So you've decided on a business. You've set it up and you are ready to trade - why do you now need to think about your image? Your image tells people around you a lot of things - from how successful you are through to what matters to you. People seeing you will rarely differentiate between you as an individual and your business so whether you are ready or not you are now the face of your business!
Recent reports suggest it takes just 7 seconds for someone to form a first impression about you. 93% of a first impression is based upon how you look and sound - only 7% is what you say. So, when a parent or friend used the phrase "dress for success" they were right - if you want to be taken serious you have to dress, act and look the part.
How do you get started without losing "you" inside all of this?
The 4 key areas to think about are:
1. physical appearance
2. posture and body language
3. the hand shake
Physical appearance - you might not be able to afford or even want the latest fashion trends, however dressing smartly and being well groomed is possible. A suit is a good investment, but don't wear lots of accessories with your outfit and don't wear a lot of jewellery - the noise and look may distract you and the people you are talking to. Do think also about your grooming - shiny, well brushed hair, polished shoes and clean, well cut nails will all get noticed.
Posture and body language - how you choose to stand or sit and the way you present yourself when speaking or listening will have a big impact on the effectiveness of your message and how seriously you are taken. Have a relaxed stance ie not standing to attention like a soldier on parade and make sure the stance is open - this means in particular don't sit or stand with your arms crossed. Keep fairly still when in conversation or waiting for your moment to speak and avoid at all costs big gestures or fidgeting when either speaking or listening. Practice your stance in the mirror to get a feel for what you look like - the look you are seeking to achieve is confident, approachable and capable. You need to remember to not slouch - sit and stand tall with your shoulders back, rib cage lifted and chin up.
Most importantly smile and maintain plenty of eye contact - people like people, like themselves. Everyone likes to think they are liked, positive and approachable most of the time so keep this in mind and smile confidently.
The handshake - greeting or parting, it's part of the western culture that we all need to master. What you are seeking to achieve when you shake a hand is a full hand to hand shake - don't just shake fingers. Also you need to get the pressure of the handshake right. This means not being too light (this will be taken as a limp handshake) but also not being too hard - this will be taken as a bone crushing method to demonstrate your strength over that of the other person. If you are not sure, practice with a friend or family member and ask for their honest opinion.
Communication - so you've mastered the open stance and the smile - the next phase is speaking. Do your best to not use slang and don't swear under any circumstances no matter how mild you perceive it to be. Be concise and clear in what you say and say it warmly and positively in your natural voice and at a volume that the person you are speaking with can hear comfortably.
Change the tone of your voice to match what you are saying so that you don't become monotone. Most importantly develop your listening skills - this means actively listening to what people are saying to you and around you so that you can involve yourself in the conversation. a great ratio for getting started is to speak and listen in the same proportion as your mouth and ears i.e. 1:2 - listen for 2 minutes and speak for 1 minute. A great asset of a conversationalist is their ability to appear totally absorbed by what the person speaking is saying.
Ultimately what you present, how you present and what you say needs to be you - after all it's your business you are representing. Don't try to be false but do think about the different ways you can present and say things to give you the best possible chance at creating the right first impression. Why - because first impressions really count.