Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guest column: Dress for Success

My good friend over at the Biased Cut was generous enough to write a guest column on the importance of keeping a good image. As we all know, especially to entrepreneurs, image alone can sometimes make or break a deal.

Yes, I know I was supposed to post on Sunday...but hey, at least I'm fashionably late, right?

Without further adieu, here begins the guest column. It's a great read:

There are a couple things this post won’t do. First is to discuss how to appropriately dress for an interview. That can be done here. And here, here, and perhaps best of all, here. Second is to preach about (or even presume to know about) the latest fashion trends. For that, go to any one of the infinite fashion blogs in syndication today.

For entrepreneurs, there is a more generalist approach that needs to be taken, one that can be applied to and understood by every demographic in the budding-business world. To the extent that everyone has their own personal style, and every situation is unique, there is no perfect advice for how to truly “dress for success”. Because, as entrepreneurs, you may be meeting with high-powered Wall St. financiers in one hour, then, in the next, pitching to the mechanics at the local repair garage about the benefits of installing a new electric car plug-in station. What it ultimately boils down to is awareness: awareness of audience, awareness of setting, awareness of personal style. And, of course, understanding the affects of dress on each of these.

Nearly everyone appreciates the value of dressing appropriately. But too often entrepreneurs are unsure, or even sorely mistaken, about how to outwardly present themselves. To me, it all starts with observation. Wherever you are, begin to observe the setting around you. Who are these people, and what are they wearing? What does their choice of dress convey? How does each individual fit in with the larger group surrounding them? Training your mind to consciously think of how other people are physically expressing themselves is essential to managing the perceptions your audience makes when subconsciously sizing up you.

First, understand the setting. Clearly, suits are de rigueur in the boardroom (unless it’s your boardroom – then anything goes). But what about that alumni happy hour coming up where you hope to score potential customers? Or maybe you’re canvassing neighborhoods this weekend, and don’t know how professional to look?

Next, think about the audience. This often runs in parallel to the setting, but not always. Just because you’re going to a manufacturing plant doesn’t mean you won’t be meeting with senior level management. Also, understand the other person’s dress style, and consider shifting your own style tendencies a little closer to theirs. It helps to build comfort in a relationship. But maintain the integrity of your own image – who would you trust more to fix your computer, Bill Gates dressed as Bill Gates, or Bill Gates dressed as David Beckham?

Finally, think about yourself. What do you want to convey? What is the purpose of this meeting, presentation, conversation? What fits me well (figuratively and literally), and what styles / clothing should I avoid?

Unfortunately there is no universal piece of advice for each and every situation. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a personal wardrobe specialist (or a significant other that makes these hard decisions for you), you’re going to have to use your best judgment. And the only way to build that judgment is to educate yourself. Begin by observing. Learn what works, and what doesn’t work. If you want to become more ambitious, start reading up on the latest fashion. Whether you want to simply improve your corporate wardrobe or you’re seeking to spot the next best trend there are resources out there.

As entrepreneurs, you don’t need to be reminded again of the importance of first impressions in marketing. So be sure to put lots of thought into each and every one of yours. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to be different, but in the business of sales, you MUST be aware of what image you portraying.

Post courtesy of the Biased Cut

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