future self will thank you.

Remember that whatever happens and no matter how shameful your previous projects may be, it’s important to stay honest. If ever someone asks you directly about these projects, tell the truth and accept it with grace. These projects may be embarrassing, but it’s more bearable than being caught in a lie.

Have you ever worried about embarrassing projects from the past? How have they affected your brand?

Image by linusb4 from sxc.hu

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