Jacqueline Whitmore, Etiquette Expert, Reveals How Etiquette Is an Essential Business Tool
I recently caught up with Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert, author and certified speaking professional. She is the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, a premier business etiquette consulting firm dedicated to helping executives polish their professionalism, enhance their interpersonal skills, and improve their personal brand.
Jacqueline shared her thoughts on her own entrepreneurial journey as well as some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs…
1. What got you on the path to becoming an etiquette expert? How does a person become an expert in this?
In 1993, I was hired to work as the assistant director of public relations for The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. It was a dream job. Part of my responsibilities included promoting the Summer Etiquette Camp for Kids. I was also in charge of hiring the etiquette instructor for the camp.
During the summer of 1994, I hired the woman in charge of The Protocol School of Washington in Washington, DC. That same year, she decided to add an etiquette camp for adults and encouraged me to attend. I attended the week-long camp and loved it. After the week was over, she encouraged me to come to Washington and take her 5-day train-the-trainer course so that I could teach etiquette to the employees at The Breakers and, one day, start my own company. I did, and the rest is history.
As fate would have it, In 1998, I got laid off from my job and I started my business, The Protocol School of Palm Beach, out of my attic. I took my severance money and bought a computer, fax machine and printer. For the following six months, while I drew unemployment benefits, I worked on launching my business.
Eighteen years later, I have written two books and I’m teaching etiquette to executives on a world-wide level.
2. What was the catalyst for you to start your own business specializing in this?
The catalyst was my layoff from The Breakers. If I had not been laid off, I might not have had the courage to leave the hotel. As the saying goes, “When a door closes, a window of opportunity opens.” That’s exactly what happened for me. When you lose something, it’s because the universe is making way for something better to come into your life.
3. What are some of the “blocking and tackling” rules of business etiquette that you could share with our audience?
A lot of people think that etiquette is just a bunch of fluff; however it’s a necessary skill needed to thrive in business today. I work with people who are technically brilliant, yet they are socially inept. My greatest obstacle is convincing them that etiquette is an essential business tool to help them be more comfortable and confident in business and social situations. My definition of etiquette is “the art of making people feel comfortable.” When my students realize that, then they are more receptive to what I have to say.
4. What are some new trends in business etiquette that may not have existed say 20 years ago? How did the internet impact these new trends?
The biggest trend is technology etiquette. It is changing rapidly. I see men and women constantly on their cell phones, self absorbed and unaware of their surroundings. It’s important to put people first and technology second. When you pay more attention to your electronic device, it makes others feel insignificant and ignored. This can cause huge problems in relationships.
We hide behind our computers and, as a result, are unable to communicate with others in social or business situations. A lot of people lack confidence and find it difficult to interact with real, live people. I teach my students how to network, engage in conversation, remember names, introduce themselves, and other critical social skills necessary to thrive in business.
5. If you could time travel back to the beginning of starting your business and have 15 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what would you tell yourself?
Wow. This is a great question. My biggest piece of advice would be, “Take care of yourself.” I worked so hard on my business in the early years that I neglected my health. I forgot to see my doctor for check-ups and in 2001, I was diagnosed with the early stages of cervical cancer. Fortunately, I am healthy now, but all of my stress and anxiety could have been avoided if I had taken better care of myself.
6. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
What comes to mind is “Do what you love and the money will follow.” When you work for yourself, it’s either feast or famine. There have been years that I’ve made a lot of money and other years where I could barely make ends meet. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, especially those who need to have a steady paycheck. Sometimes the money will come and other times it won’t. The key is to be patient and have a back-up plan in slow times. Don’t be afraid to get a part-time job in slow times or until your business gets off the ground. Give yourself at least five years to see if you can succeed before throwing in the towel.
7. Here at Biz Zealot, we always ask our interviewees the one piece of “takeaway advice” they have for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs. What takeaway advice would you give them?
Surround yourself with happy, positive people and people who are smarter than you. Find good mentors. Never stop learning. School is never out. The more you learn, the more you will earn. Ask good questions and learn as much as you can about your industry. And above all, be kind to people. If you’re kind, people will do whatever they can to help you succeed.