Making a Good (or Bad) First Impression Can Make or Break Your Business
There are so many resources for job hunters these days: blogs, magazines, and myriad of how-to instructionals from parents, teachers, school counselors, employment sites (i.e. Monster.com), libraries, Community Resource Centers, and (the know-all of know-it-alls) the Internet. With focused study, one can learn a handful of methods on resume drafting, acquiring experience, coursework to enroll into, workshops to attend, certificates to earn… all the way down to what to wear to an interview.
Having a small business is very similar to going out into the world, looking for employment.
You’re looking to find someone who will be willing to pay you for the work you do. But, instead of a boss (you will be your own, of course) to hand you a paycheck, you’re seeking customers to hand you their credit cards (or cash… or checks… or purchase orders…).
Like the freshly graduated student going out into the world full of hope and ambition, the person who wants to build a small business has an inkling of the path to take even though that path may be hidden beneath a thick layer of bewildering fog. However confusing, the process can be broken down into ten steps that go more or less like this:
- Decide type of business;
- Come up with a name;
- Outline business plan;
- Get funding;
- Register and acquire necessary permits;
- Find location (if applicable);
- Hire employees (if applicable);
- Advertise and market (ongoing);
- Opening Day (Yippee!!!);
Granted, this is extremely simplified. The depth to which the small business owner dives into each of these parts depends a lot upon the type of business they are getting into and the size to which they wish to grow. (Take Mountain Owl Ink, for instance: we’re a writing company. We don’t need a fancy office, a store front, or even have multiple employees, so our preparations are much less involved than, say, someone who wants to open up a retail store or massage parlor).
If you look up “10 Steps to Opening a Business” in a search engine, at least a dozen articles written by reputable companies will appear, each having different twists on the above sequence. Some lean more toward legalities (like the Small Business Association’s article, “10 Steps to Starting a Business”). Others, more toward marketing and networking. Still others have ten steps to simply move you through the process of naming your business—quite the task, indeed!
But Mountain Owl has a different take. What we see is a lack of information on a specific and critical point:
Dressing Your Business for its Interview
What does that mean?
Like a job interview where an applicant spiffs up to their best to give a great first impression to a potential employer, your business is being interviewed DAILY by any number of potential customers. First impressions are absolutely critical! The Small Business Association is a great resource for legal and technical matters, and it’s important to have all your legal (and financial) ducks in a row on opening day and beyond, but, really…
What good is any of that if you can’t get people to look past your front door?
So, for just a moment, forget the other stuff (not forever! Just for a moment!). Forget the Tax ID registration, opening a business checking account, permits, sales taxes, expense sheets, legal structures—and focus on that First Impression.
Through Your Customers’ Eyes
Customers don’t care about your financial structure. They typically don’t care if you’re registered as a simple DBA, an LLC, or a full-fledged corporation. They might not even care if you’re a registered business at all (though the IRS will).
Remember: at the core, people are fairly superficial. They make quick judgments at the first glance (or first chance), hence all the articles, advice, and quotes (including funny memes) on making good first impressions.
So what do they care about?
Beauty is Skin Deep
Okay. So the everyday customer does care about your product, but that’s after they’ve passed through the entryway. There’s something to be said for putting on a good front. Even if you have the perfect product or service priced just right waiting behind your doors, if your door’s paint is crusted and the hinges are rusted it’s likely never to be opened by anyone other than you.
Customers are looking at your business’ website, storefront, employees; they’re examining your business cards, your pamphlets, your location, your carpets; they’re nitpicking how you act, your professionalism, your demeanor, your employees’ demeanor. And don’t think you can limit that to first time customers! Long-time patronizers will notice if your store’s upkeep starts sliding, and they’ll wonder at how your business is faring, why you’re not doing too well, and if they should start looking elsewhere for the products they need.
Like it or not, maintaining your business is a practice in perpetual interviewing and needs to dress the part.
What is Your Business Wearing?
Tuxedos and bow ties for prom; black heels and a sparkly red cocktail dress for a wedding; pantsuit and dressy flats for the office; scrubs and comfy sneakers for the medical professional. There are certain expectations for how to dress depending on what kind of situation you’re in. The same goes with your business’ attire.
Here are three things to consider when putting together a marketing wardrobe:
Does your color scheme make sense?
One must remember that certain colors bring about certain emotions in the human brain. In fact, there are numerous studies done on the psychology of color. It’s important to consider how you want your customers to feel about your business and integrate into your scheme those colors which facilitate those emotions.
As examples: a bridal shop would probably adhere to a scheme of popular bridal and formal colors (whites, creams, black and dark royal hues); a spa would likely integrate soothing shades—like pinks, blues, or lavender—and stay away from jarring colors like bright yellow, orange, or magenta; a landscape artist might utilize natural, earthy tones, like greens, browns, and other colors that remind people of fauna and flora.
Fonts speak volumes.
I’ve seen some terrible calling cards. One of the worst was for a local manicurist. She’d chosen a deep purple background of flowers and posies overlaid with small, yellow, swirly font (called “Curlz” in Microsoft Word). The card was soooo hard to read. It actually hurt my eyes looking at it.
This lady no doubt liked yellow and purple (perhaps they were her two favorite colors–nothing wrong with that!). And she obviously enjoyed the whimsical font which she chose. However, she fell victim to a common misconception: that combining aspects that are good on their own will make the whole all that much better.
I like purple. I like green. But that doesn’t mean I’ll don green pants and a purple tee and trot myself down to the local strip mall like the trendier (and prettier) offspring of the Joker.
This manicurist’s first mistake was her color scheme. I’d even go as far to say that she simply had them backward; perhaps purple lettering on a yellow background might have been more appropriate as a front for her business. (As a general rule, avoid using a light-colored font against a dark background; if you must, use it sparingly and only on large medium, such as banners, signs, or items with small amounts of text.)
The second mistake was the font itself. Curlz is best used in small bits to make a statement, like for headings and signage, NOT as a primary text. It’s hard to read, squirrely, and forces a headache-inducing double-take on the eyes. Sure, it’s whimsical and fun, and so is your brand (and so are YOU!), but, remember: you’re a business! Get serious enough for a second to cleanly and accurately communicate who you are and what you’re about, otherwise your customers will have a hard time making out just how much they can really trust you.
(And not just on business cards! I’m talking web pages, mailers, pamphlets, signage. ANYTHING involving letters and words needs to make a clear statement about who you are.)
Have you coordinated yet?
Tops hats don’t generally go with holey blue jeans. Flip flops aren’t paired (generally) with flashy cocktail dresses. One doesn’t take a beach bag as their choice of handbag to prom.
There are reasons why coordinating your outfit from head to foot is the way to go. Likewise, there are reasons why companies like VistaPrint offer services to coordinate the face of your business across the board. They and other companies like them sell packages to assure your website, business cards, letterheads, and even company uniforms all communicate the same message and feel. There’s nothing like having one slogan on your business card and another on your website and yet another on your advertising pamphlets, or one logo for the uniforms and a different one on the letterhead. Talk about interview confusion!
Ask yourself: does the color scheme on my business cards match the decorative scheme in my store? Is my slogan uniform across the board (e.g. website, social media, and print advertisements), or does it change from medium to medium? Am I giving my customers a consistent perception of my business from First Impression to Last?
P.S. If after reading this you think you might need some help primping and preening your company for its onslaught of critical first impressions and customer interviews, feel free to drop a line to Mountain Owl. I’ll be happy to examine your business and offer insights on how you might be able to easily coordinate your “outfit” for a successful Customer Interview experience, time and time again.