Martin Zwilling, Contributor I provide pragmatic advice and services to entrepreneurs and startups.
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Entrepreneurs are all about firsts, and the most important is you making a great first impression – on investors, customers, new team members, and strategic partners. Poor first impressions can be avoided, but I’m amazed at the number of unnecessary mistakes I see at those critical first introductions, presentations, and meetings.
The key message here is “preparation.” People who think they can always “wing it,” bluff their way past tough questions, or expect the other party to bridge all the gaps, sadly often find that what they think is a win, is actually a loss which can never be regained.
We’ve all met people that we instantly like because of a great first impression, and want to do business with. Here are some common sense things that they do and you can do to maximize the first impression that you impart in any business environment or discussion:
- Dress appropriately from the perspective of the person you are trying to impress. This one is so obvious that I hesitate to mention it, except for the fact that I see it ignored so often. Maybe you love wearing Hawaiian shirts to work, but when you visit a traditional banker to close on a loan, it will be worth your time to put on a solid shirt and jacket.
- Always research the person online before a first meeting. In today’s world of LinkedIn and Facebook, there is no excuse for not recognizing a person as you meet them for the first time, and knowing their accomplishments, if not their interests and academic background.
- Google the organization and the role they represent. It’s polite to ask a professional you just met about their company affiliation, but it’s much smarter to ask them about a current issue, making it clear that you already know a good bit about their company, and their role in that company.
- Find a common business link or friend to warm up the connection. The best introduction to a new customer, or potential angel investor, is a warm introduction from a common friend, rather than a cold call. In my opinion, this approach will double or triple your probability for success, no matter what the transaction.
- Be prepared to concisely state your key objective. Before the other party has to ask, you should look for an opportunity to net out what you are here to accomplish, and even have a couple of questions in mind that you would like to get answered. Think of it as not forgetting to ask for the order.
- Know a lot, but don’t flaunt it. Some people do all the right legwork, but then kill themselves by appearing arrogant or obsequious in the way that they can’t stop talking about everything that they know. When you meet someone new who is important, your first words after “Hello” should be a question rather than a long personal dissertation.
- Be positive, courteous, on time, and attentive. We have all met people who, when asked “How are you?” provide a long litany of their latest woes, or a diatribe on current political issues. Obviously, being late to your own meeting, or appearing distracted or uninterested, will also leave a bad first impression. Smile and relax.
All of the common first impression mistakes are avoidable, and elements of the right approach are easily learned. Most entrepreneurs have spent months, and hours of hard work, preparing the necessary business plans, executive presentations, and financial models to impress investors. Just apply the same diligence in preparing yourself for all those “first” opportunities.
That image of you that you first present usually lasts longer and has more impact that any document you can prepare. In the book “You Are the Message,” media executive Roger Ailes wrote that your first impression will be solidified in the first seven seconds. Use them wisely.