You’ll make an impression, now make it a good one
Published in The Tennessean June 16, 2014
By Ed Rappuhn – SCORE Nashville
A client asked me why he rarely made it past the first appointment with his prospects. On the phone I could tell he was a good sales person with a viable service. When I met him in person, the answer was clear – appearances count!
It takes less than 3 seconds – possibly as little as a tenth of a second – for someone to form a first impression about you. If your appearance is inappropriate for the occasion, you don’t get a second chance. “Not fair!” you say. Maybe not, but surely your mother told you, “Life’s not fair.”
Let’s look at four aspects critical to that first impression: dress, grooming, expression and on-line presence.
Dress for the occasion. You should dress in a way that meets (or slightly exceeds) the expectations of the person with whom you are meeting. If you are an accountant, banker or lawyer, a suit and tie is likely appropriate although many businesses now follow a “business casual” dress code. If unsure, always dress one level up to be safe.
On the other hand, if you’re a website developer or landscape architect a suit might be overkill. But it’s still important that you look professional; ragged jeans and a t-shirt won’t cut it.
Grooming involves things like cleanliness, hairstyle, and body art. Of those, cleanliness is most important. Shower and wash your hair before sales meetings. If you are in a business that involves getting hot and soiled such as commercial landscaping, make sales calls in the morning before you do your “dirty” work. In a professional environment, unkempt hair and excessive body art might be enough for you to lose the business before you’ve said a word!
If you are dressed appropriately and well groomed you’ve made it to the point that expression matters. Body language, including a smile, is important. Look like you are happy to be there. Verbal expression is next. Sound like you are comfortable, confident in your product or service, and ready to serve your customer.
Consider your on-line presence. Even before a meeting, your Facebook photos and activities are fair game to form first impressions. Even private posts might be seen through others. Drunken party pictures and strong political views are just a couple of the glitches that could help shape a negative first impression. On the other hand, an executive I heard speak recently mentioned a new-hire at his company that made it to the interview phase based largely on a positive first impression in a social media search.
Find a friend or mentor that can look at your appearance from an impartial perspective and offer constructive advice. Fair or not, appearances count and you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good one.
Ed Rappuhn is a mentor, workshop facilitator, and the past-chair of SCORE Nashville. SCORE mentors guide entrepreneurs in starting and growing their businesses. Sign up for a free SCORE mentor, find out about our reasonably priced workshops and other services, or volunteer to become a SCORE member at www.scorenashville.org.