There’s an old joke you may know about Finnish people.

A Frenchman, an American and a Finn are walking in the grasslands of a savannah and come across an elephant.

The Frenchman looks at the handsome animal and thinks to himself, “What fantastic dish could I make out of that elephant?”

The American looks at the elephant and thinks, “How could I make the most money out of that animal – selling it off in bits or parading it in a circus?”

The Finn doesn’t even look at the elephant.

He just stares at his own shoes, shifts nervously from one foot to the other and focuses hard on one single question: “What does that elephant think of me?”

How aware is too aware?

As a Finn myself, I see some truth in this stereotype. And I do catch myself thinking quite frequently about the image I project – especially at industry events.

I always try to make sure that my suitcase contains a range of business wear that strikes the right balance between professional respectability and personal flair.

I’m writing this very post from a conference, as it happens, where I’m surrounded by European translation company executives. I’m among peers who know me quite well and possibly even like and respect me.

Some of them are clients. A few may be competitors. But we’ve come together to network and discuss issues that are common to us all.

How concerned, then, should I be about the image I project to them – both personally and for the company I represent?

Not as concerned as the cripplingly self-conscious Finn in the joke I just told you, that’s for sure. Such navel-gazing is of little value, and it’s not at all attractive to others.

But the fact is that, in business, image does matter. And the opinions and perceptions of our industry peers are extremely important. I’m sure you also stop to think about your image from time to time – if not your own, then at least your company’s.

Maintaining the right image is crucial – whether you wish to be seen as an all-knowing, omnipotent boss in the eyes of your staff, a pioneering visionary in front of your industry peers, or a successful localisation expert in the minds of your clients.

But it’s also incredibly difficult. Our personas, activities and perceived achievements are constantly analysed by our potential business partners and used to define who we are, how we work, and what we can and cannot offer.

The digital world of today makes things even harder, as we’re often judged before we even get a chance to prove ourselves in person.

The value of good values

As a businessperson, projecting the right personal image is much easier when you have a solid set of company values to guide you.

In my case, if I ever need a nudge in the right direction, I can always look to STP’s values. They are NORDIC, which stands for No-nonsense, Open, Respectful, Diverse, Innovative and Committed.

The values are designed to depict who we are and guide how we behave – both online and off. ‘No-nonsense,’ for example, means we should try to be clear, concise and efficient in our communication, so as not to confuse our recipient or waste their time.

For each of the values, we also have a set of corresponding anti-values that define what kind of people, behaviour and communication we definitely don’t want the company to be associated with.

Rather than promote these values as words, our aim is for you to experience them in your dealings with STP. Or in your dealings with me.

Openness should characterise our online presence and our involvement in the translation industry. Innovation should permeate the way we employ technology and work with academic institutions. And our commitment must shine through in the way we serve our clients and suppliers.

Our company values cannot just be a list of impressive but empty words. They must reflect who we are, who we aspire to be, and how we wish to be seen by others. We must all be identifiable by them.

Does my bottom line look big in this?

Am I image conscious? I guess I am. As the leader of a well-known company, it’s hard not to be. And while I know clothes and manners do not make the man, I think that once he is made, they can greatly improve his appearance.

I want the way STP speaks, acts and looks – online and off – to match how we speak, act and look in our daily work and internal dealings. I want our external image to sell us well, because I know we are well sellable.

In fact, STP’s image would do well to mirror – metaphorically, of course – the understated elegance I aim for with my conference wardrobe.

No frills, no power suits, no high heels. Simplicity that stems from confidence. Practicality that speaks of good health and fitness. A bit of loose material to cover the less perfect bits. A dash of verve. A nod to the latest trends.

And definitely no black.