**This ongoing series profiles female powerhouses who are making their mark in their leadership roles. In the spirit of paying it forward, each profiled woman is asked to nominate another peer to fuel the series.**
“What do I wear when meeting with a professional image consultant?” I ponder, before meeting with Margaret Batting, an accomplished entrepreneur, image development consultant and brand strategist.
A mutual colleague has introduced us electronically and we have scheduled a date to get coffee and chat about Margaret’s entrepreneurial path. It’s a Friday morning and a seasonably cool August morning. I debate wearing a blazer and slacks since we are meeting for the first time, but then I consider the fact that it’s Friday, we are meeting at Starbucks, we’ve already had a wonderful first phone call and I kind of feel like I already know her. I take a risk and go a bit more casual, opting instead for skinny jeans, a black lacy top and black flats. Still professional—I hope—yet more in line with my personal brand for a summer Friday morning.
Margaret looks like a rock star—exactly what you would expect for an expert image consultant. She is wearing a beautifully fitted white, blue and green dress coupled with a loose gray cashmere sweater that immediately brings a casual flair to an otherwise fancy dress. She’s also rocking some killer heels. She radiates warmth, excitement and genuineness. I like her immediately.
After an amazing conversation about Margaret’s reason for starting her own company, her typical client and her beliefs about why clothing is inherently linked to corporate success, she gives me a hug goodbye. And she tells me that my outfit is cute. I now feel like a rock star.
What follows is a glimpse into our conversation…
Me: For the past 10 years, you’ve run your own company, Margaret Batting Image Communications. What was your inspiration?
Margaret: After spending more than 20 years working in the corporate arena and then having my son, I decided I needed a change. I couldn’t keep up the pace of what I was doing. I wanted to be healthier, happier and have a greater impact on the world. So, as I was sitting at my desk one day, I began the process of looking into other opportunities and figuring out how I could transfer my key skills into something I truly loved doing and that would bring me more fulfillment as well as allow me more time with my son.
Me: How did you land on image consulting and brand strategy?
Margaret: Since the age of two I loved clothes. It may sound crazy, but I picked out all my clothes even when shopping with my mother. I just knew what I wanted and had a mother who loved clothes too. I loved the way they made me feel and still do. When I started working I became the go-to person for recommendations on what to wear for various events and situations. As I became more seasoned in the workplace I began to see the connection between professional presence and career advancement. How you present yourself is the strongest nonverbal cue you send out every day. Your image speaks before you ever have the chance to say a word.
And what I appreciate most about this concept is that we have total control over it. It is our choice whether we want to present ourselves in the best possible light. In my management roles, I had the knack for identifying high potentials. This skill helps me in my business now and I believe is what was the true impetus behind me wanting to do it. So many women don’t meet their potential for a myriad of reasons and by working with me they feel better about themselves and are able to communicate their true story enough to take on more challenging opportunities then I have made an impact. I launched my own business so I could help professionals accelerate their career paths and reach their true potential.
Me: When people hear the term “image consultant,” they may think “personal shopper,” but what you are describing is how attire and business success are intrinsically linked. Tell me more about that!
Margaret: For me, my line of work is not about fashion; it’s about business and being strategic about what you want to achieve. Your image can be considered a communications tool that can either help or hinder your success. A study done by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital found that it takes only a quarter of a second to assess a person’s trustworthiness and competence. That’s not much time to make a strong first impression. By learning how to dress in a manner that suits your body shape, style, natural coloring and industry, you are already miles ahead of the competition. When you know how to dress your body and wear the styles and colors that communicate the messaging you intend, you will come across as confident, credible, competent and ready for your next business opportunity.
From my own experience climbing the corporate ladder, my manager and other executive team members needed to envision me in a management role. They needed to see me look and act like a leader before promoting me. So, if you are a newbie and you are brilliant, one of the ways to step it up is to consider what your visual presence, body language and business etiquette says about you. Does it say, confident, credible and polished? Does it say I am ready for a promotion or do I still look like I am an intern? Are you sending the message that you are investing in you? If you don’t value and invest in you no one else will. And remember this important fact: people remember only seven percent of what you say but they will remember how you looked and made them feel.
Me: I couldn’t agree more. I am always really interested in the way people carry themselves and how that impacts perception. So when you made the decision to start your own business, what was one of the first things you did?
Margaret: I did a lot of research about the image industry and then realized I needed to invest in training and certifications. I found the top person in the industry and immediately signed up for her fast track course and then her executive course. I used my vacation time to attend these courses. Then I made my 3-5 year plan. I formally launched my business in 2007. At the time, I started by working with individuals and though I still do a fair amount of work with individuals today, now my focus is predominantly corporations. Companies hire me to do workshops on everything from professional presence to personal branding and etiquette to one-on-one sessions coaching sessions for rising stars. On boarding programs and future leaders programs are becoming a niche for me. Many professional organizations invite me to speak at their events as well.
Me: Who is your favorite type of client to work with?
Margaret: A business professional who knows she needs to make some key changes to reach her goals. She is REALLY ready to INVEST in herself and ready to move out of her comfort zone to get there (and she wants to have fun doing it).
Me: I can imagine how fun that would be! Shifting gears, the business world has evolved considerably when it comes to corporate attire and we’ve seen so many avant-garde trends with personal fashion as well. How do you work with clients to ensure they dress as their authentic selves while still fitting in with the company culture?
Margaret: When I work with a client we start from the inside-out. I put them through an exercise where I ask them to say think about the top three to five words they want people to think about them when they meet them for the first time. I also have them fill out a questionnaire and do an extensive interview so I can get a better handle on who they are, where they are headed, what’s happened in their past that may be holding them back today. I assess their body type, their size, their assets, their natural coloring and where they believe they have challenges. Once that is complete I evaluate their entire seasonal wardrobe, teach them what works and why, what doesn’t work and why and then we begin to pull together the style and wardrobe that supports their goals and communicates the story they want to tell the world.
At the end of the day, my job is to teach my clients how to look and feel their absolute best. Once they understand what works for them and why, they have clothes they love and they can get ready with minimal stress, their confidence builds and their inner rock star comes through.
Me: Have you noticed any differences between the men and women that you work with?
Margaret: Men decide to work with me on the spot and will spend the money necessary to achieve their goal. Women seem to have a harder time with that because we don’t tend to put ourselves first. I remind my clients that if you don’t put yourself first, no one else will.
Men don’t focus on their flaws. In fact, most don’t think they even have any. They are interested in learning what clothes, shoes and hair styles will make them look and feel their best. Women look in the mirror and focus on their flaws. And I get that. I have had to adjust my thinking, too. Now, I start every day by focusing on my assets. That’s a much better way to approach the day!
Me: I couldn’t agree more! You must love that moment when you hear from one of your clients that something transformational happened as a result of their new outlook on their attire and personal brand. What’s one of your favorite client stories?
Margaret: There are so many wonderful stories to tell! I love when I receive an email from a client who tells me that their boss noticed a difference in how they are looking and carrying themselves, or they are getting compliments at work that they never got before. That’s when I know they have become a Rockstar. Or, when they look in the mirror and are truly happy by what they see. I love this email I received from a woman who attended one of my presentations.
“Funny, your presentation was in my head as a very tired version of me (my kids are little and they keep me up all night) got ready for work this Monday. But as I heard your voice in my head, I sucked it up and spent the time to get ready, put on a nice suit, fixed my hair, etc. Then when I got to work, I realized our CEO was in town holding an all-company meeting. So I was glad I looked nice. Then, out of nowhere, he came up and asked me to present an award to an associate (cameras and all!). Thank you for influencing me—it was extremely timely! Great lesson that you never know what you are going to face when you get to work so you better look ready."
Me: What a wonderful story! That must have made your day. So… looking back, 10 years later, what advice would you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
Margaret: Make sure you have money set aside so you can stomach the rollercoaster. And, perhaps more importantly, assemble a support system of your friends—especially your women friends. Share with them what you trying to achieve and ask for their support and help when you need it. Share your vision, ask for input and know that it’s OK to fail. If your first attempt doesn’t work, regroup and try something else. Having resilience and grit are essential to success.
Me: What’s been your favorite part of the roller-coaster thus far?
Margaret: I am doing things I never thought I would do. For instance, I worked with Career Builder for four years traveling all over the country giving presentations to people going through major job transitions. I had the opportunity to travel to cities I may have never seen and through the process became a very skilled and comfortable public speaker—something I never thought I would do! I am a “behind the scenes” introvert. However, I have learned to be an extrovert when necessary. Now, you can put me in front of 500 people and I am just fine! Also, I enjoy working with major companies. When I first left the corporate world I was never going to go back. But now, I love working with big companies as I have so much experience in that arena and I love seeing my clients propel their careers forward.
Me: OK… final question… what’s a piece of advice you would have for all the women out there reading this blog?
Margaret: Develop a positive mindset. Spend time on yourself. Invest in your professional development. Be kind to yourself.
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Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix Tech. Carrie was named to the 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” list and is a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.