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Society

Image consultants see entrepreneurial path in soft skills teaching

“It is about levelling the playing field to
“It is about levelling the playing field to international standards so one is confident enough.” /Fredrick Onyango 

Imagine your business acumen being judged by the fork you pick to eat your salad, the strength of your handshake or even the suit you are wearing.

Business deals can be lost or companies branded with poor customer service because of an unintentional breach in manners or etiquette, though it could be unconsciously, leading to the increased demand for lessons.

In the past few years, there has been an increased demand for people to teach customer service personnel, executives, future leaders and individuals on office etiquette to improve themselves.

“There is an unwritten code of behaviour and one can experience subtle discrimination if they do not conform to these standards,” said Ms Jane Waikenda of Mind Your Image Limited.

Players in the industry argue that if one is willing to engage a golf coach to improve one’s game, or a fitness guru to improve one’s health; why not engage someone to teach you soft skills like non-verbal language, communications skills or what business suit suits you.

In developed countries, the industry has grown and Kenya is not being left behind especially as companies and personalities realise in order to be successful in the global picture, there are a few extra skills needed.

Today, one is spoilt for choice as more people invest in this industry that was a preserve of diplomats, the military, presidents and the affluent people in society.

Although thought to be for these groups, players in the industry, however, say that these skills are not to emulate Western customs, but are a global perspective on how one should carry themselves, communicate and dress among other skills.

However, as a business person if travelling to a foreign distention or hosting people from other cultures, it is good to learn something about different cultures and make appropriate allowances to avoid embarrassing oneself.

“We make up a huge percentage of our minds about someone in the first few seconds of meeting them, regardless of where they come from,” said Mr Derek Bhanga, a business developer with Public Image East Africa.

He opened shop 18 months ago and along with a partner holds the franchise of the East African edition of the UK-based Public Image Company.

For him, he mainly works with corporates or individuals in a group helping them ensure they portray a positive ambiance including the right conduct— how to walk, stand and present themselves—public speaking, customer service and grooming among others.

However, for companies training, the programme is tailor-made to suit the requirements of the situation, the culture of the organisation and mainly maximise on ensuring no bad impressions that could reflect on the company are passed on —verbally or non-verbally.

Communication skills are also important for everyone especially those involved in public speaking and customer relations representatives who interact with clients on behalf of the organisations.

In the business world today, meetings are frequently held over meals and in order to ensure one doesn’t serve with the wrong cutlery, executives are taking dinning etiquette lessons.

“It is about levelling the playing field to international standards so one is confident enough to know that cutlery to use so as to focus on the business at hand,” Mr Bhanga says.

This increased demand for these soft skills has led to Ms Waikenda investing in an etiquette full time school in the country.

After working for State protocol for over 10 years and running a consultancy that mainly works with corporates, Kenyan diplomats, civil servants and individuals, she is looking at investing Sh10 million, along with her two sons, in a school to be located in Karen.

The school will offer both full and part time programmes on diplomacy, etiquette, image and international relations among other courses.

It will boast a dinning area to train on dinning etiquette, an ampitheatre for public speaking where one can be recorded and watch themselves as well as a ballroom for dancing lessons among other facilities.

Growth strategy
The school is part of the company’s growth strategy to eventually move into neighbouring countries like Rwanda and Tanzania where she has seen business potential.

However, the slow down in the economy has meant players in this industry have to work even harder to convince companies why they should spend as they try and cut costs.
In hard economic times, budgets for training, marketing, parties and travelling among others are the first to be revised downwards as a cost cutting measure.

However, players argue this should not always be the case especially if the company hopes to continue building its brand or emerge from the economic woes with a stronger brand.

Due to the job cuts in the US there has been an increase in people investing in these soft skills as additional skills in their resume as they job hunt.

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