We all know that first impressions count for a lot. That’s why an astute businessperson or professional will pay close attention to her wardrobe, grooming and overall appearance.

But what about your place of business? As soon as someone walks through the door, it’s the reception area that will give that important first impression.

What is the general “feel” you want your waiting area to convey? High-end professionalism? A casual, home-like look? A no-nonsense, utilitarian appeal? Formal or informal?

While you want your reception area to reflect something about you and your type of business, you’ll also want to consider the type of customers or clients you have. What type of environment will make them feel most comfortable? What is their level of education, income and sophistication?

I once knew a professional whose services catered specifically to low-income, less educated clients. His wife, an equestrian, decorated his office and filled his coffee table with copies of Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Architectural Digest and magazines for thoroughbred horse breeders! Not a good match!

So you’ll want to make sure that you offer reading material that will be of interest to your visitors and that the offerings are current. If you have magazines in your waiting area from 2005, what do you think it says about you? Inattentive? Not current? Overwhelmed? Not organized? Best to get rid of anything that is over two months old unless, of course, it’s a collectible (for example, a series of National Geographics or material that you have published).

For articles specifically about you or your business, consider having them nicely reproduced, framing them and hanging them on the wall for everyone to notice. In the media all the time? How about using a bulletin board where current offerings can be posted?

Many professionals offer a continuously running educational video in their waiting rooms that describes the various services offered. If there are several professionals sharing an office who have different specialties, a video introducing each one and describing their expertise is a nice touch.

Having small individually wrapped candies or mints on a table, at the receptionist’s counter or at the place where people check out and pay their bills increases your hospitality factor. If you are solo or have just a few colleagues sharing office space and you see clients by appointment, letting your receptionist offer water, a soft drink, coffee or tea makes people feel welcome. China cups rather than plastic foam or paper containers convey a sense of elegance. In a larger waiting room that holds many customers at a time, consider installing a drinking fountain or water cooler.

If you have children who are clients or clients who bring their children with them, consider having a children’s corner in your waiting room — or at least a basket with several children’s books or periodicals. If you do put toys in this area, make sure they are quiet and do not have small parts that can be scattered about. Children’s tables with built-in games that can’t be removed are ideal. A well-maintained aquarium is entertaining for children and restful for adults. Older youngsters may like listening to children’s stories on CD — with headphones, of course.

Many offices have background music playing in the waiting room. In addition to adding to the ambiance, this can also reduce the chance that people in the waiting room can overhear conversations at the reception desk or in the offices beyond.

Clean walls and good lighting will make any waiting area cheerier, and a fresh coat of paint can work wonders in brightening a dingy room. Real plants create more warmth than artificial ones. And fresh flowers are always appealing.

Remember, what’s hanging on the walls tells people something about you, so make sure it conveys the message that you intend. Even more important, make sure you don’t have something on your walls that could offend the kinds of clients you see. Stay away from political or religious themes (unless your business is political or religious), and watch out for humor that some people wouldn’t find funny.

Author: Judi Craig