One of the great joys of being self-employed is being your own brand 100% of the time. Whilst taking the position of ‘brand as person’ can have some challenges of execution when you’re going through vulnerable periods, overall I have found it both a liberating and empowering attitude.
I remember being an estate agent many years ago, and standing in my suit and heels for hours on end. At the time, it was novel and enjoyable to experiment with a corporate wardrobe and shiny pencil skirts from Portmans. When I packed that career chapter in to build Ruby Assembly, the work wardrobe went straight to Vinnie’s: I was finally able to let my wardrobe freak flag fly.
I’ve always understood the way I present myself to the world as an intentional, creative and occasionally theatrical project. Whilst I am a supremely capable business woman and superior marketing strategist, I understand that much of a client’s sentiment towards you (and confidence to engage with you) is predicated by the way you make them feel. I’ve never been overly precious about doing what is important to make a client feel heard and comfortable – and this extends to the way I dress for them when we meet.
Our professional garb (whether corporate or casual) is an incredibly powerful tool that helps us to comfort clients, encourage greater rapport and establish legitimacy. Just like our chosen email manner and conversational tone, the set-dressing of our sartorial choices goes a long way towards our success in business.
Dressing Appropriately Honours Your Client
I once had a potential employee attend a job interview wearing yoga gear. Now, I’m not a particularly formal person – but even I thought this was one level of rancho-relaxo too far. If the person had spent time exploring the way I present myself and my business online, they’d know that yoga gear in the first interview probably wouldn’t support rapport building.
Here’s the thing: if we want good professional relationships, we need to dress for our audience. It’s a sign of respect, just like turning up slightly before time. It illustrates that you’ve observed how the client presents, and that you’ve taken steps to present yourself in a way that fulfils what they need from the interaction. If – like me – you are ‘person as brand’ with a large digital footprint, it is unlikely you will have businesses approaching you who find your style or overall aesthetic offensive. It’s then up to you to match your appearance to their likely needs.
Say you’re meeting an accountant or a notary. You can see from their LinkedIn that they’re pretty conservative in their professional presentation. Your first meeting with them is not the time for floral cork platforms, low-rise Christina Aguilera jeans and sparkly lipgloss. (I spent most of my University career wearing this outfit, FML. But at the same time, good on past me for keeping it real in my gender theory classes!) Your message will probably be better received to the accountant in a flattering dress and jacket that’s not deadly boring, but doesn’t do anything to scare the audience. At the risk of sounding like an etiquette coach, it’s important that your grooming is pretty immaculate too. Whether you’re a makeup wearer or not, clean hair and skin and tidy nails go a long way towards keeping your clients’ focus on the proposal. My approach is always fastidious: I want to feel and look bulletproof, and I want to make the client feel comfortable and to allow them to receive my advice with maximum confidence.
They Don’t Call It A Power Suit for Nothin’
Some meetings are trickier than others. Perhaps you’ve been called into a company wide session, and you know there is going some criticism of your work. Maybe you’ve got a legal matter to wrangle, or you need to have a serious conversation with a client about a behaviour that’s concerning you. It’s possible you need to impress a number-cruncher who knows nothing about you, and has even less knowledge about your expertise beyond its cost to their spreadsheet.
You’re gonna need to crush it with your wardrobe. I find that when I look confident, presenting as confident is an easier proposition. If I know another party is going to attempt to throw their weight around, I will make sure I look like the kind of person you don’t want to piss off. Of course, no amount of window dressing will make up for incompetence – so I ensure that all my ducks are lined up and my arguments are clear before entering the fray. But I also think carefully about what will make me feel the most confident in a negotiation, and how to best portray my seniority and the positive, comforting power about me.
Is That Gorman?
Some clients may make it known to you that they love how you dress, or they love the ‘style’ of your business before they even meet you. This is such terrific feedback to receive, as it shows they’re been watching you for some time – they like what they see and they feel confident about you. When this happens to me, I know that the client is really attracted to the outsize, creative aspect of me and my business. They’ll probably want to see an energetic version of me that matches their hopes for our work together. That’s when the Gorman, the Doodad and Fandango earrings and the ugly-cool-girl fashion makes its way to the Ruby Assembly boardroom. It’s no less authentic a version of myself – it’s providing the scenery to inspire confidence and connection with my client. And if we end up talking about our favourite designers? All the better!
Forging a Connection Through Fashion
Dressing for your client doesn’t mean being slavish or diminishing your own personal style. I view the way we choose to greet the world – and our clients – as critical to success and fulfilment. I want to make as many meaningful connections with people around me as possible – which means thinking about what will make them most able to engage with me. Whether that comes in the form of a normcore Uniqlo suit and Everlane pumps, or a leopard-print dress from Marks & Spencer – I’m being a authentically me, to meet enthusiastically with them.
Photography: Breeana Dunbar