Brush up on your Business Etiquette

Basic knowledge of etiquette can be priceless, especially when it comes to meeting potential clients or suppliers. After all, you only get to make that first impression once!

Meeting people

Proper etiquette when meeting people includes introductions, receiving guests, shaking hands and remembering names. The host or person with the highest rank usually initiates the handshake. Your handshake should be firm, but take care not to hurt the other person!

Always make eye contact when meeting new people (but don't stare). It shows respect, confidence and good interpersonal skills. When introducing people, the person with the highest rank is named first, and then the one being introduced.

Telephone do's and don'ts

Good etiquette when speaking on the telephone is as important as speaking to someone in person. Here are some tips:

  • Always answer the phone by the third ring
  • Identify your business and yourself
  • Don't keep someone on hold for more than 30 seconds
  • Return calls on the same day
  • If you ask someone to return your call, leave your phone number
  • Make sure your voice mail works properly when you are out of the office
  • Your voice message should be short and positive. Tell the caller when you'll be back in the office to return his or her call. Also make sure there is no background noise, as this makes it difficult for the caller to understand what you are saying
  • Don't read your e-mail or work while on the phone. Pay attention to the person on the other end, and listen carefully to what they're saying
  • Use greetings such as "good morning", "good afternoon" and "good evening"
  • Always end on a positive note, and say "goodbye". Never say "bye-bye" when ending a business call
Writing rights and wrongs

The way in which you send an e-mail message, write a memo or business letter says something about you. Here's what you should remember:

  • Women should be addressed as "Ms." regardless of their marital status
  • Don't forget to sign your letter (use a signature in an e-mail), so your phone number is at hand if the person wants to call you
  • Always re-read for typing errors and spelling mistakes
  • Always use correct grammar and spelling (yes, even in e-mails!)
  • Be concise and to the point
Conducting yourself in a professional manner will prompt others to treat you as such. If you can't remember specifics, simply: treat others as you want to be treated.

Copyright© 2010 Business Partners Ltd. All rights reserved.


The SME Toolkit is a project of the Small and Medium Enterprise Department of the World Bank Group and is available in multiple languages through local partners, such as South Africa, around the world. Business Partners Ltd, leading risk financing company for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), has made the online Toolkit available for all entrepreneurs in South Africa.

The Toolkit is a joint initiative between Business Partners, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and ...

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