The Modern Guide to Business Etiquette

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted July 18, 2013

Mind your manners. It's good advice to follow, both in one's personal life and in business.

Yet, as ambitious go-getters, small business owners and entrepreneurs can sometimes expose a rough edge while dealing with prospective clients or potential investors. Sure, a great business model and a solid monetization plan will help you get noticed, but why risk sinking your chances at a deal with a less-than-pleasant interaction?

And if a careless moment spills into social media, its viral nature can amplify the damage to your reputation. Remember, the Internet never forgets.

In today's business climate, it's not enough to be polite, poised and polished in person, according to etiquette and communications expert Barbara Pachter—though it helps. In her new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette, she delves into how professionals can navigate the minefield that is business relationships in an era of smartphones, Twitter and always-on communications. Here's a small sampling of her advice.

5 Modern Business Etiquette Tips

1. Tweet wisely

Simply, "think before you post," says Pachter.

"What you post can and will come back to haunt you," she adds. Twitter and Facebook users, in particular those that work with it in a professional context, are often taught to maintain a balance between spontaneity and authenticity. Add good judgment to the list.

Think twice before venting about your employer, colleague or client. Pachter asks, "Why would you bite the hand the feeds you?" Also consider the legal ramifications of divulging something that's not meant for public consumption.

Above all, think of your own career. A misguided tweet "could be lost business," she warns.

2. Smile, you're on social media

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook: regardless of which social media platform you use, "have a good photograph on the social media site," advises Pachter. Your profile picture should be a headshot, photographed by a pro if possible. Look good, smile and "dress appropriately for your profession."

Above all, replace the default graphic. "Have a photograph not the egg," says Pachter, in reference to the avatar that's issued to users when they first sign up for Twitter.

3. Stow the phone

Practically everyone has a smartphone now. Keeping it out on display during a lunch meeting or client dinner impresses no one. What it does, however, is send a terrible message.

By leaving your phone within view and easy reach, you're signaling to those around you that "I am so ready to drop you and pick up that phone," says Pachter. Research has shown that "putting the phone on the table inhibits conversation."

Frankly, she adds, most people can postpone a call or a text until their business concludes, barring an emergency of course.

4. Don't put yourself down

You may think that you're being modest and gracious by downplaying your station or by using a little self-effacing humor. Instead it makes you come across as meek and perhaps a little unqualified.

In professional situations, confidence gets notice and results. Pachter includes a Do-Not-Say list of phrases that you should avoid in her book (page 61). For example, stop approaching people with timid-sounding greetings like "sorry to bother you."

It's better to dish out an assured, "Excuse me, do you have a moment?" and take things from there. And don't ask permission to ask a question, she urges. Just ask it.

5. Work to Establish Rapport

"For a lot of us [building rapport] doesn't come easily," admits Pachter. But it's worth making the effort.

Begin by practicing welcoming ways of greeting people. A confident stance, firm handshake and a smile are a solid start. Then, learn to get "comfortable with small talk." News and current events are great conversation fodder, but be mindful to avoid controversial issues and hot-button topics.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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