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Sarah Gray Image Workshop in Warwickshire

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7th July 2011

Business image extends well beyond that of the logo, website and industry position. Your personal image directly impacts how others perceive your individual professionalism, your competence, creativity, and vitally, that of your business too.

Through my work, I help ladies (and the occasional gent!) of all ages and from all walks of life, to dress for success. The one issue we always discuss is dressing and presenting ourselves appropriately for our work environment, no matter what area of work we are in.

It was a pleasure to have been invited to a networking mummies group last week to speak on this very subject. We were seated in the most comfortable office chairs any of us had ever sat in (!) which perfectly complemented our wonderfully friendly and relaxed group of ladies, who all looked fabulous by the way!

So why is our image so important?

You have 30 seconds to make a first impression which can last up to 15 years. So making the right first impression is critical.

Think about the last time you met someone new, whether in a social or business context. Do you recall how they spoke to you, the tone of their voice? Do you remember exactly what they said? Or do you remember what they wore?

Recall a time when you’ve been watching a politician or presenter on the television and you’ve commented on the colour of the tie or the wrinkled shirt or some other slip-up in their appearance.

We all have an ideal stereotype for various industries and roles and if the person doesn’t fit our expectation, we are less than impressed. Imagine if you were seeking the advice of a lawyer or accountant and were met by someone in jeans and a casual shirt, or if you arrived at the garage and found the mechanic dressed in a suit. Would you take either of them seriously?

Whether we like it or not, we are all judged on our appearance. Research by Professor Albert Mehrabian (in his book Silent Messages) shows that 55 per cent of our first impression comes from our behaviour and appearance. In the first 30 seconds, 38 per cent of the sound of our voice is remembered while only 7 per cent of what we say will make any impact. So, be aware that 93 per cent of how you come across has nothing to do with what you are saying!

How can you use this knowledge to your advantage?

Tom Peters famously wrote The Brand Called YOU. Firstly, we have to realise that operating our own businesses means that we are our own brand. Many of us at Thursday’s meeting have worked for large organisations which have an image they want the world to see. It was easy then to hide behind the smart building, plush reception and national/international brand. Now, it is down to us and only us.

We need to think about our personal image and in turn what it says about our business. There are many considerations when analysing our personal image: appearance, presentation, posture, space, pace, non-verbal communication and body language to name a few. 

Our focus for the meeting was appearance and we all divulged our favourite style icons – someone whose style and image we admire. These ranged from the Duchess of Cambridge (or Kate as we preferred to call her!) to newsreaders such as Natasha Kaplinsky. In each example, the lady is always seen in her work to be dressed appropriately, is well groomed and appears approachable.

The key elements that our style icons possess are those which result in them being a well-dressed woman. They wear clothes which:

  • complement their colouring and body shape
  • complement their personality
  • are appropriate (for age, job, lifestyle etc)
  • are current.

Thursday’s focus was colour and what it can do for us in business. Some colours are more approachable than others and so we need to consider what colours to select to wear for different meetings or events. Not only must the colours chosen suit us, but they must have the right impact, which takes us briefly on to colour psychology. For example, a counsellor would not wish to be dressed in red while with a client as this can be threatening. Instead, a mix of browns, beige and calming soft greens will portray a softer image where the client feels safe.

How much time have you spent agonising over your business name and logo – what size should it be, what colours should you choose and so on. In comparison, how long did you spend thinking about what to wear this morning?! Did you consider any of the elements of a well-dressed woman?

By dressing well and looking appropriate for your business environment, you will alert those around you to the fact that you are someone who means business and is serious about their work.

Putting the right elements in place to be a well-dressed woman will give you confidence and enable you to make that all-important first impression.


Sarah Gray, Image Consultant


telephone: 07881 826528

email: [email protected]

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