We like to believe that intention, integrity, and message mean more than appearance. However, we find fairly quickly that image matters a great deal to our professional success whether we like it or not. If we want to optimize our impact and success from networking events and boardrooms to day-to-day interactions with employees and peers alike, we have to take care to craft our image and messaging very carefully.
Here's what I've learned about crafting the professional image you send out into the world in my time in real estate investing and entrepreneurship.
Why Appearance Matters in Business Success
1) Your Image is Your First Impression
We're visual creatures. Whether we want to admit it or not, we make snap judgments and evaluations based on appearance. Your first impressions of someone are built on their appearance. The question is not really whether or not the image you are putting forward is “good” or “bad,” but rather, whether or not that image is beneficial or detrimental to your career.
When you present yourself to the world—to clients, to peers, to your team—you are sending a message whether you intend to or not. This message can be of competence, confidence, success...or not. You can seem trustworthy, approachable, and intelligent...or not. These are just some of the messages our image broadcasts.
2) We Judge Emotionally and Irrationally
It's important to understand that we make subconscious, split-second judgments of others based on appearances. These judgments are emotional, irrational, and difficult to challenge once they have been made. While you can claim that what's more important is the meat of your message—your values, your work, your message, or your product—people will always hold that snap judgment in their minds. It's hard to shake. This is why, as much as it may be true that the “meat” matters more, it's important that you not allow your image to be a stumbling block on your own path to success.
You must ask yourself if there is dissonance between the image you present and the message you are trying to convey. For instance, it's hard to sell the image of success if you look like you're wearing a suit that hasn't fit you since college. You may very well be able to afford the right suit, but a lack of knowledge or care put you in the wrong one, and people drew their own conclusions.
3) Image Either Supports Your Goals or It Doesn’t
I mentioned this in the beginning. Your image is not necessarily a matter of good or bad. It's about whether or not that image supports your goals or hinders them. Remember, image isn't just about how your dress, cut your hair, or the cologne you happen to wear. It's about your communication and interpersonal skills as well as your physical presentation.
It extends to your branding on media—websites, business cards, and print, but it most certainly starts with you.
Combined, these messages should broadcast not only who you are but who you want to be.
While it's easy to default into a style that is easy, comfortable, or natural, be conscious of how this supports your goals. You must be conscious and aware of the ways in which you must pivot, adjust, and enhance your style to reflect your goals
4) Your Image is an Ongoing Act of Communication
When you think about your image, think of it as a megaphone projecting yourself to the world. Image is the first impression but it is also an ongoing one. While that initial impression can reel people in, it also acts as a support and a vehicle for your true messaging and communicating your real goals.
This image is what makes people decide whether or not you're worth their time and effort. If you do not communicate an image or a presence that has upward momentum, polish, and potential, you are unlikely to attract the caliber of customer, partner, or team members that you desire.
5) Your Image Affects Your Behavior
Lastly, don't discount the effect that your image has on you personally. There's a modern adage that says “fake it ‘til you make it,” and there is some truth to that. The image that you project to the world, both in how you dress, speak and act can lend you confidence and a sense of positive direction when you feel neither.
There's no doubt that business success is ultimately about the substance that you're putting into the world. You have to have a functional, beneficial product or service to have long-term success. All flash and no substance gets you nowhere in the end.
However, we know that on a psychological level, for both you and the people you interact with, branding and image matters.
Don't neglect your image in the hope that the “substance” will be enough. Appearances matter in business and they always have, so play smarter, not harder.
Have you had a moment where you realized how much appearances mattered in business? Share your experience in the comments.