A Tale Of Two Images

With more people working from home and business casual becoming the dominant dress code in corporate America, there’s a tendency to dress more and more casually for business meetings and interactions. Does what you wear really make a difference? Aren’t results really based on your capabilities and performance in business?

Recently, I got to be a “guinea pig” and experience the power of image first-hand. Through some fluky circumstances during an audit of a tax return, my information was reviewed twice by the auditors and I had the opportunity to be represented by two separate CPAs. Both CPAs had the same documentation to work with, responded to the same audit requests and each conducted separate meetings with the auditors. Both CPAs had years of experience and a track record of resolving audit issues. One CPA’s negotiations resulted in disaster and the other’s in amazing success.

What was the difference? My image at the CPA meetings. Here’s a summary of what happened…

CPA #1

CPA #2

Outfit For CPA Meetings

Casual and fashionable. Jeans, fashion t-shirt, cardigan, funky jewelry, sandals, very little make-up

Professional and fashionable. Tailored dress, platform heels, formal makeup, fresh manicure and pedicure. (The image represented my business)

How The Clothes Felt

Comfortable. I dressed down because I had lots of materials to carry and we were friendly and knew each other for several years through networking. And besides, there’s no need to dress when you’re the client, right?

Empowered and professional.

What Happened

CPA communicated with me in a casual way, saw my business as more of a hobby than as a “real” business (even though we’ve been networking together for years), prepared for 1 hour for the audit meeting, represented me from a position of weakness, and failed to support the expenses.

CPA communicated with me in a professional way, saw my business as a growing small business, prepared for hours for the audit meeting, represented me from a position of strength, and demonstrated the validity of expenses to the auditor.

The Results

Disaster. The inquiry turned into an endless inquisition.

Success. The inquiry was resolved in one meeting to the satisfaction of all parties.

What’s the moral of the story? Whether you like it or not, what you wear does matter. The world does judge your professionalism, capabilities, talents, success, and honesty based on your image. The ramifications of those judgments trickle down through every aspect of your business and affect all your communication. The results you get really are influenced by your image.

For image to really work and support you, it must be authentic, be practical for your life, flatter your body, make you feel empowered, AND represent what you do. When you have an image that does all that for you, then your expertise, experience and talents shine through.

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