Some do’s and don’t of creating first impressions.
I am a Kiwi of three and a half years. In that time I have joined that huge group of self employed business owners here and as such have taken all and every opportunity to network with others in that position. During the speed dating sessions termed business networking I have received a great number of business cards. I have taken time to read these cards, noted logos, design, colours and business type, at which point I often enquire about time and costs invested in these ‘sales materials’.
My next question is about the investment in the owner’s website, in getting an apt representation of the company’s brand, ethics, products etc. The answers are in weeks and months not hours and days and in thousands not hundreds of dollars. As is the way with these dances, often my dance partner will ask at this point about my business. My reply, that I am an Image Consultant and help others with their personal brand, will often be met with a confused look, or the question ‘do women need help to shop’?
The truth of the matter is that every one of these small business owners is a sales person for their own business and lots of them don’t realise that they are the product! They may, in lots of cases be selling a product too, but first of all they need to establish their own credibility and integrity.
When we meet a person for the first time, it takes us just ten seconds to decide whether we trust them and want to allow them into our circle of people we are happy to do business with, or work with, amongst other things. If we reject their image for any reason, we reject them as a person. This first impression is lasting and can take months if not years to repair.
We judge others by their height (taller people get paid more, but the right clothes can help you look taller), by their weight (fit people are perceived as being able to work harder but again, the right clothes help you to look slimmer), and by their age (looking too old can work against you, as can looking too young. Here, beware clothes that make you look immature or clothes that are dated and aging).
Body language factors a lot in how others react to us. It’s important that our body language reflects our clothes and our personality, otherwise we lose all credibility. For example, confident clothes need a confident manner, not hesitancy or reticence. Our voice too adds or detracts to our first impression, a good clear voice adds a lot, a mumble or softly spoken voice may lose you points.
Being able to create a great positive first impression is a valuable asset in business. It means you are memorable, for the right reasons, and adds depth to the branding on your business cards. It is one of the things you also have total control of. You must remember however, your brand can also be damaged quite quickly too, by inappropriate dress or behaviour, perhaps at a time when you think you are not on company time. I have seen members of sales teams away at conference, staying in hotels, and reasonably well dressed for the formal part of the event, but lapse in to beach or shed wear as the evening moves on. Often their body language and spoken language goes with it! Not great if you want to promote a family or clean image as your brand.
Your first impression extends into your telephone manner or that of your staff. As your company grows, don’t forget that is calls in as well as out!
So what is good business dress and behaviour?
Your clothing should be appropriate for your work and your clients. So clothing must reflect your industry and status within that industry. For example if you sell real estate, you are in general selling your clients most expensive and personal possession. To establish trust over this, your presentation of yourself needs to be impeccable, from head to toe, and authentic.
To appear authentic you should wear clothes that reflect your personality, flatter your colouring and your shape and that you feel relaxed in. Your hair should be well cut, and a current style. Women should wear a small amount of well applied makeup; it shows attention to detail amongst other things.
Clothing should be reasonably up to date, fit well and not show an excess of flesh, it should be clean and well pressed. It should also reflect the level of your success, and the value of the properties or products you sell. If you sell multimillion dollar homes you should wear expensive clothing and drive a clean, good quality car. Your vendors will feel comfortable with you, as long as you don’t outshine them, in which case they may feel you over charge! An older car or clothing that looks dated or poor quality will reflect on your sales ability. If you are selling homes for example under $400,000, your clothing needs to be cared for in the same way but the styles and fabrics may be less designer. Your clients need to feel comfortable with you.
Selling other products may need a hands-on approach, so wearing clothing that allows this may be necessary, for example, boots and hard hat for factory and building sites, a warm jacket for outdoor visits. If you sell fashion clothing it’s important your dress sense reflects that you understand the brand and show your commitment to it, if you sell make up you need to wear it.
Body language as mentioned earlier is another vital part of this first impression. It’s crucially important that you appear confident and positive; nobody wants to deal with your problems as well as their own. Leave yours at home or in the car! A firm, dry handshake, not crushing or wet fish. A genuine smile and respect for your client go a long way towards building a good relationship. Also, don’t push into their space without invitation. By this, I mean don’t sit or put your materials onto the client’s desks, tables or anything else without checking first. Be careful with perfume and aftershave, you may not notice it but it may overwhelm others.
In your own space, when welcoming clients, please remember it is part of your brand, from the colours you choose to the artwork on the walls. The furniture and the organisation, or lack of, speaks volumes about how you conduct business. You may not notice dust on the shelves and mud on the carpet but others will.
When you are looking at your budget for setting up a business, build in an amount for your personal image and that of the staff within your marketing costs, and consider the brand of your premises. Try to look at your whole set up from someone else’s eyes!