One of the best ways to improve your long term career potential is to become known as a top notch professional in your industry and beyond. One of the best ways to develop such a reputation is to treat every professional meeting you attend as a job interview - in a way it is. Someone that you meet today may be your future boss, colleague or reference. Here are a few tips on how to make a good impression:
1. Be Prepared - when you go to a business meeting, be it with a customer, with a vendor, or with a service provider be prepared. Know what the meeting is about and what you are trying to achieve. Spend a few minutes before the meeting to get your bearings. Understand what you are trying to achieve and what the other party is expecting, and try to meet those expectations. If you are well prepared for the meeting and appear professional, your counterpart will notice.
2. Be Professional - remember the last time you went to a meeting and the other party was late, condescending, arrogant or simply wasted your time? Well, try not to do that to others. Here's a great tip: sales people prefer a fast "no" to a long, drawn-out and pointless engagement. Being frank, honest and to the point is the way to go.
3. Dress the Part - sorry to break it to you, but there really is no such thing as "casual Friday". If you are going to work, always dress the part. It's not a bad idea to be just slightly over dressed. I don't suggest that you wear a suit if everyone else in your office is wearing jeans, but wearing slacks and polo shirt wouldn't be a bad idea.
Even though I work for a high-tech start-up in Silicon Valley and most folks in my office wear jeans to work, I always dress on the high-end of business casual. You never know when you will unexpectedly run into an important visitor, an executive or customer, in the office or while you are out to lunch. I cannot tell you how many times I have been pulled into an important meeting on days when I was expecting no business meetings to happen. Similarly, I couldn't tell you how many times some of my fellow executives, wearing less than appropriate attire were unexpectedly called into a meeting with a potential investor, board member or customer. My point is: you just never know and folks notice and remember.
A simple rule of thumb I suggest: dress like your manager's manager. You get the idea.
4. Follow Up - Have you ever been to a business meeting where you agreed to do something for your counterpart but never actually got around to doing it? Did it ever happen to you? Last week I had an important business meeting and my counterpart promised to send me some follow-up materials. He never did, even after I sent him an reminder e-mail. Here's the right way to do it: during your meeting take a list of action items. When you are done... follow up. You want to establish a reputation? Always do what you say you will do, and do it fast. As always, the key to success is surpassing expectations.
5. Stay in Touch - always carry your business cards with you. On your way to the movies? There is always room for a couple of cards in your wallet. Just recently, I ran into a potential business contact at a family wedding. The more people get your card, the more people know about you, the better the chances that opportunity will find you. After you meet someone, send them a brief e-mail noting your contact information for future reference.
For a related topic, see my previous post titled Your Colleagues, Your Assets. You might also want to check out my recent post about Getting Noticed by Employers. Another excellent post on the subject was written by Brandt of Wealth and Wisdom - check it out.