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How to Build a Professional Image in Business
 
 

How to Build a Professional Image in Business

What exactly is "the professional business image?" The professional business image can entail several components that combine to form both how you look in the environment, and how you perform. Professionalism is how you adhere to your own set of personal values when conducting yourself in professional business obligations -- including your reliability, poise, and ethical composition.

Remember: Business etiquette builds relationships and empowers communication.

The simplest things you can do every day are to always display positivity, show appreciation for your co-workers and your job, be an open communicator, and say please and thank you.

Take an inventory of who you currently are. Who do you want to be in the business environment? Who are your role models? What do you currently base your image on?

The factors that build your image can be both physical -- something you can touch or see, like your dress or your hair -- or environmental/emotional factors -- something you do or portray, such as compassion or concern.

Initially, let us review some of the concepts and actions you can use to make a positive impression on those you work with. Then, we will look at some more specific tips and actions to improve your professional business image.

Each day as you enter work, start the day with a smile.

  • Exhibit a degree of readiness; look prepared and place personal items away, in preparation to begin the day. Be ready to contribute and present a positive aura.

  • Greet each of your co-workers or colleagues.

  • Make eye contact and turn toward them when speaking.

  • If you meet new employees, or the day begins with a new client, shake their hand with a gentle firmness.

  • Be kind and courteous.

Tips for working with co-workers and colleagues:

  • Learn their names; everyone wants to be known.

  • Give everyone the same level of respect.

  • Treat others as you want to be treated.

  • Make sure you are properly groomed, wear a smile, make eye contact, and be authentic.

  • Always remember to be approachable.

Professionalism is the set of values that you and your company use when conducting business and meeting customer expectations. Professionalism should be displayed in all aspects of business in customer relations.

Professionalism is the conduct and behavior displayed to customers, clients, stakeholders and colleagues in business interactions, and is based on personal values and the professional values of your employer.

Many terms may come to mind when you think of the behaviors related to professionalism. These may be courtesy, respect, integrity, commitment, excellence, and more.

What does business etiquette mean to you? If you had to rank yourself now on your business etiquette, on a scale of 1 to 10, where do you fall? Where do you want to be?

Let's walk you through a strategic analysis of your image to see where you are, and where you need to be.

First of all what, traits would you like to see associated with your professional image if you could build it from the ground up? This is your opportunity to build your brand. Is there a coworker, boss, customer, or client that you admire their professionalism?

Confident

Calm

Compelling

Engaged

Honest

Genuine

Polite

Dedicated

Flexible

Competent

Trustworthy

Patient

Motivated

Sophisticated

Intelligent

Respectable

Adaptable

Confident

Interesting

Energetic

Positive

Building your professional image is like building your personal brand. You want to be the Nike® or Google® of professional images. As you build your image think of what people think of you. Are you admired in your field? Competent? What qualities do you have that you like? What qualities do you have that you dislike? What qualities do the professionals you admire have? And finally, what qualities make a good leader?
Good qualities are listed just above. Inventory your bad qualities, too. Which of these traits do you exhibit or need to change? What is your physical appearance? How do people react to you? Are you approachable? Do people shy away from you? Why is that?
Your goal is to develop a professional image. To develop a reference point, write down the positive characteristics from above you do not currently possess, but would like to. Then write down the negative characteristics from below that you do possess, but would like to change. Don't feel bad -- all of us have bad habits we would like to correct. Start with four or five in each column, "good" and "bad." Then develop a plan on paper for how you will improve each characteristic.

Messy

Aggressive

Untrustworthy

Insincere

Dramatic

Unhappy

Judgmental

Rude

Stressed

Argumentative

Gossipy

Smelly

Impulsive

Disrespectful

Unprofessional

Wasteful

Incompetent

Uninteresting

Immature

Irresponsible

Selfish

For example, if you chose "Competent" as a good characteristic you would like to achieve, determine how you will get there. A good goal for building competence would be, "I will research three new emerging changes in my field of work and discuss them with a co-worker."
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Business Etiquette.
If you chose "Argumentative" as a bad characteristic you would like to improve, determine how you will get there. A good goal for changing this characteristic would be, "The next opportunity I have where I feel I will be argumentative, I will count to 10 slowly to myself, and determine a response which will be less abrasive and argumentative. During the week I will write down and total the number of times I felt I was arguing my point and work to reduce the number each subsequent week."
Pay close attention while you are at work to notice how co-workers react to you in different situations. Work on refining your image by choosing a new trait from the list each week to focus on. Reflect on the reactions of co-workers to your changes. They should be positive. What will help you is to determine what your personal triggers are to responses. Be cautious of your mood, and be respectful. We all have bad days, but it is important to control your reaction. Remember, you cannot control what happens to you each day, but you can control how you react to it. Your ability to control your reactions in difficult situations, and always portraying the positive, will help you to build a positive professional image. Keep a constant pulse throughout the day on the four to five good characteristics you model, and the four to five not-so-good characteristics.
Why is your professional image so important? It boils down to the effectiveness of your communication, and your ability to build relationships in the business environment. In today's business market, you need to be the person people want to do business with. You need to think in the mindset of, "What can I do that makes my customers and clients want to do business with me, over my competitor? Many times that boils down to relationship building. Think about your current situation. Do you have a client that you have done business with for years? Why is that? Is it because you are good at what you do and present a professional image? Is it because you market a product that is such a niche market that they have nowhere else to turn? Hopefully it is because of your image. Remember to keep developing your positive traits.
Being aware of your ideal image, and your actual image, is crucial. Those who you come in contact with should have a positive perception. Their perception is often their reality and you have the ability to modify their perception.
Many motivational speakers will tell you positivity attracts positivity, and negativity attracts negativity. Projecting a confident, welcoming persona will create the bond you need with customers and clients to build the comfort level they need to choose you to do business with.
Confidence plays a key role in your professional image. This means remaining calm and collected no matter what the situation. Some of us have confidence, and others consistently work to build confidence. A great deal of confidence is hinged on knowledge, and then part of it is based on your mannerisms and conveyance when speaking.
Here are some tips for increasing your confidence.
  • Dress professionally, shake hands and smile -- and when seated, sit leaning forward slightly to show you are attentive.
  • Be knowledgeable about your business. Lack of knowledge on your part will make you unsure about what you are doing, and your clients will be able to read that.
  • Consistently build credibility. Building credibility involves being what others want you to be by gaining approval and leveraging your strengths. It also is the ability to suppress your personal values when conducting business. Business situations can be difficult. Never allow your personal values to be compromised, but understand, at times, you may have to be flexible with clients. Never compromise business integrity, or do anything unethical.
  • Be confident speaking; if you are not confident in this area, practice at home in the mirror. Good public speaking and conversational speaking are paramount in business success. People need to feel comfortable, and a great deal of it hinges on your professional image and conveying your message. Your product, alone, will not sell itself -- or ensure your company is the one selling the best product, unless people want to do business with you. People are naturally drawn to confident people.
Key Point

Confidence = Success

Let's review some steps to take control of your professional image:
Remember you are the driver for your professional image; you must constantly be observing your behavior and the reaction of clients or customers. People constantly form opinions about your character, competence, confidence and ability to do work. It is your job to help frame their opinion properly, using your strategic approach for your personal and professional image.
  • Identify, using the techniques we have already described, which characteristics you want to display -- and which characteristics you want to control.
  • Determine in your work interactions what type of culture exists within your organization, and within your customers' and clients'.
  • Once you have identified the characteristics you want to portray, and the culture you work in, assess your current professional image. Your assessment should include the expectations you have, and your company has, for professionalism and help others perceive you in terms of your delivery.
  • Be aware of the changes you need to make, and those which you cannot, because of psychological or emotional discomfort, or the required physical effort.
  • Manage the balance between credibility and confidence.
  • Consistently invest in your professional image by monitoring your behavior and other people's perceptions of you in the business environment.
  • Improving your image does not have to be expensive. Dress the part and practice.


Summary reminders and takeaways

People form their opinions the moment they meet you. Social and psychological surveys show that most people form their opinion of you within three to five minutes. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to change their initial impression of you. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. There are many factors which help an individual to form their opinion of you. Your focus should be on the positive characteristics that are valued in the business environment, and subduing behaviors that you know you need improvement in. In a sense, you are branding yourself; so remember you want to be marketed as a high-end product, not a low-end one.

Building your reputation over the long term is essential for forming good business relationships. These relationships help you to expand your networking capabilities, and ultimately expand your business. Think of it in these terms: Many corporations spend a significant amount of time and money developing their corporate brand. You, too, need to invest a significant amount of time in developing your brand and marketing it. You want to be the brand of choice. You can be the brand of choice by optimizing the awareness of your image and controlling the factors that define it. Your goal is not to change your personality, because we all need to maintain our individuality, but to adjust behaviors that are restricting our full potential as business professionals.

 
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