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Fred Koury, President and CEO, Smart Business Network Inc.

First impressions are everything.

You only get one chance at a first impression, whether it’s the impression you are making on a potential client or the impression your employees give to someone visiting the office.

Why are impressions important? For customers, the benefit is obvious. You want them to see you in the best light possible. But for noncustomers, you always have to look at each person as if he or she will one day be a customer.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Inc., a $1 billion-plus retailer, doesn’t attend networking events and rarely carries business cards. His mission is to build relationships by learning something about the person. The impression that people get from him is that he cares about them personally, not just what they might be able to do for his business.
He credits this people-first thinking to much of his success.

Good first impressions come down to one thing: effort. Hsieh would save time if he just talked about what people do and traded business cards, but that’s easy. He puts in the effort to get to know people personally, and as a result, he’s had phenomenal success, even though the payoff from his first impression might be two to three years after the initial meeting.

It’s not easy to make a good first impression, but if you follow some basic rules and put in the effort the way that Hsieh does, you can bet that people will walk away with a positive opinion of you or your product.

Here are some things we can do today to make sure that the first impression we make is a good one.

1. Send a letter instead of an e-mail after meeting someone new. This may feel like a hassle, but that person will take notice and know that you went the extra mile to make him or her feel important.

2. Be professional. It is very acceptable in today’s society to dress down or settle for basic etiquette. But first impressions are everything, and we should make the other person feel important. You also send a message about who you are with how you dress and behave. Make sure your appearance and actions send the right message.

3. Drive these ideals across your organization, from the top managers to the receptionist. Anyone in your organization who encounters anyone else represents you. As the leader of your company, you are responsible for the first impression being made on your behalf. Make sure it is the one that you want.

4. Reassure your customers. When dealing with new customers, it is important that they feel they made the right decision to do business with you. It is always helpful to send a thank-you letter letting them know that you are aware of them and that you appreciate their business, regardless of the size of your company. I am not talking about a form letter that you stamp a signature onto, but a letter they know that you personally wrote and signed.

When you take the time to do the little things to make sure you and others within your company are making a good first impression, people will see you and your business in a better light. Their perception of your professionalism and level of service will increase, helping you gain new customers and keep old ones.

Be vigilant about these things, because you only get one chance to make a first impression. A blown opportunity to impress a potential new customer won’t come again.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected]