Your doctor rushes into the examination room dressed for tennis and starts asking you pertinent questions about your health. If this is an emergency you’ll think they are truly dedicated to you and their Hippocratic Oath.  However, if this is your annual checkup and the doc appears to be seeing you between sets, you may not have complete confidence in their abilities.

Yeah, don’t judge a book by its cover is something we’ve all been taught.

Then why do people invest so much time and energy designing their book covers if they weren’t trying to get you to pay attention to the potential content? Because the wrapper tells you something about what is contained within.

It’s the same for small business owners with your clients, colleagues, and the general public. If you show up looking raggedy and unkempt, or even clean and shiny but inappropriately dressed, your audience may be at best quizzical and at worst insulted that you didn’t take the time to put your best self forward.

They will be distracted by your appearance and will not be able to focus on what you have to offer. They can feel that because of the way you are dressed you don’t really take yourself, your position, or the situation very seriously.

Your appearance can improve or damage your reputation and your bottom line.

There are some general rules for industrious ladies and gents to keep in mind. Always dress at least as well as (and preferably slightly better than) the people you are meeting.  Wear clothes that fit, that are clean, and that are unwrinkled.

Ladies – watch your hemlines and necklines. Blouses cut with deep V-necks, short skirts or shorts, and clothing that clings are not right for business.  Gents – wear pants that fit at your waist with a belt to keep them in place and a shirt that you didn’t have in high school.  As for shoes: flip flops do not qualify, sneakers are for your personal time, and ultra-high heels are an accident waiting to happen.

Expensive clothes punctuated with rips and tears make you look like you’ve been in an accident.

Take yourself and your business seriously
Yes, when you have established your business and your reputation you can wear what you want.

Business events that are after hours or on your day off still need to be treated with respect. This is when you are most likely to make that important first impression. Think of what you want that to be.

Understand that “business” also means when you are part of a non- profit board. As a board member you represent the organization. If your appearance is suspect, it can raise public concerns about how you value the organization and the work they do.

Just to be clear, there are many business owners who are well respected while wearing shorts, sneakers, and a polo shirt with their logo. They can do it because it’s the uniform for the work they do. Their outfit is in perfect concert with their vocation.

It’s the incongruities that will steal your thunder and make it difficult for people to remember any of your intelligent insights. (I once had a district sales manager give a ten minute pep talk to a group of about 100 people, but his tie was so loud all we could focus on was his horribly ugly cravat.)

You have a great story to tell. Don’t let your cover dissuade someone from listening.