By Matt Walstatter
When many people think of the cannabis industry, they conjure images of long hair and dreadlocks, smoke billowing out of car windows, and unprepared stoners rolling into meetings hours late.
Those of us who operate differently are often hampered by this stereotype, and it arises in large part from misinformation born of generations of prohibition.
But our own lack of professionalism can perpetuate this unfortunate perception. In fact, the overall lack of professionalism represents one of the most significant problems plaguing the fledgling legal cannabis industry.
We have professional operators in our industry, but they are few and far between. Most cannabis business owners act as if they remain in the black market. Their behavior can seem perplexing, especially to individuals in other industries like banking or real estate who are used to colleagues and clients adhering to certain accepted standards.
In order to move our industry forward and operate effectively in new, legal markets, we must raise our level of professionalism — both individually and collectively.
For many canna-business entrepreneurs, including those coming from the black market, this may be easier said than done. After all, professionalism can be a nebulous concept and hard enough to define much less implement.
Here are some of the main components of professionalism that I follow, and, how to incorporate them into the way you operate your business.
The Three Cs
Professionalism begins with what I call the Three Cs — Comprehension, Competence, and Communication.
- Comprehension means understanding your industry in general, and your role in particular. Read, study, and become an expert in your field so that you can answer any question that arises. Remember that if you can’t answer a question for a customer, he or she will find someone who can.
- The ability to apply your specialized knowledge and skills to do your job effectively is the key to competence. A competent operator also knows how to manage expectations. This means learning to keep your commitments within your capabilities and making sure you deliver on all promises. If you adhere to this, over time you will gain a reputation as a man or woman of your word. This is one of the hallmarks of professionalism.
- Finally, all of the knowledge and skills in the world would be useless without communication. It is essential to be able to communicate your knowledge and skills to customers, vendors, bankers, and others that you deal with. Managing expectations also requires clear communication. In fact ,most of what people do in any industry has a communication component, and a professional will master this aspect of their trade.
Values and Emotions
Honesty and integrity top the list of professional values. A professional honors his word and stands up for what he believes in.
- Professionals build not just their own business, but their industry and community as well. They donate their money and time to civic, political, and industry organizations. When businesses engage in community service, they strengthen their connection with their community, helping people to see them as an indispensable aspect of the world that they inhabit. This is professionalism at its finest.
- The emotional component of professionalism revolves around emotional intelligence. This is the ability to recognize emotions and what they signify, and, to understand the ways that emotions affect others. Emotional intelligence helps us to stay cool and collected in challenging situations, and helps us to lead more effectively as well.
- Central to this is empathy, the ability to identify and understand the feelings and needs of others. Practicing empathy makes us better communicators and demonstrates integrity.
How others perceive you is an important part of professionalism. As we saw with communication, exhibiting the traits of professionalism is not enough. You must find a way to convey your professionalism to clients, customers, colleagues and others.
Image begins with your appearance. This is a touchy issue in the cannabis industry, where individualism reigns. But the reality is that in the business world, some people will judge you by your appearance, an unfortunate fact that you need to consider.
A professional approach to appearance would be to assess the situation, including the purpose of the meeting (who will be present and what you hope to accomplish), then dress accordingly. I encourage you to be yourself, but it would be a shame to let something like how you dress thwart your larger business goals.
You should also be courteous and polite in your business dealings. This includes arriving for appointments on time, something that is a challenge for many in our industry. This may be the ultimate stoner stereotype for us to overcome. Keep in mind that when you are late, most people take it as a sign that you do not value their time, or that you value it much less than your own.
Project confidence at all times, even under pressure. Professionals are comfortable with their ability to navigate tight situations. Act successful (like you’ve been there before), but be careful not to appear cocky or conceited as this can jeopardize your ability to build connections and relationships.
Why this is all so important
One of the biggest gripes I hear from my colleagues when I discuss professionalism is that they entered the cannabis industry because they want to be themselves. They simply don’t want anyone to tell them what to do. I think we can reconcile this desire for individualism with the need for professionalism in business.
Our work is becoming increasingly competitive, and any advantage, however small, can mean the difference between success and failure. And the lack of professionalism in our industry means the bar is set low.
So, my advice is to factor this in to your approach. If you do, you may find that a little professionalism can make a huge difference.
Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.