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Looking Like a Business Expert when You’re a New Entrepreneur

businesswoman ready to shake handsYou’ve taken the leap of faith and have decided to start your own business. Your website is online, your marketing materials are ready-to-go, and over the past few months, you’ve invested countless hours and a mass of energy into crafting your perfect offering. Now it’s time to step out of your comfort zone, hand your new business card over and meet potential clients.

For some entrepreneurs, meeting a potential client for the first time is exactly what they’ve been waiting for. For others, it’s pure terror.

  • What will they think of you?
  • What if you’re not taken seriously?
  • How do you convey the image you’re a business expert when you have only a couple of clients…or none at all?

Without a doubt, these fears and insecurities haunt every entrepreneur’s mind. Unfortunately for many, they can scare you back into the safety of your comfort zone.

But even though you may have these fears and insecurities, your potential client doesn’t necessarily have to see them. You can mask these insecurities by using a few techniques that I reveal below so that on the day of your first meeting, you look the part, act the part and sound the part.

First Impressions

Your first impression is the key to conveying the image that you’re a business expert.

Researchers from New York University found that when you meet somebody for the first time, eleven major decisions are made about you in the first 7 seconds. Basically, the other person will be deciding: Are you someone to approach or to avoid? Are you trustworthy, competent and confident? Do you have status and authority?

Once these decisions are made, they form a type of prism through which your potential client will look at you from that time on.

If their first impression is that you’re confident, capable and an expert, then they will look for information during your sales pitch and in your marketing materials that support that decision. However, if their first impression is that you’re insecure, weak, or don’t really seem to be an expert, then unfortunately they will look for information that supports that decision too.

The difficulty for most new entrepreneurs is that when you walk into client meetings, you’re alone. You don’t have the backing of an established corporate name to carry with you to the meeting.

As a new entrepreneur, you’re forced to find a way to convey this same amount of credibility, authority and expertise all on your own.

How exactly do you convey the image you’re an expert in 7 seconds when you’ve barely had time to introduce yourself?

It’s all about making sure you look, act, and sound like an expert.

Look Like An Expert

Regardless of whether you want it to matter or not, your appearance is the first thing potential clients will notice when you walk through the door, and more specifically, your clothes.

If you wear a traditional suit and tie when pitching your product to a client whose office wardrobe consists only of jeans and a polo shirt, then you will feel and look out of place.

Likewise, if you arrive in jeans and a dress shirt to be just a little more on the casual side when everybody else at the meeting is wearing a suit, then again you will be the odd one out.

The key here is to do a little research before every meeting and find out what the general dress code is for the office, then boost the formality of your clothes just a little more.

You want to achieve a balance between appealing to your potential client and dressing with impact.

Here are some guidelines to help you out based on industry types:

  • Traditional industries (banking, law, accounting, insurance): Men generally wear classic suits in navy, charcoal or black. You can add impact with a tie in a contrasting colour such as red, green, or blue. Women can choose either a pant or skirt suit, and add impact with contrasting belt, scarf or shoes.
  • Creative industries (marketing, PR, advertising): Men, you’ll probably still want to wear a suit, but may want to loose the tie. Instead you can add impact by changing the colour of you shirt. Ladies, you have a lot more creative room here. You can add confidence to your look with a striking dress, or contrasting jacket with a pair of your favourite pants.
  • Relaxed industries (programming, IT, online businesses): Both men and women can wear jeans if that’s what you’re more comfortable in. But make sure they’re neatly pressed and without holes. Ladies, you can add personality with your signature jewellery. Gentlemen, you can dress up your casual outfit with a classy belt or quality leather shoes.

Act Like An Expert

Your body language has a huge impact on how others perceive you. When you approach a potential client, he or she will be unconsciously but carefully studying your body language. They’ll be looking for signs and messages that can help them form an opinion of you.

If you walk into a meeting room with your shoulders slumped, looking down, taking small steps, you’ll emit signs of insecurity. If you walk into a meeting room taking large steps with your head held high, chances are you’ll be perceived like an expert with authority.

Assuming you want your potential client to see you as an expert, then these tips will help you give that impression:

  • Keep your chin up. When you hold your head high, it exposes your neck (the most vulnerable part of your body) and shouts out to your potential client, “You’re going to love my offering”.
  • Take large steps. When you walk into the room taking large steps you exude decisiveness and assertiveness: two important characteristics of a powerful entrepreneur.
  • Spread your wings. People who are insecure often try to make themselves as small as possible. To combat this, you should take up as much space as possible. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and sit with your arms on the armrests.
  • Smile, it’s contagious. When you light your face up with a smile, it projects positive energy and openness; two things that will help your potential client relate to you.

When you project confident, positive and open body language, it becomes self-fulfilling: you will soon feel as confident, positive and happy as you appear.

Sound Like an Expert

You’ve got your winning outfit and confident body language, but if you truly want to be recognised like an expert, you’ve got to sound like one.

Before your client meeting, think of a movie character or a successful entrepreneur who inspires you. Mirror their voice, and imitate the volume, tone, speed, grammar, and even word usage.

Here are a couple more tips to get you using your voice with more confidence and impact:

  • Avoid the “uptalk”, “upswing”, or “upspeak”. When I say “upswing”, I’m talking about the noticeable rise of your voice at the end of a statement. Making a statement sound more like a question. Instead, make a conscious effort to push your voice down at the end of your sentences using what I like to call, a “downswing”.
  • Avoid qualifiers or minimising language. Allow the importance of your thoughts and opinions to shine through and avoid using language such as “Maybe we should…” or “Perhaps we could…”. Make your message stronger and use words with impact such as “I think…”, “I believe…”, or “I would like…”.

If you manage to convince your potential client in the first 7 seconds that you’re a business expert then they will look at you for the rest of the meeting and every contact you have with them from that time on like you’re the ‘go-to’ person and the one they can trust.

About Kara Ronin

Kara Ronin (@execimpressions) is the founder of Executive Impressions. Australian born, she has lived in Japan, New York, and is now based in France. Kara's international experience and passion for etiquette in the modern world led her to create Executive Impressions where she empowers professionals to exude confidence and class in international business situations. Access your free 7 Step Networking Roadmap!

23 thoughts on “Looking Like a Business Expert when You’re a New Entrepreneur

    • Thanks so much Jade! You’re right, this advice is often given in the recruiting industry too, especially for students looking for their first job. But I think it’s also helpful for new entrepreneurs. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Hi Bernadette. I love that talk by Amy Cuddy. It’s so true, you can really change the way you feel simply by changing your body language just a little. Thanks for sharing this. Kara

  1. Kara – Thank you for the reminder on the “upswing” tone when talking with people and the qualifiers. I’ve heard of studies stating that women use qualifiers more than men — I can only imagine how much I use it when I get nervous talking with a potential client. I’m definitely going to work on those recommendations. Thank you!

    • Thanks for your kind comment Summer! You’re so right, women are a lot more prone to using qualifiers. We use them so we don’t sound too direct or abrupt. But the problem is, it softens the message so what we really want to say doesn’t have as much impact. Try gradually to eliminate them, eventually it’ll be second nature. Kara

  2. Oh God, the “upswing,” “upspeak,” I didn’t know it had a name, but I want to run screaming every time I hear it. It seems to be something learned in today’s generation of teens…starting with those infamous “Valley Girls.” Not only does it drive you (well, me) insane, it gives the message that the speaker is young and inexperienced and perhaps, not too smart. WHY do they do it? Why make a statement sound like a question? What’s the point, if there is one? To those who have made it a habit, I say, please, if you want credibility, drop it – both the habit and the end of your sentences!

  3. WHile I love the advice for the confidence it builds it makes it harder to tell the real experts from the bluffers. One reason I like Firepole marketing and Danny is he looks like a person who has done the work and his language etc is that of someone who knows. It is a tough balancing act – you need to look and sound like and expert but your client has to be aware that sometimes the looks are a facade and you really aren’t all you look like. There has to be a balance

    • Good point Roberta. Coming from the other perspective, you do have to be aware of who are the “bluffers” and who are the experts that you can trust. But quite often we can let our insecurities or fears take over, especially when you’re just starting out. Even though we may be fantastic at what we do, because we’re nervous, that’s all that shows. The trick is to hide those nerves and project confidence. Thanks for reading and for your input. Kara

    • Hi Katharine, I saw that movie such a long time ago, I really can’t remember it well enough to answer your question. But you have made me want to find it so I can watch again from a new angle. Thanks for the movie tip. Kara

      • I remember her straight posture and her aggressive walk, although her stride could not have been very long as she was short and wore tight skirts, probably not so very professional, since they were short, too. Of course, part of her character was to look out of place…Anyway, let me know if you find it and do view it again. I’m mainly interested in her conversational voice. Thanks!

  4. Great article! Many good tips.

    As a father with two girls, this article makes me think about how I could instill these qualities in them, so that when they have opportunities for first impressions, these things come naturally for them.

    Any suggestions? Roleplay? Just practice?

    • Hi Michael, Thanks for your kind comment. I suggest for your girls just practice, but tackle one point at a time. I gave many tips in this post so it’s a lot to tackle all at once. I’d start with the body language first. Because once you’ve changed that, a lot of others just come naturally. I hope your girls enjoy the tips. Kara

  5. Confidence is always the first impression most difficult to bluff. When I have new clients wanting to impress, I tell them the pitch and the product is the stage but the actor is the one who pulls it off. And by acting as if you are confident, it will help you feel more of the role. With practice you do become mentally more confident.

    • You’re exactly right Rusty! Confidence is all in the mind. You can make yourself feel more confident by acting more confident. Our level of confidence and body language are so connected, you just have to start the cycle.

  6. Agree with you, research makes us prepare for the battle. When the meeting goes on always listen properly for your additional learning’s because with that way you can build up your self out of the crowd by means of suggestions or questions that may contribute to their awareness.

    • Thanks for reading Judy. Listening is critical for forming a solid business relationship. It’s something that many people forget to do. Perhaps they’re so excited about their product/service, or perhaps they’re nervous and can’t stop talking. But identifying the needs of your client and showing that you understand/recognise those needs will make you stand out from the crowd.

  7. First impressions mean everything and ours important for you to ask your clients questions about themselves because getting them to talk about themselves not only makes them feel like your interested in their needs but also gives your clues as to their internal map of the world which you can use.

    • You’re spot on Caleb. Getting the other person to talk about themselves will make them remember you in a positive light. Like you said, it can give you more information and clues about them that will benefit your business relationship with them.

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