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Enhancing Your Image

Looks do matter! This column will help you and your staff present the right image to your clients.

By Roy Bredholt Jr., CFP

Financial advisors often try to harness the power of positive first impressions by legislating what constitutes appropriate attire in their offices. Whether or not you believe the motives of such an approach are good, the reasoning behind dress codes is powerful.

First impressions
First impressions are instant image-makers; in fact, we judge people the first time we meet them. We size them up by how they carry themselves, the energy they project, the warmth of their smiles and how they dress. Clothing is the most powerful of these impressions and the easiest to change or manipulate.

Selling a practice
Think for a moment about the most famous corporate dress code—the white shirt and tie at IBM. The image conveyed was IBM, not the individual. That’s probably OK if you are selling a corporate product or service, but financial advisors and their support staff are selling themselves and their practices.

As an advisor, you know that you need to construct an image for your practice—including the attire you and your staff wear—in order to attract and influence the types of clients you want. One of the most successful advisors I know wears a sweater, an open-necked shirt and a pair of Hush Puppies every day. His clients are largely teachers and civil servants—squarely middle class in terms of income and lifestyles. He has crafted his practice’s image to project a homespun demeanor. The key to his strategy, though, is that he expects his staff to dress in the same modest manner so that his clients are not uncomfortable in his office.

The way we dress tells clients and prospects who we are and what we do.

Basic guidelines
Picture Rapper Eminem and Vice President Dick Cheney. Each has a distinct image with their constituents. When they switch attires, however, Eminem becomes a junior executive with a bad haircut, and Dick Cheney looks like a bum. They instantly lose all credibility with their respective constituents.

Don’t let your practice lose credibility this way. Here are some basic thoughts and questions for you and your support staff to consider when putting together guidelines for what to wear in the office.

  • Whom are we trying to attract as clients? This question is very important because you invariably wind up working with people who are similar to you.
  • What characteristics or qualities do we want to project? These include things like honesty, empathy, affluence, intelligence and competence.
  • What do successful professional people in our community wear? Conformity to these standards is especially critical in smaller communities.
  • Does the location of our office play a role? Are there seasonal considerations? It’s a little easier to get away with a Hawaiian shirt in Key West than in Minnesota in February.
  • Keep it neat and clean. This rule of attire and image overshadows everything.
  • Are we current? Your office doesn’t need to become a fashion boutique, but all staff should make an attempt to wear clothing that’s not much more than a few years old.

The bottom line on attire in the workplace is that it does matter. It matters a lot. It is the primary way in which we tell clients and potential clients who we are and what our practice is all about. You may not need to go as far as setting a rigid, written dress code. But every member of your team should have a personal dress code that supports and enhances the image of the practice.

Roy Bredholt Jr., CFP, is a 20-year industry veteran and a leader in recruiting and sales in his Minnesota company, Waddell & Reed. You can reach him at or 952-835-0334.

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