When you own your own small business, you figure that one of the great benefits is that you get to wear exactly what you want, right? Well, not always. What you decide to wear can increase or decrease the chance you'll land a deal, motivate your employees, even get better terms from a supplier.
Women, of course, are typically perplexed about how to dress for different business situations. But guys, if you run or work for a small company, don't just click away — I'm talking to you, too.
If you run a small business, give me just a few moments to help you figure out what clothes to wear to increase your success. No matter what you think, clothes do make a difference.
I just attended an international conference where the attire was listed as "business casual" — one of those terms that doesn't really mean much. Most attendees interpreted that to mean they should wear clothes they'd wear for an important business meeting, just not suits. One woman, however, concentrated on the "casual," wearing the kind of clothes she'd wear running errands on a weekend. I'm certain that reduced her ability to make some important connections.
Clothes are an important part of your business image, even in a small business. If you're too casual, you may not seem professional to your customers, employees, or even yourself. If you're overdressed, you may seem to be "trying too hard" when you meet with a more casually dressed prospect, or you may be needlessly uncomfortable for your daily tasks.
Where you do business, of course, makes a big difference in your clothing choices. I live in Silicon Valley, and if you showed up for a business meeting in a suit and tie, you'd look like an out-of-town insurance salesman. In Washington, D.C., on the other hand, you better not wear jeans for an important meeting. (In fact, New York investors even gave Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a hard time for showing up in his famous "hoodie" for important briefings.)
Your industry makes a difference as well. Attorneys are generally the most likely to wear a suit; those in technology are the most likely to be the most casual.
When you're the boss of a small business, apparel decisions can be especially vexing. You set the example and the policies. Employees take their cue from you. More importantly, as a small-business owner, you're more likely to interact with a wide variety of people, whether customers, prospects, vendors than your administrative assistant or shipping clerk. Some of the people you deal with may be dressed in suits, some in shorts.
One way to think about clothes is to consider different "levels" of dressing:
Level Three, Business Formal: For when you have to look your most professional, such as negotiating a big deal, giving a presentation, doing international business. For men, this means a business suit or similar. For women, this means a business suit or coordinating dress or skirt outfit.
Level Two, "Spiffy" Business Casual: This has become the norm for the most important business meetings other than those in major urban centers. For men, a sports coat, no tie, nicely pressed pants; for women, a coordinated skirt or pants outfit.