If you want to get ahead in business, then the image that you project is key. It’s this, more than qualifications, more than experience, that will help you get ahead. People form impressions of those whom they meet very quickly, so the image that you create is vital to communicating your skills and values – it’s how you can get your foot in the door and start the conversations that you need to have. It also means that in the aftermath of those conversations, you’ll be remembered favourably. So, how can you go about creating the professional image that you need?

Dressing for success

The first thing to think about is how you present yourself. This is, in part, about understanding your sector, as each individual industry has different standards – some, such as aerospace engineering, are very formal, whereas others, such as the music industry, expect to see a bit of colour and originality. If you’re in a more formal profession, however, it’s still important to stand out, and you can do this through the cut of your clothes and the quality of the fabrics used in them. In any white-collar profession, having well-manicured nails and highly polished shoes makes a good impression.

Location, location, location

Just as it’s important to dress well, it’s also important to present yourself in impressive surroundings. In some industries, meeting in cafés is acceptable, but in general, you should opt for a good restaurant for one-on-one meetings and a stylish meeting room for group conferences. If you don’t have impressive premises of your own, then you can hire a meeting room in a convenient area, bearing in mind that the better the postcode, the better the impression that you’ll make.

High-impact networking

Nothing is as valuable in building up your professional reputation as networking, especially if you make your living from contracting and need to meet new people all the time to get access to the best opportunities and contractor pay rates. Networking isn’t just for business-specific events but is something that you should be doing at every opportunity, so try to make yourself visible anywhere that the people you need are likely to be, from gallery openings to charity events. Always look smart and have your business cards at the ready.

Your online image

Although nothing beats in-person meetings, connecting online can also be an effective way to network, so make sure that you present yourself well there. This means having a good website (suitable for viewing on mobile devices) that explains who you are and what you do clearly and concisely. It also means having professional social media profiles and keeping any less-than-professional content that you want to communicate under another name. Finally, get some professional photos taken so that people can see you at your best.

Creating a professional image generally requires spending money, but it doesn’t need to cost the Earth. It’s well-worth the time and effort involved because of the difference that it will make for your career prospects and the organisations that you represent.

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