Like many entrepreneurs, I grew up in a small business family. My dad started with one small carpet store, grew it to the largest chain in Southern California, and then sold out to his partner, ending his career with one giant carpet warehouse.
Now, what did that do? First and foremost, it made a great impression. It told customers that their patronage was valued, that they would be treated right and that their opinion was valuable. How smart was that?
Of all of the things my dad learned in 25 very successful years in business, the main one seemed to be that you simply cannot underestimate the importance of making a great initial impression. It turns out to be the main lens of how people will view you, and as they say, “you don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression.”
That being said, in these Internet days, there are more ways to create, and more ways to flub, that initial salvo. Here then are seven ways to rock that critical first impression:
1. Have a great website: Today, people will often check out a company’s website before they ever walk in the doors and check out the business. And what happens when they find a site that looks like it hasn’t been updated in, say, four years? What if the site is boring or difficult to navigate? What’s most likely to happen is they surf on, right past you.
So, you simply have to have a great site. Not a fine site, or even a good site, but a great site. It has to be graphically pleasing to the eye, full of valuable content, intuitive and impressive. Creating this site doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take a ton of time either; there are no shortage of free or inexpensive services that can help you design a great website.
2. Email like a pro: What do you think when you get an email from a professional colleague full of emoticons, too many exclamation points and the lower case i for I? Right. You are unimpressed. You probably take him or her less seriously.
The fact is, email is now the dominant form of business communication and needs to be treated as such. Write like a professional and you will be treated like one. Write like a teen and you will impress no one.
3. Go social: Like it or not, social media is here to stay. So, although you do not have to become a tweet master, it would likely behoove you to at least have a Facebook brand page and business LinkedIn page. For people who look at those sorts of things, they are very important.
And now, here are a few non-Internet strategies:
4. Look sharp: If you want to impress people physically encountering your business for the first time, then make it impressive. Spruce up the front of the shop. Paint. Plant some new foliage. Clean up the reception area. Get a nice, new sign.
People who don’t know your business have no way of judging it, at least from the outset, except by how it looks. So make it look grand.
5. Have a great receptionist: The person who greets people or answers the phone is your front-line in the first impressions game. If they aren’t impressive, you aren’t impressive. If they act bored, you look bored. Make sure this person is personable, smart and gregarious.
6. Dress for success: This new everyday-is-casual-Friday era is pretty sweet, but it also can be taken too far. Remember, we are still in business. Flip-flops do not cut it. If you want to impress people, dress like you are a serious player, not a weekend warrior.
7. Do great work: In the end, the best way to impress new customers is the old fashioned way: Earn their respect. Treat them like gold. Do great work. Offer some freebies. Go above the call of duty. Be impressive.
Do some or all of these things and you will see that people’s great first impression of your business will often be their lasting one too. Do you have any recommendations on how to make a great first impression? Or, lessons learned from doing it the wrong way? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community in the comments section.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.