According to a study in Psychological Science, humans judge the traits of a person within just 0.1 seconds of first seeing or meeting them. Given more time, we rarely change our judgements; we simply become more confident that they’re right.
So, that suggests there isn’t much we can do to change someone’s first impression of us, which makes it so important we look and act the professional at all times. Fortunately, you don’t win business (nor keep it) on first sight alone but, the way we present ourselves is still very much key to a winning formula.

Bucket & Spade

If someone is looking to bestow their hard-earned cash into learning how to drive, I suspect they would always choose a smart looking ADI over a scruffy one. Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet, if you please! – Keeping Up Appearances) may have added a good wedge of humour to the notion that appearances matter above all else, but she was right. Just because you’re working in your car, for yourself, rather than in an office for someone else, it doesn’t mean your attire should be any less respectable. Be comfortable by all means, but consider whether you could brush up a little. Are your whites grey, are your colours washed out? Have you misplaced your razor, toothbrush or deodorant? You get the picture, the customer certainly will.

Cleanliness and Godliness

If I walked into a solicitor’s office for a meeting and found piles of paper everywhere, dirty coffee cups and fast food wrappers lying about, my eyebrows would be raised. Even if I was met by a warm smile and firm handshake, my first impression would be a negative influence on my view. They may be a lovely person, but I’m paying for their skillset, not their friendship, so I would most likely walk away. Your car is your office. If it is old, dirty and messy, you’re going to be judged badly on that, even if you’re the nicest guy in town. Like it or not, we judge on looks before personality, so make sure your car looks the part, then let your personality do the rest.

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Royal Doulton

If you’re not on Facebook, you should be. You may hate the entire concept of social media, blame it for all society’s ills, but you need to swallow your pride and bend Facebook to your advantage. Get a friend or relative to walk you through it, or Google the myriad of tutorials on using Facebook for business and begin benefitting from it today. If you are on Facebook, you need a Business page. Upload a photo of your logo/driving school name and a high quality picture of YOU and your car, with roofbox behind you. Ask your students to Like your page and post reviews about your service. Share your successes and news, and gain new leads through it. If you’re dead against the idea, you might get away with using a personal page, but I wouldn’t recommend it; it can be difficult to separate your personal and professional life, leading to totally inappropriate photos and updates being posted. And remember, your customers can see this stuff, and once its out there you can’t take it back, so think before you post. And your profile picture, does it show you in a professional light?

Curtain Twitching

For those who want to create a reputable local or national driving school, having a well-presented, mobile optimised website is vital. Use bright, original, high quality imagery, perhaps a video to explain how your service works, and use as few words as possible. Keep the content fresh, and review it all every 18-24 months as trends and fashions change. You may want to run it all yourself, but consider outsourcing if you find you’re spending hours trying to keep on top of it. Either way, insist on a website with a content management system (‘CMS’) so you can more easily update content yourself. For those who are happy working from referrals and reputation, I would think long and hard whether you need one at all. I would always advocate a business having a website, but the harsh reality is that for some, it’s never going to happen. And, if your heart’s not in it, I would suggest that no website is better than an ugly, neglected one.

People of Letters

If your email address uses your maiden name, or a nickname from college, does it really send out the right signal about your professionalism? You can register a new email address with one of the big providers in minutes. Even better, why not buy a domain name for your business and open a new email address with it.

Calling Card

First contact with a prospective new client is often over the phone. Now, call your mobile phone from your landline, let it go to voicemail and listen. Is that message really the way you want to greet a potential new customer? I call ADIs daily and am constantly disappointed when met by a generic network-provider voicemail greeting, rather than the professional, engaging voice of the ADI I’m ringing. Or, worse still, no voicemail at all! It’s so easy to sort out. Call your voicemail, find the option to record a personal greeting, keep it short and concise, and record it in a quiet location (not by the side of the A3 at rush hour and high winds).

Seeing is Believing

A picture says a thousand words. Make sure you image is a good one, or you’ll spend a thousand words trying to repair the damaged first impression.