First impressions last. The first time you encounter something, whether it be food and drink, music, a place or a person, can determine how you feel about it going forward. When you’re fighting to carve out a space in the market for your small business, what you do to make an impression can have a great impact on your future.
Why first impressions matter
First impressions matter for a variety of reasons depending on the situation in which you find yourself.
A classic example is when you talk to a potential client or investor. When you’re battling other companies that supply the same product or service, you might only get one crack at impressing. You need to ace your first impression so it’s not your last. That’s why you always hear people talking about how important it is to have a good elevator pitch up your sleeve.
Several studies and essays have also discussed the psychological impact early impressions can have on the way people analyse information and make decisions. This was evident in Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book Blink, in which he discusses the concept of thin-slicing. The idea is centred on how quickly people can make inferences based on quick impressions.
First impressions, fairly or unfairly, can greatly influence how somebody thinks about you and your small business.
How to make a good first impression
Want to give yourself the best chance to make a good first impression? Here are three things to keep in mind when meeting somebody for the first time.
- Make them the focus
Making the conversation all about you can lead you on the road to ruin. You need to be able to communicate with people that you care about their needs and interests. Ask them questions and say their name whenever you get a chance. This will not only help you remember who you’ve met, but also makes them feel like you are interested.
- Look the part
It sounds superficial, but just about everybody makes judgments based on appearance. If you know you’re going to be meeting with somebody that’s important to your business, you want to be presentable. Dress appropriately for the situation so whomever you’re meeting knows you are taking the interaction seriously. You might have the best product or service in the world, but if potential stakeholders and interested parties dismiss you at first sight it probably won’t matter what you have to say or offer.
- Understand that you’re communicating even when you’re not speaking
This is a big one. Even if you’re not speaking verbally, you’re almost always sending messages to whomever you’re interacting with. Try to make strong eye contact as often as possible to show that you’re an engaged, active listener. Smiling is also a great way to show you are a nonthreatening, friendly person to deal with. Also, try to keep your hands at your sides or in another relaxed position. This puts both you and your conversation partner at ease. Perhaps the most important part of minding your body language is that the person with whom you’re speaking will do the same. People subconsciously mirror the physical behaviours of people they’re speaking to. So, if you present an open, approachable front, the other person will, too.
What to do if you’ve made a bad first impression
While first impressions are definitely important, don’t feel like the world is falling down if you make a mistake. Here are three things you can do to potentially turn the tide back in your favour.
- Don’t give up
You and your small business aren’t doomed just because you failed to make an impression. If you want to have another go, don’t be afraid to. Swallow your pride and try to make amends, whether that means apologising, asking for a second chance or just jumping right in again.
- Switch gears
When you come to a closed road on your way to an event, do you just turn around and bail? Of course not. So maybe your first conversational tactic didn’t do the trick. That’s alright. Try something else. Bring up another topic. This gives you another chance to get your foot in the door.
- Ask questions
This is another way to regain your footing if you’ve gotten off to a bad start. Asking people questions makes them feel like you value their knowledge and is an easy way to get back into a flowing conversation. This can help dig you out of a ditch if you hit a wall.
Knowing how to make a good first impression is an important skill for those involved in small business. That includes not only you as the small business owner, but also the other members of your team. Hire a Saxons training room and have a learning session in which you discuss your favourite tips for making a good first impression. This will give you and your organisation the best possible chance to present yourself in a positive manner going forward.