"You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
Cliché—yes, but only because this bit of advice is truly timeless. First impressions matter—they can mean the difference between a sale and no sale, a loan and no loan or great employees and mediocre ones. In the small business world especially, first impressions need to be approached thoughtfully. You can’t afford it any other way.Consider these tips for making a great first impression…

  1. Appearance matters. Run-down offices, messy restrooms, sloppy appearances, casual attire… while we hate to judge books by their covers, we do. Make sure your offices and storefronts are clean, put dress codes in place to ensure a professional appearance from staff, and provide a welcoming space with individual coffee and tea to greet customers and potential business partners.
  2. So does customer service. Especially if your business has been built online, often the only impression a customer or client has of a business comes from their experience when something goes wrong. Whether or not they are able to reach a real person, how that person mediates a situation, how soon a resolution is reached and how a customer is treated throughout their overall purchase experience all matter. Make a concerted effort to provide the best customer service possible. And, when it does go wrong, follow up with an apology accompanied by a Gourmet Cookie, because no one can resist staying upset in the face of caramelly goodness.
  3. Put effort into your marketing materials. Before a customer even considers working with your business, they are likely to check out your website, see an ad in a publication or receive a direct mail piece from your marketing department. Your marketing efforts should not only aim to draw them in, but impress them. Polished print pieces and professional websites that are easy to read and navigate and are visually appealing are not an option, but a must. Branded promotional items like vinyl bumper stickers and custom decals that include a phone number and a website are also great ways to market your small business while providing customers an easy way of finding you.
  4. Be mindful of what you say.What we say in conversation in person, online or via telephone and how we say it can seriously impact a first impression. The words we use can cause someone to judge intelligence, competency, education level and leadership ability—for better or for worse. Avoid mumbling, enunciate clearly, alter your pitch to avoid sounding monotone. Gesture naturally, express yourself with smiles and head nods. Avoid using vocabulary that you’re unsure of, but speak professionally.
  5. Be respectful. It sounds obvious, but it really requires thought to be effective. Not only should customers and clients be treated professionally, respect to their time should also be taken. Respond to e-mails and phone calls as soon as possible, always begin cold calls by asking if the other person has a few moments to speak to you and always arrive on time to meetings. Being late is a horrible first impression—it shows that you are irresponsible and that you don’t value anyone’s time but your own. Harsh, but true.

Never forget that your first impressions can literally make or break you. Take the time to assess the image that you present to your clients and customers to ensure that you are making the exact impression that you want.

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