Myka Meier, the founder of Beaumont Etiquette, recently told the Huffington Post that business etiquette is “more than just the practice of good manners and following respectful protocol when doing business with others — it’s the difference between a good businessman or businesswoman and a great one.”
As a small business owner, you must lead by example. Effective business leaders understand that they set the tone for proper behavior in the workplace. Their ability to do so can affect morale and productivity more than any other action.
Below, we’ve included nine tips and business etiquette rules that you’ll want to abide by in the office. Implementing these etiquette tips will improve your credibility with both your co-workers and peers in the business world.
1. Names are important
When you meet someone, one of the first things you’ll do is exchange names. However, this is not a formality that you should brush past. First and foremost, you’ll want to include your last name when introducing yourself to someone. This is especially the case if you have a common first name, like “Chris” or “Sarah.”
Addressing people by name is critical when forming business relationships, as it can make you appear much more genuine. It’s also a sign of respect. You should not initially use a nickname or address people in generalities. If the person prefers a nickname and asks that you call them by that name, go ahead and do so.
And make sure you pronounce the individual’s name correctly when you say it. If the name is hard to pronounce, ask for further clarification during the initial meeting. Doing so is a sign of sincerity, demonstrating that you’ve taken an interest.
2. Make a good first impression
Names are critical when meeting somebody, but there are also a few other things you can do to help make an excellent first impression.
- Shake hands, giving a firm handshake. Handshakes should not be a “power struggle.” The grip should be firm but not bone-crushing. Handshakes should be a sign of mutual respect, not an effort to exert dominance.
- Make eye contact when shaking hands, and maintain it throughout the conversation. Experts say you should maintain eye contact 50% of the time when speaking and 70% when listening and that you should hold it no more than five seconds at a time. Otherwise, you’ll come off as creepy.
- Provide your business card, cell phone number, or another form of contact information at the end of the conversation.
In addition to your contact information, you may also consider sharing your social media profiles. However, if you do so, make sure that the profiles are professional. LinkedIn is an excellent social media platform for networking with business professionals.
You should also follow up with people after meeting them. Doing so is common sense if you want to foster relationships, and you never know when a business relationship will benefit you or your company.
If possible, send thank-yous that are customized and hand-written. In today’s world of email and texting, it’s tempting to shoot off a message from your phone and move on. But a personalized thank you or follow up shows that you care, and it will go a long way toward helping others remember you and your company.
3. Establish a dress code
Some companies prefer that workers come dressed in suits and ties every day. Others don’t mind if their employees show up in slacks and polos. Whatever your choice is, make sure you establish a professional dress code for your firm. Defining a dress code will help bring consistency, uniformity, and professionalism to your work environment.
Not every day has to be the same. For instance, you can have a Casual Friday. Or you can require employees to dress up more if there are essential business meetings on the day’s schedule.
Just remember that when someone meets your employee, their outfit is one of the things that makes the first impression. So no matter what dress code you select, make sure it’s professional. Even casual dress can be professional.
Also, remember that good hygiene can be part of your dress code. For instance, you can implement policies to limit beard or hair length. Make sure that you’re setting a good example by keeping your appearance maintained. You can ruin the most professional of dress codes and first impressions with a sloppy, unkempt look.
4. Make yourself accessible
Sitting at your desk with your office door closed sends one message: Leave me alone. Instead, you’ll want to get out and talk with employees. If people feel comfortable in your presence, you’ll foster a positive workplace culture. You can consider implementing an “Open Door” policy so that employees can come into your office and talk whenever they’d like if they have questions.
Another note about communication: It’s critical that you return phone calls as soon as possible. You want people to know that when they call, you’re easy to get hold of. Returning phone calls promptly is a display of classy business communication that can make a favorable impression.
5. Avoid gossip
Small talk doesn’t mean sharing tidbits from your personal life. Nothing good comes from exchanging gossip about money or relationships or office politics. You’re not “one of the gang,” nor should you strive to be. As the company owner, you’re in charge of setting the standard for proper business etiquette. You should not engage in office gossip and should seek to eliminate it from your company culture.
6. Adhere to a schedule
Life as a business owner is challenging. You’re pulled in every direction. As challenging as it may be, you must adhere to a schedule and stress punctuality.
Tardiness is disrespectful and is an easy way to lose business and credibility. Although things may come up unexpectedly, try to keep to your meetings scheduled with both employees and business partners. This communicates respect to those you work with.
It’s not just punctuality for meetings and appointments that you need to worry about either. Showing up on time to start the day is one of the best ways to “set the tone” with employees.
One YouGov study found that about one in five workers in the United States is late to work at least once per week. Showing up on time, getting to work, and setting the tone for the day can make a tremendous cultural difference for your firm.
7. Share your passion and share praise when deserved
Enthusiasm is contagious. When you display a passion for the business, people respond in kind. They want to know what they’re doing helps grow the company you feel so passionately about — particularly if you frequently show gratitude for their efforts.
Be sure to praise employees for a job well done, even if it’s something minor. Praise doesn’t have to be something you circulate among the company either.
For example, imagine you have an employee who’s been struggling to show up to work on time. One week, they are on-time every day. Consider stopping by their workspace that afternoon and saying something along the lines of, “Hey John, just wanted to say thanks for making an effort to show up on time this week. It was noticed, and it meant a lot.”
This type of positive reinforcement is necessary in today’s business culture and can go a long way toward improving morale at your place of work.
You also shouldn’t be afraid to hold back praise when it isn’t deserved. Sometimes you may need to talk with employees, and it’s better to open with an employee and express how you feel than to hold it in. If you don’t speak with the employee, they won’t know what they need to do to improve. Just remember that you’re talking with another individual. Show them the same respect you wish to receive.
8. Take emails seriously
Emails are part of today’s business world. While you should always consider calling instead of emailing, it’s not always feasible. If you do need to send an email, make sure you take it seriously and practice proper email etiquette. Take a few minutes to proofread your email for:
The email is an extension of you and your business, and once you press send, there’s no getting the email back. There are free tools available online, like Grammarly, that you can install into your web browser directly. These tools aren’t perfect, but they’ll catch obvious spelling and grammar errors, and offer suggestions on how to correct them.
Also make sure that you provide email addresses for employees. It looks much more professional for employees to send company emails from a business address instead of their personal address. For instance, email@example.com is much more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. Keep diligent records
You may not think of this as traditional business etiquette, but the onus is on owners to keep thorough business records. Owners should use reliable accounting software to ensure accurate bookkeeping. Owners should have no problem identifying when certain transactions occurred or what they were for.
Similarly, owners also need to keep thorough records when it comes to things like employee information. Disorganization is, at best, poor business etiquette. At worst, it could get you into a sticky legal situation. Good organization and recordkeeping are excellent ways to improve your company’s credibility and employee morale.
Improve your business etiquette and culture
Business owners need to pay careful attention to the culture they foster in the workplace. Workplace culture affects not only the people who work in your office every day, but also peers, customers, vendors, and investors in the outside world who you interact with frequently.
The bottom line: Pay attention to how you conduct yourself at your place of business. The people who work for you will follow your lead — and mirror the tone you set, for better or worse. Practicing proper business etiquette and fostering good workplace culture can help your company reach new heights.