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From the line of your clothes, to the shine on your shoes, and your radiant smile; your physical presence makes a big impact on potential clients.

People form judgments about us in a matter of seconds. That means, if you play your cards right from the start, you’re 90% of the way toward winning the account.

Here are seven ways to make the most of those first precious minutes of your prospect meeting:

1. Be on time. It may seem trivial, but punctuality reveals your character. It shows that you’re organized, disciplined, care about details, and that you are reliable. George Washington reportedly cared so much about punctuality that he left meetings if his guest didn’t show up exactly at the appointed time. If you’re frequently late, set a goal this week to be at least five minutes early to every appointment. Use your phone’s reminder function to alert you about upcoming meetings.

2. Present a pristine office environment. In the financial services profession, a messy desk is not a sign of a creative mind. In most cases, it just signifies a disorganized professional. And that could cost you credibility with your clients and prospects. You’re not the national archives, after all. File away folders you’re not using, and make sure you have your office plants looking alive and well – or opt for the fake ones. The first impression of your office is as important as the first impression of you. Here are some feng shui tips for your office.

3. Dress professionally. It’s never casual Friday in the financial advice business. When dealing with people’s seven-figure nest eggs and financial security, you should make certain your attire conveys professionalism, respect and success – without being ostentatious. For women, our wardrobes have a little more variety, but we should always strive to look well-groomed (fresh manicure and hair style), along with professional-looking colors and skirt lengths. Every day, you are on a job interview for new clients. Always put your best foot forward. (Here’s a great women’s fashion blog with free e-zine and an e-book on Business Wear).

4. Radiate a positive attitude. From your warm smile, to your firm handshake, and comfortable eye contact, you can demonstrate a positive attitude. Likewise, when a prospect inquires how you’re doing, never try to conjure sympathy by sharing your troubles. If you’re having a rotten day, a difficult month, an unspeakably bad quarter, feign happiness. You want people to immediately feel that you can handle challenges and pressure. Use a question about your well-being as an opportunity to talk about what you do. For instance, “I’m doing great. I get to help people achieve their financial dreams. And that’s what I hope we can start doing today.”

5. Be genuinely concerned about the prospect. Along with radiating a positive attitude, turn your attention first and foremost toward the prospect’s issues, not your own. The worst thing you can do is to alert your prospect to your family, financial or political worries or trouble with your staff, regulators, and so forth. The focus of the meeting should always be about the prospect, their financial situation and how you can help them – not how they can help you.

6. Do your homework. A cardinal rule for a first meeting is to try to learn something in advance that can allow you to be more prepared, and not waste time going over basic information. Knowing something about your prospects beforehand can give you an edge in impressing them. For instance, if you know they’re in aerospace engineering, plan ahead by researching their company. Know some of the issues they may be facing with the changes in the defense industry. If you’ve read about the person in the newspaper, compliment them on any awards, achievements, or community involvement. It’s always impressive to start your meeting with a compliment about their achievements

7. Speak in common sense language. Don’t assume that your prospect has read The Intelligent Investor nine times. Save your Ben Graham quotes and insider jargon for the water cooler. Instead, plan ahead to focus on emotional hot button issues that concern your prospect such as funding their children’s education, saving enough for retirement, protecting their nest egg, or leaving a meaningful legacy. Ask about children, financial responsibility for parents or relatives, health issues, or unusual debt situations. Explain things in common sense terms but don’t dumb down the message either. People don’t like being talked down to. Assume they’re intelligent.

These habits will help you make a better first impression – and that’s an excellent return on investment.

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