Blog: The Incredibly Critical Importance of Your First Impression

Snapshot 1: I recently interviewed someone for a position I needed filled. I didn’t hire the guy. I had a lot of applicants, very talented applicants, but I finally narrowed it down to three. I was especially excited to meet this fellow as he had both great recommendations and a great resume.

But, while interviewing him, I couldn’t get past the fact that he had missed a spot while shaving that morning. Yes, I know, we have all done that (well, at least half of us have!), but to me it said something significant about him that on such an important day, he didn’t care about the details.

Snapshot 2: For the same project, I was looking to hire a firm to do some SEO work for me and as a result, went to several offices to meet people. Again, one firm stood out – for all of the wrong reasons. The receptionist couldn’t be bothered to greet me when I walked in, her personal phone call being more important and all. And at 10:20, the woman I was supposed to meet for my 10:00 a.m. meeting still had not shown up.

I didn’t hire them either.

It is almost impossible to overstate just how important a first impression is to your business; it is, in fact, the lens people will view your business through forever more.

Imagine going into a restaurant for the first time and finding the silverware dirty. Would you ever go back? Even if the owner normally keeps her establishment spotless and that night was an aberration, the fact that a patron’s first impression of the business was a negative one means that the owner likley lost at least one customer, and probably more (“Oh, that place? Great food. But it’s dirty!”)

So how do you make sure that you create that all important great first impression? Here are a few ways:

1. Foster an exceptional culture:

The culture of your business is simply its way of doing things when you are not around. If you reinforce, by words and deeds, that yours is a great business where people do things the right way, right from the start, that will carry through.

Think again about the restaurant. What if, instead of finding a greasy spoon, you were met by a happy hostess, super service, fine food, pleasant prices, a clean café, and a thank you when you left? What would your ongoing, general impression of the place be?

That’s the value of a great culture and a first impression.

2. Codify it:

OK, I admit, it’s the lawyer in me coming out now, but bear with me. Every business needs to have some basic policies that are incorporated into an employee handbook. Here, if making a great first impression is the important thing, then what you need to do is to distill that into specific policies. Then, put those policies in your employee handbook, and make sure everyone on your team knows them.

3. Train people properly:

Your culture and policies are the first step. After that, your values and customer service ethos need to be reinforced with training so that your people are able to apply these ideas properly.

4. Make it personal:

The whole point of a first impression is to impress someone who is encountering your business for the first time. Usually, that is done by being attentive and making it personal, by making them feel valued. As such, to the extent possible, if you remember how important first impressions are, then you know it will behoove you to make every initial encounter with a customer a positive one, one that is memorable for the right reasons.

Do that, and you can bet they will be back.

How can we know that for sure?

That is the power of the first impression.

Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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