Neels & Company - Strategic Business Communication
Trusted Advisor
Gretchen Neels
Gretchen Neels, President, Neels & Company

Dear Trusted Advisor

Help! I need to update my wardrobe, but am paralyzed at the thought of shopping. As a thirty-something female executive in financial services, I need clothing that will say “polished, poised and powerful.” Without going broke, how would you suggest I start?
J.J., Boston, MA

Dear J.J.,
Start with the mindset that you will build a fabulous wardrobe by buying good quality basics, having them tailored to fit perfectly, and adding to them over time.

First, Determine your budget. Spend half of that amount on the best three-piece wool suit you can afford (jacket, pants and skirt – all in the same fabric – think Armani, Lafayette 148, Brooks Brothers, Talbots). Choose a classic design in black, navy or brown. Take a quarter of your budget and buy two or three cotton blouses (Thomas Pink if you can swing it), one or two silk blouses, and a few cashmere sweaters (buy a twin-set in the same color as your suit). Spend the rest on one or two pairs of wonderful shoes, matching the color of your new suit. An expensive silk scarf can easily extend the life of a past-its-prime suit or dress. Consider splurging on a little lovely from Hermès or Ferragamo – you’ll have it forever and it will speak volumes, ever so softly.


News Flash: Business Etiquette 101 – 30 Absolutely, Never Evers For Business, Dining & First Impressions was chosen as a Cool Book of the Day by Dan Janal.

Our Business Etiquette Series is now available for purchase on our website. Consider the Best Value Package as a low-cost, high impact supplement to new hire orientation, an add-on to professional development training programs, or as a gift for Staff Appreciation Day.

Next Issue: The Myth of Multi-tasking

Giving and Receiving - It's That Time of Year Again

December’s Trusted Advisor is a bit early for two reasons. The first is so we may send Happy Hanukkah wishes, and the second is that my phone has been ringing off the hook with questions about gift giving that you may be asking as well. Here are a few examples, with replies:

I manage a group of 25 people, ranging in age from 23 to 56. I would like to give everyone the same gift and keep it under $15. What would you recommend?

Three items come to mind for such a diverse group: gift cards for coffee, books or music; nicely boxed candy (Lake Champlain Chocolates has a number of wonderful items under $12); and my favorite, Dancing Deer Baking Co.’s Sweet Home Cake & Cookie Gifts (a portion of the profits support One Family, Inc., a very worthy, not-for-profit organization devoted to ending family homelessness in Massachusetts).

My boss gave me a very expensive handbag last year, and will no doubt give me another lavish gift this Christmas. On my limited budget, how can I adequately reciprocate?

It is not customary to give gifts to those above you on the corporate food chain, so a heartfelt thank-you note is all that is required. However, if you still want to give your boss a gift, don’t even try to match dollar for dollar. Give her something you know she will appreciate and use, such as a food/wine basket, or tickets to a concert or the theatre. Making a donation to her favorite charity, however, might be the best choice if she’s someone who has everything.

When is the best time to give my staff their holiday gifts?

The day your firm holds its holiday event is a good option. Often, that day is charged with a level of excitement and anticipation, and giving out bonuses and gifts on the same day will add to the festive mood.

Speaking of holiday events, let’s go over some Absolutely, never evers for company partygoers (this advice also stands for private affairs, but I’m only licensed to dole out corporate-related recommendations in this space):

Absolutely, never ever disregard the RSVP (which stands for répondez s’il-vous-plaît, a fancy way of saying “please let us know if you plan to come”). Either accept the invite within the week, or decline (by phone, email or note). Waiting longer suggests that you are hoping for something better to come along. Not responding at all, while common these days, is completely unacceptable.

Absolutely, never ever bring a guest when one is not included in the invitation. Never assume your spouse / friend / parents / children are welcome. If  “and guest” or, “and family” are not indicated on the invitation, don’t bring them.

Absolutely, never ever forget that your firm’s holiday party is a work event, which means you are still at work when you’re there. As such, you will not get hammered on the free booze, you will not wear your “dangerously sexy” outfit from Bebe or your Red Sox 2007 World Series Champs jersey, nor will you kiss anyone under the mistle-toe. Save any combination of the above for non-work related festivities.

Thought you’d never ask … (unsolicited advice): People, please drink from a glass, rather than the beer bottle. There’s no sight quite like a woman dressed to the nines, hair and make-up impeccably applied, chugging a cold one straight from the bottle in the Governor’s Room at the Four Seasons. Ditto for the gents.

Now that you’ve got some gift ideas, have a firm grasp on why you must respond to invitations, and know to steer clear of those tacky beer bottles, enjoy the season!

We at Neels & Company
wish you and yours
a very Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas

We provide soft skills training and consulting to professional services firms covering all areas of business communication.

Neels & Company – Strategic Business Communication
P. O. Box 623, Boston, MA 02117
800-975-7031 ext. 701
general inquiries:


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