A messy, cluttered and musty workplace could turn off potential clients.

“First impressions are critical,” says Teresa Riccobuono, a professional organizer, business consultant and the founding principal of Simply Organized in San Francisco.

A former adviser, she says that having an attractive, comfortable and accessible office is critical to the success of an advisory business.

“People say you’ve got 17 seconds to make a first impression on a client, but it’s really only three seconds. Think about how you feel when you walk into some professionals' office,” Riccobuono says.

Teresa Riccobuono, founding principal, Simply Organized
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You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have an attractive office, but you do have to spend.

Among her suggestions: Have comfortable chairs available, both in the waiting room and office, preferably upholstered, not just wood, “especially if you have women clients,” and have interesting and current magazines in the waiting room.

Also important is thinking about the needs of elderly clients, Riccobuono says.

That means not just having easy access to the office but to the restroom and convenient parking. It also means higher chairs with armrests that an older person can easily stand up from without help.

“Older people don’t want to have to be helped to the bathroom or aided in standing up from a sofa or chair,” Riccobuono says. “They want to be able to do things themselves.”

If a potential client ends up feeling trapped in a low easy chair, she or he is liable not to come back, Riccobuono says.

Her advice to advisers who have been in the same office for some time: “Have some new pair of eyes -- a new employee or your spouse maybe -- look your office over with a critical eye.”

Rick Rummage, principal at Rummage Group in Herndon, Va., which trains advisers, agrees that office appearance is a critical part of a successful practice.

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“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have an attractive office, but you do have to spend,” he says.

Rummage suggests hanging original paintings, including ones by local artists, with price tags in case clients want to buy one.

He also advises, “Buy nice furniture at a furniture store, including your desk. Don’t go to an office supply store.”

In addition, “Include a sofa. Think about making your office look comfortable, not like an office,” Rummage says.

This story is part of a 30-30 series on ways to upgrade your practice.