How to build a positive self-image for success in business

Published On: 7 February 2022|

While personality is imperative in human relations, appearance tends to be the primary impression maker on any person, or brand. Therefore, Universities South Africa’s Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme dedicated a session at a recent workshop, to personal style as an image influencer and a critical contributor to business success.

At the Economic Activation workshop of the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP), Ms Zana Boshoff (left), Project Manager: Entrepreneurship, tackled the topic Building a positive image and refining your style. The workshop, that concluded on 27 January, was an empowerment exercise hosted for women looking to create businesses while studying. Participants were drawn from the signed-up SWEEP members and more, from South Africa’s public universities.

Ms Boshoff posed a question which, she said, was often neglected but which was important, nonetheless:  Why does image matter? She said visual image matters because appearance is what people see before they make impressions of one’s personality. “This fact will never change,” she asserted.

By working from home and spending long hours in front of computer screens, Boshoff said it was easy for most people to neglect to take proper care of themselves. “Before you know it, you feel and look tired; you are demotivated and stressed,” she said, adding that this also negatively affects one’s self-confidence.

Pointing to herself as an example, she said before the pandemic, her wardrobe, which consisted of formal corporate wear: jackets and high heels, had unfortunately shifted to something totally different today.

Self-confidence is critical

She said self-confidence was an important contributor to a positive image. Firstly, she said a confident person is proactive, assertive, and focussed — much to the benefit of their professional and home life.  “Having confidence means understanding the value you offer, effectively communicating and presenting yourself, which then results in getting noticed for all the right reasons,” she said.

Confident people, she added, attract more customers and attention to their brands.

Ridding oneself of low self-esteem

Ms Boshoff said people could apply small and simple changes to their habits to lift their self-esteem. Most importantly, she said it was important to be cognisant of one’s triggers and habitual utterances. These included being aware of when, why, and how one speaks of oneself. She said the isolation that resulted from working from home for the past two years, had added to the negativity that people were feeding themselves. Consequently, most people had lost the urge to get up, dress up and look their very best.

A qualified image consultant, herself, Ms Boshoff said she had noticed that many of her female clients (at a business she has since closed) constantly picked out negative aspects of their own physical appearances. She cautioned her audience of the ill effect that negative self-talk has on people’s emotions and behaviour. Instead, she encouraged the budding entrepreneurs to rather identify what they love about themselves and use that to feel good about themselves.

Citing herself as an example, once again, Boshoff mentioned that after two pregnancies, her body had undergone significant changes.  “As you get older, you are not going to have the skin that you had when you were 20. You are not going to be as fit as you maybe were when you were in school. Things change, but you must love and accept who you are. Love and embrace the new you constantly. Have a dream and vision for your future. Surround yourself with positive people and good influences.”

She also encouraged her audience to extend the positive thoughts to how their personal and professional lives would turn out, in future, and rid themselves of any anxiety.

Boshoff then shared tips (see below) on creating a positive image of oneself.

  • Give yourself a little love: “Take out some time for yourself; identify something you love doing, which makes you feel good, and do it.” She said this could be as small as painting one’s nails on a Friday afternoon, after a long week.
  • Focus on what is good about you: this is easily identifiable from people’s compliments.
  • Aim to make positive first impressions: “You are never going to get that first opportunity back… therefore, a little bit of effort can go a long way.” She said research had shown that before 2010, “we had as little as 10 seconds to make a first impression. Today, due to our fast-paced lives, we have only 1.5 seconds to make our first impressions. And, in 2022, it might even be shorter.”  She added that in a pie chart of first impressions, one’s looks accounted for 55% of first impression; tone (how one says things) for 38% and the actual words for 7% of first impression.
  • Embrace your own personality style: Ms Boshoff presented 10 different personality styles with which people often relate. These were romantic, timeless, frill-free, relaxed, elegant, expressive, bohemian, eccentric, athleisure, and alluring. She said how a person dresses gives off their personality and shared 10 personality styles documented in style guides.  We share some examples below.

When a participant asked whether it was possible to have more than one personality style, Ms Boshoff responded: “Yes. In image consulting, there is a Style-Personality test (a questionnaire) we run with clients, which shows the style personalities they have. You can have a combination of at least two. When it is three, it gets a little complicated.”  She added that a Style-and-Colour analysis is conducted after a Style-Personality test to unfold what lies underneath each person’s unique image.

To a follow-up question on what influences people’s personality styles, Boshoff said sometimes it is what people are exposed to, from childhood.  Her own personal style influencer was always her mother — a schoolteacher who made it a point that she looked presentable — from clothing to make-up and hair. “Definitely some of those elements play a role, but as you get older, you sort of define your own style personality, and you realise what you feel comfortable in… your style personality then comes out, eventually.”

She said even at a clothing store, a person either moves to a more formal or casual section, and this is an indicator of their personality style.

Ms Boshoff took her audience on a journey of personality styles discovery to help them master looking professional, thus building positive self-images.

  • Develop a working wardrobe: She indicated that a vital element in each person’s wardrobe was to develop a cluster. These are clothing items that can be mixed and matched. They can be dressed up or down. And they are classics or styles that suit each person’s personality. These items are mostly made up of neutral colours, which form a base, such as black, grey, navy and tan. She emphasised buying quality pieces and encouraged using accessories. Cluster pieces can be worn with any item; they make up strong wardrobe-essentials.
  • You can dress well on a budget: She gave six tips on smart clothes shopping, which she said have also been helpful in her life.
    • Step one: Take an inventory of your closet and make a list of things you need. Buying from a list helps avoid impulse buying.
    • Buy the best quality of fabrics you can afford. They will last longer, wear better and save you more money.
    • Buy classic styles. These will not date as easily as buying into trends.
    • Opt for mix-and-match pieces. A little will go a long way.
    • Try for a primary colour scheme. Build your wardrobe around three to five colours that look good on you.
    • Choose solids over patterns. Solids mix and match easily and are less easily remembered. Solids are items that have one colour scheme – no prints.

One attendee asked Ms Boshoff to explain the difference between style and fashion.

She said: “Fashion is typically a trend. It fades. It is something that comes, and it goes, whereas style is constant. Many factors determine what is the new fashion. You also get fashion followers and fashion leaders. I am neither. I believe I have found my style.

“Style, on the other hand, is something that is more sustainable. If you have found your style and it is something that you are comfortable with, then it is easy to maintain,” she said.

How to acquire a professional look

Ms Boshoff mentioned how, at times, people struggle with the shift that comes with transitioning from being a student to a professional. She said whether a person moved towards a relaxed or more casual professional style, it was essential to make a distinction between life as a student and a professional.

“So, a professional image consists of your physical appearance, body language, vocal image (voice), professional etiquette, grooming (hair and makeup),” she said.

On makeup, she admitted that there were opposing views in people – some love it, and others do not. But she said she always encourages people to consider it because it has some advantages. In addition, she said it should be used to help people look and feel better.

“The exciting part about this hobby of mine is to see people’s transformation, especially the ones who profess not to own, like or wear makeup,” she said.

With that, she shared images of clients who held a belief against makeup, and their transformation in appearance, which she said further boosted their confidence.

Makeup 101: five-minute tips from Ms Boshoff

  • Firstly, use a concealer to disguise shadows especially under the eyes or redness
  • Step two, apply foundation evenly with a brush or finger or sponge
  • Apply a small amount of pressed powder to your skin to eliminate shine especially if you have oily skin
  • Shape your eyebrows with a brush and shadow
  • Highlight the eyelid with a light colour eyeshadow
  • Apply a darker shade in the eye fold and in a shape of a triangle
  • Apply your bronzer or blush under your cheekbones to create the illusion of cheekbones, and a lighter colour on the apple of your cheek to add some colour
  • Apply eyeliner and a coat of mascara
  • Lastly, apply lipstick and/ lip gloss.

She concluded by reminding her audience that makeup will always be determined by each person’s skin type — whether oily, dry, or normal. She also encouraged them to check out YouTube “how-to” videos.

Summing it all up, she said “your image matters because it says something about you. It firstly says something about your personality, and about your social and financial standing. It says something about your self-confidence. It also hints about your attitude at work.”  She however reminded the audience that everyone is unique. Bone structure, age, height, weight, bust, shoulders, neck length, prominent features, and personality – all make every single one of us stand out, as individuals.

According to Dr Norah Clarke, Director: EDHE, the recent Economic Activation workshop was only the first in a series of events planned to empower student women in various aspects of entrepreneurship, with the hope that they will start some enterprises while studying and sustain them beyond graduation.

Nqobile Tembe is a contracted Communication Consultant at Universities South Africa.