From the top · 4 July 2018

Developing a first impression strategy to win over any audience as an entrepreneur

first impressions
Everyone in business has a specific set of values they hold dear

For the second instalment in ImpraGas founder Joseph Valente’s three-part series, the 2015 Apprentice winner explains how entrepreneurs can achieve the perfect first impression on any kind of audience.

You’ve heard how important it is to “make a good first impression.” But what does that mean, exactly? How do you define “good?” And do you think it’s different than the way I define “good?” Or the way your dream client defines “good?”

You can make overall good first impressions with most of the people you meet on a daily basis, but what’s going to make the biggest difference in your business is the number of great impressions you make on the people you dream of working with.

Everyone in business has a specific set of values they hold dear—and that they use to judge other potential relationships, both professionally and personally.

When they identify other people who share those values, their minds open up to what’s possible, and they want to listen and learn more. When they can clearly see that someone has a different set of values than they do, that person just doesn’t make the cut.

With that in mind, it only makes sense that you would want to examine the value system of your ideal client, verify that it aligns with your own, and then work to make a first impression that demonstrates those values and gives that person a clear picture of what it would be like to work with you.

That’s the first thing you can do to make a great impression.

The next is to consider all the different types and levels of relationships you plan to have in your business dealings.

You might make one sale to a customer, but have a 30-year business relationship with a partner in a joint venture. You might make one purchase from a supplier, but serve a customer for a lifetime.

The depth of the relationships you plan to have should have an effect on the types of first impressions you make, and the way you tailor each one should speak to the level of relationship you’re hoping for. The more words you use that align with the potential customer or affiliate’s wishes, the more they’ll believe you’re the perfect match for them, and the better the impression will be.

So how can you make all this happen when most of your first-impression opportunities are unexpected? You’ve got to develop a First Impression Strategy that becomes an integral part of your daily business plan. You will scrutinise everyone you meet, determining within seconds: A) if they’re a good match for your business, B) what type of relationship they qualify for and C) what types of words and actions will make a great impression on them.

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Of course, your corporate values won’t change. You can, however, tailor the ways in which you express those corporate values to help your dream clients and others come to their own (positive) conclusions about you.

Every business owner (and aspiring business owner) should have a number of different “hats” at his or her disposal. Interact with individuals based on the cues they’re giving you, rather than on what you want to make them believe about you. Work to quickly understand what they want to experience or accomplish, and use your unique set of values to show them how you can make that happen for them, through a process they’ll enjoy.

So, make a list of the types of people you need to make great first impressions with.

And for each one, make a list of what you know they’re looking for: features and benefits, solutions to specific problems, relief to pain, services that will fill gaps they’ve been experiencing, a particular emotion. Then, compile a list of words related to your corporate values that make it clear that you plan to provide that.

Practice delivering a firm handshake, making eye contact, speaking with confidence and authority, and being a good listener. When you’re asked questions, tailor each response to the question you’ve been asked, rather than rattling off some canned monologue you’ve memorised.

Know your audience, your business and your industry inside and out so you can speak intelligently about it, no matter what the context of the conversation. And finally, always make sure your passion for your business shines through.

Continually aim to wow them, but never step outside of who you are or what you want to become. Be authentic. And after you’ve made that great first impression, move on to making an even better impression, every time.

Joseph Valente is founder of Impragas

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Joseph Valente founded ImpraGas when he was just 22 years old. His book, Expelled from the Classroom to Billionaire Boardroom, became an instant bestseller with his first-hand recount of being expelled from school at 15, becoming a plumbing apprentice, launching ImpraGas, winning TV show "The Apprentice" and gaining Lord Sugar as his business partner. Valente took back full control of his business in 2017 and has since tripled the company's turnover.

Business development