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Suit up for business

By Contributor, 07 Nov 2011
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Many outside the IT world believe that IT geeks are just that – geeks. As in, men and women with poor eyesight tucked away in some back room, typing code and cracking in-jokes about the latest version of Doom.

This is fine, if that’s where you want your business to be – in the back room – but not so good if you want to engage with a broader customer base and be seen as having great solutions to real business issues.

The key problem is the perceived disconnect between your talent and your grasp on the world your clients inhabit. This not only causes huge frustration for you because you know you can do it, but also for your clients who don’t know if you ‘get it’. This can also create a climate of distrust as potential clients fear that if what they want has translated poorly,  they are about to pour large sums into an IT solution that, let’s face it, they don’t really understand, and even worse, may not deliver their required outcome.

So how do you cross the bridge between your clever world and the world of your clients? If you’re a larger IT provider chances are you hire a Sales Manager to go out and win business for you, promote one of your team to this role, take it on yourself or hire a slew of marketing gurus to get your name out there.  But what happens when you need a technician to go onsite? What about your sales guru – how well are they representing your brand? What about you? What does how you look say about you to your prospective customers? Or employers?

Latest research suggests a first impression is formed in .013 of a second – a glance. In a world that values image so highly it is key that your people project the right one for your company, because if they don’t, the business cost could be huge. The right image can also go a long way towards bridging the gap between business and IT, as what you wear can either build or break down barriers. Don’t believe me? What is your expectation for how a lawyer should dress? A doctor? A plumber? You see, no matter how politically correct or modern we may want to be, the reality is what you look like says more about who you are and the kind of job you’ll do than you realise.

"Not only are customers likely to judge employees themselves by their dress, but customers are also likely to use employee dress as cues to the quality of the organisation itself.”

Source: ‘The effect of dress on customer expectations of service quality & purchase intention’ - Journal of Business Research 2004

So, what are the keys to looking great and winning the business you want? Below I’ve outlined the keys to your business wardrobe. Although these are simply concepts and everyone places a different value on what they will spend on their clothing my suggestion is that these key pieces are an investment in your future and you should therefore spend as much as you possibly can to present your very best image.

A suit: Everyone needs a great suit – the sharpness of the lapel and shoulder, the monochromatic silhouette, a suit cannot be beaten for giving you maximum polish and creating a businesslike image. For women, latest research suggests a skirt rather than trousers makes you more credible in business. The darker the suit, the more ‘power’ you are perceived to have, but beware – Navy or Charcoal is easier for many to wear than black.

Business shirts: Men, you need at least four. These need to be sharp – and there’s a few other keys to look for too. If your neck is short, go for a classic, pointed collar rather than a cut-away. Choose colour and print (stripes or checks) if you elect to go without a tie or you run the risk of looking like a schoolboy or waiter.

Blouses for women: That is, not a tee shirt, not a ‘top’ but a blouse. Look for an interesting print and a great colour to add life to your business attire.

Great shoes: Go classic – black, lace up, leather soled. Anything with a rubber sole will lack polish. For women a classic court shoe is your best friend - not a sandal, not a mule, just a classic court.

A good jacket: For those days where a suit isn’t needed but you still want to look polished.

Dress trousers: That is, smart, fine wool-blend trousers that say formal not weekend.

Dresses for women: Stylish dresses always have their place in business. What doesn’t work? Anything strappy, revealing, backless. Maxi’s belong at the beach, not the boardroom. Choose wisely.

Make-up for women: It’s true – latest studies tell us that putting on a slick of lippy makes a woman appear more competent. If you are unsure how to apply make-up, get a lesson. Then get a pay-rise because studies also show that women who wear make-up earn more money.

True rewards await those who work out how to connect with their customers, whatever the method and the more points of connection you have, the stronger that relationship will be. Take the time to consider your image because you owe it to yourself to not only make the most of your talents, but to also ensure the right people notice them.

Jackie O’Fee is the owner of leading personal style consultancy Signature Style. She is featured on television and radio, and is often called upon by the media to comment on matters of style and fashion.

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