So often, we draw up a strong first impression of a business based on the smallest things: A bit of dust noticed right when we enter a store; a very friendly salesperson; a phone message ignored; a business card given by a helpful person; a crudely-done advertisement; a straightforward presentation.
All of these things can be the first impression we get of a business - and all of these things can skew our interaction with that business in a negative way or in a positive way.
Obviously, as small business owners, we can't control all of these things. However, we can control (or at least influence) a lot of these things, and investing a little bit of time in improving these elements can go a long way toward improving repeat business.
Here are some things you can do to create a great first impression.
Provide value as early as you can in the interaction. My barber has a business card that provides a number of simple male grooming tips on it. That card alone provided value to me and was the reason that I found myself entering his shop for the first time. We chose our daycare provider because that provider gave free child care services during a community event - it allowed us to meet the owners and workers of that center and actually observe that they did a professional, high-quality job. One local pizza shop got me in the door several years ago because they published one of their pizza recipes on their flyer. The earlier in customer acquisition you can provide value, the better.
Keep your place of business clean and presentable at all times. Don't allow it to become dusty. Rotate items in the front window so that they don't become yellowed by the sun. Don't allow your place of business to carry a strong odor - as an allergy sufferer, this has turned me off of many businesses. If possible, greet your customers upon entry. So many times, people make up their minds about businesses within a few seconds of entering the door. If they decide that your business is unclean and uncared for, they will adopt a much different mindset than they would from a presentable first impression.
Don't answer the phone if you can't be positive. If you're in a negative mindset, don't pick up the phone when someone calls you. A negative attitude with a potential customer can ruin their first impression. You are far better off allowing the machine to pick it up, then returning the call when you're in a better mindset. I've called small businesses many times, only to be turned off by interacting with a downbeat, antagonistic, or difficult person on the other end of the line.
Remember that when you're in public, you're potentially representing your business. There are countless opportunities that pop up time and time again for you to represent your business in the course of daily events. Focus on keeping yourself presentable and in a positive mood when in public so your interactions can go well. If you're not presentable or in a negative mood, don't associate that with your business. Let the opportunity go by.
First impressions can make a huge difference when it comes to business success. Take advantage of them.Photo by Marshall Astor.