Seriously. There is a marketing lesson for solo practitioners in the following story. Please keep it in the ‘business dress’ context for which it was designed and do read the comments
Let me set the stage. We are in the middle of historic snow storms in the Northeast. Everyone is bundled up for arctic chill. Outrageous outfits, hoods, boots. Nothing even really matches. It’s about keeping warm.
Add to this I just had oral surgery which has left me with a goose-sized egg on my jaw in brilliant hues of purple, black, green and yellow. I also can’t speak very well. (Ergo, why I am not at LegalTech in New York.)
So, today I finally ventured out to the supermarket to stock up on food because of another ‘dangerous’ monster storm coming. I confess, with everything going on I looked like a battered Walmart shopper. Nothing matched except the black on my bruise and my snow boots. I was layered with clothes, no make-up or jewelry, hair in a pony-tail. Even I frightened myself when I looked in the mirror but I had to get to the surgeon for a quick check up, the supermarket and then pick up my son from school. No time for fussing.
Surgeon gave me a thumbs up. Now off to the supermarket. I encountered some strange looks because of the bruise. It really did look like I got popped in the face. Going through the cashier’s line was uneventful. It was when I realized I had been over-charged on multiple boxes of cereal which were on sale that the fun began.
A manager was called over. He was probably 19. With my slurred voice and bruised face I explained as best I could these items rang up at $4.39 when they were on sale for $2.99. Their price accuracy policy said I get one of the item for free and the rest at the sale price. We walked over to the aisle and I showed him. Because I couldn’t speak clearly and it was loud in the store my voice was slightly raised. He told me in a very annoyed and condescending voice the sale price was from last week and shouldn’t have been there but he was going to give me the sale price anyway. What a guy!
We walked over to customer service where the customer service person looked at my face. She did that barely discernible stare for a second and then looked away. The manager started to explain what was going on. He was explaining the problem incorrectly which would have resulted in the wrong credit. I kept slurring, ‘excuse me’ but he kept talking and talking with his back turned away from me. Finally I tapped him on the back and said, ‘Hello? I’m talking to you?’ He continued to talk like I wasn’t there. I was getting highly agitated now. And as my husband likes to say, ‘you don’t want to get my wife mad.’
Finally he left and I started to explain the problem correctly. The customer service person started to talk to me very loudly and slowly as if I were both deaf and incapable of comprehending. Now I’m seeing red. She was doing some convoluted math to give me the credit but kept coming up wrong. I explained the right way to do it. She told me she can’t do it my way. I said fine and then asked her just to see if when she did it my way we came up to the same number. We eventually did. There was no pretense of politeness on her part. No ‘please sign here’ or ‘please swipe your credit card.’ She just bossed me around like a subordinate. After the transaction was completed she dismissively said, ‘have a nice day.’ And then as I was walking away (drumroll, please) she muttered under her breath, ‘uppity white trash.’
Needless to say I had a very lengthy conversation with her supervisor and this customer service representative is not going to be happy.
Yes, this is still a marketing lesson.
We are correctly or incorrectly perceived, judged, and treated as we present ourselves. I looked bruised and battered and dressed to unimpress.
As solo practitioners you don’t have the luxury of not dressing appropriately and presenting appropriately in public ever because everyone you meet is a potential client or referrer of clients. They will make snap assessments about you whether you like it or not. Better they make a snap positive assessment.
Conversely, you don’t have the luxury of making these judgments about your potential clients because looks can be deceiving. You don’t have the luxury of being rude or treating a potential client or referrer of clients with anything less than respect because you don’t know who they are, who they know, or how they can influence your professional or personal life.
A solo practitioner is ‘on’ 24/7. This doesn’t mean you can’t relax. It just means you have to take my former roommate’s advice, the one who used to wear pearls for a quick run to the convenience store. She would say, ‘Susan, always look your best when you leave this apartment because you never know who you’re going to meet and how they can change your life.’