Do appearances matter? Most people – especially business people – would say yes, though how much so is up for debate. When it’s time to project competence and success, most of us reach for a suit, even if it’s not something we’d normally wear. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs single-handedly revolutionized the tech market with nary a departure from his black turtlenecks over blue jeans and sneakers. The question remains: are looks powerful enough to make or break a business?
The importance of your look isn’t limited to your style of dress, either. What about the look of your entire business: the storefront, the website, the service vehicles? The business card? The way you and your business are presented to the world matters, but understanding how and how much is the key to leveraging your style into profit. While the number one priority of any entrepreneur should be the substance of the product, the right look can be the key to finding that product’s market.
Know Your Audience
The first thing to understand is that there is no universal dress code. The CEO of an investment firm might wear a suit, but if an automotive tech showed up to work in a three-piece from Calvin Klein, many would question his grasp on the business. What you wear and how you present your business depends on what exactly you’re trying to say. More importantly, it depends on who you’re saying it to.
Take the example of Jordan Richter. Richter was a skateboarding pro who decided to parlay his passion into a service business: teaching skateboarding. If he presented himself to his audience in anything double breasted, they’d be more suspicious than interested. Likewise, if he wore flip-flops, he wouldn’t be taken seriously. His look, from his carefully unkempt beard to his hyper-functional wardrobe, announces that he’s a professional who not only knows how to skate, but personally understands his customers’ desire to learn how.
That’s not to say that it’s never appropriate to suit up, even if the business you’re in is creative or technical. When my partner Nicole and I used to do video work, our wardrobe had to reflect the setting in which we filmed. As videographers we were strictly on the artistic side of things- but when it came time to shoot at financial firms, we made sure to adhere to the dress code of our clients, suiting up out of respect for the setting.
When it comes to your personal style, the key is not simply to look like a professional. It’s to look like a professional something. Whether that’s a professional motivational speaker, a professional writer, or a professional acrobat, your look has to strongly suggest, at a glance, that you’re what the customers are looking for. By dressing the part, you don’t necessarily convince anyone that you’re the right person for the job, but you do convince them to look more closely and find out for themselves.
The Business Makeover
Of course, the look of your business has to reflect the same dedication to professionalism as the look of your person. If you own a brick-and-mortar business, it’s vital to pursue the kind of curb appeal that sends the right message to passersby. That might mean stark and minimalist, or it might mean eclectic and homey, but whatever it is, it has to speak to what you’re offering.
More importantly in today’s economy, the look of your web presence needs to be on point. Your website should have a clean and intuitive interface, an attractive layout, and an overall design that reflects the character of your business. In an environment where most consumer decisions begin with a Google search (even if they end at a physical location), your online look may be the most important look of all.
The key to projecting a professional web “look” is quality images. When it comes to images, nothing looks more unprofessional than poor quality pictures and illustrations. If you have to hire a professional photographer in order to have quality pictures for your site, it’s worth every cent. In fact, it’s better to have no images than blurry or poorly framed ones. The same goes for profile pictures and other images for use in social media and online ads.
Combine strong e-style with confident and relevant personal style, and you’ll not only draw more potential customers in, you’ll notice a difference in your own outlook. A great image raises expectations, including your own. It may seem superficial, but anyone who’s nailed their image can tell you that the effect on their self-confidence and drive is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
While substance is always the first concern, it’s a fact of life that appearances matter, so come correct. Whether we admit or not, everyone makes instantaneous judgments based on visual first impressions; it’s just how humans are wired. Those judgments then lead to decisions. In a crowded marketplace, this means that your look could be the difference between piquing interest and being passed over.