7 Ways to Avoid a Poor First Impression in Business

Martin Zwilling, Contributor I provide pragmatic advice and services to entrepreneurs and startups.

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Illustration By Paul Gilligan from Getty Images 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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Innovation can start from home


‘Rinnovating’ your home to be greener and cheaper to maintain can sometimes be just a matter of choice of colour or materials, and the result is an improved quality of life.

INNOVATION, contrary to popular belief, is not exclusive to scientists, inventors and tech companies. It isn’t an alien concept that will overwhelm the average Joe or some complicated formula that becomes a magic potion for big problems.

More often than not, innovation is simplifying complicated things, whether it’s a product or a process. Innovative products or processes may result in new wealth being created, increased productivity and efficiency and so on.

The bottom line is, innovation is something we all can do by challenging conventions, asking the right questions and thinking outside the box. And the result is an improved quality of life.

And what better place to start living innovatively than right at home?

In the context of our homes, innovation can be applied to improve not only the livability and comfort of the house, but also security, safety, and health levels, environmental impact and maintenance costs, in addition to prolonging the lifespan of the structure and its contents.

When we talk about a home being comfortable and livable, the most immediate requirement that comes to mind will be space maximisation and optimisation.

With home-owning costs skyrocketing, most of us have had to pay more for less space, especially in urban areas like the Klang Valley.

With things only getting tougher for the next generation, the first innovative ideas involve picking fixtures, furniture and accessories that are not only functional and aesthetically pleasing, but also don’t take up too much space, are multi-taskable, expandable or collapsible.

Reorganise your storage areas and utilise unused space (wall mounted shelves are a good example).

There are many innovative products out there that can make your dwelling a 21st century home, but understandably, getting them will probably set you back quite a bit.

Innovating your home doesn’t have to cost a bomb. In fact, innovatively renovating (“rinnovating”, perhaps?) your home to be greener, cheaper to maintain can be DIY (do-it-yourself), and sometimes it’s a matter of choice of colour or materials that make the difference.

Allow more natural lighting into the house by either having more windows or picking lighter coloured curtains, furniture and paint. Put up mirrors to reflect lights around the house — they also help to give the illusion of space.

Use energy-saving bulbs and low-energy appliances, solar-powered outdoor appliances and heaters, in addition to collecting rainwater for general washing purposes.

Check the pipes and cables, ensuring they are maintained to prevent leakages. These choices not only save you money, but help save the environment, too.

Encourage occupants to live better or adopt better and healthier lifestyles, like separating recyclable wastes, recycling old products and used packages, repurposing them and extending their lifespan.

Stick reminders to inculcate the habit in everyone in the household to switch off appliances and lights when not in use. Encourage the family to exercise by placing things that naturally go together in different rooms or on different floors.

If you absolutely must get a video game console for your children, go for wii, which requires gamers to move more muscles in their bodies than just their fingers to enjoy the games.

Better yet, get your kids sports gear or bicycles and devise an innovative way to chase them out of their rooms and play outside every evening!

Plant certain herbs like citronella, horsemint or marigold that repel mosquitoes. That way, you avoid using harmful chemical-based insecticides and save, too, in addition to having a lovely garden.

Needless to say, there are millions of ways to innovate your home and the household, according to your taste, budget and needs. The point is for you to be constantly excited about truly improving your home.

After all, who says smart buildings are only the modern skyscrapers?

> Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh is the CEO of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM). It is the vanguard of innovation in Malaysia. Established by the Government through an Act of Parliament, AIM will be the driving force behind Malaysia’s push towards establishing an innovation economy.

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