From the January 2001 issue of Startups

Hey, isn't youth supposed to be a good thing? You're savvy, smart and have a successful homebased business, so why do some clients freak out when they see your youthful face? "I have encountered numerous times when my appearance, although professional, was an obstacle to getting the job," explains Jennifer Grace, 29, owner of Grace Design, a homebased photography studio in Modesto, California. "[Some clients say] 'Oh, are you the photographer?' with raised eyebrows. When clients start to get that look and ask questions about my experience, I can tell it's my age they are uncomfortable with."

Hold on! What are these clients thinking? "Clients are concerned that 'young' entrepreneurs aren't experienced enough to handle their accounts. They're afraid they won't be thorough and they'll neglect important details," explains Kathryn J. Volin, president of Communication Concepts International Inc. in Minneapolis and author of Buff and Polish: A Practical Guide to Enhance Your Professional Image and Communication Style (Pentagon Publishing).

So if you want your clients to take you seriously, you have to look (and act) like a lean, mean professional machine. To shatter the age barrier, your first mission is to clean your room (really!). "First impressions are established when a person walks into your office," warns Volin. No matter how polished you look, your "organized piles" paint you as a newbie. Easy enough. But there's plenty more you can do. Volin suggests some other tips to help you make a professional impression:

1. Always begin an important meeting with a firm handshake and a smile. Does your current handshake scream "I'm ready to do business" or "I'm scared of you"? Flimsy handshakes can be a real turnoff.

2. Maintain long, strong eye contact with your client at all times. Fifteen to 20 seconds is a good rule of thumb. "Focus on the triangular area of a person's face: From the top of the browline to the base of the chin," suggests Volin, "and you will be perceived as more believable, trustworthy, honest and sincere."

3. Have a strong stance, and evenly distribute your weight onto both legs. Ever talked to someone who rocked back and forth? You want your client laser-focused on you-not wondering when you're going to fall over.

4. Pause and breathe when speaking. Your client should be doing most of the talking. "I've found a good way to overcome potential clients' hesitation is to ask questions about the service they want me to provide for them, letting them know I am interested in creating exactly what they are asking for," advises Grace.

5. Provide exceptional customer service and follow-up. Always send thank-you notes after meeting with a client. Even if you didn't get the job, let them know you're available for any future gigs. "When the completed order is ready, I will call the client and even sometimes [per-sonally deliver] the order," notes Grace. "Going out of the way is what makes me stand apart from the other guys."

6. If all else fails and your baby-faced mug still gets you in trouble, get specs. "Eyeglasses can make a person look more mature as well as more intelligent and successful. That's a suggestion I will make to a client who is looking for an 'edge' during an important meeting or presentation," hints Volin. Here's looking at you, kid!


Heather Lloyd-Martin (heather@successwks.com) is owner of SuccessWorks, a new media copywriting firm. She still gets asked if she's "a bit too young" to own a dotcom.

Contact Sources