Your mother always told you not to judge a book by its cover, but in the world of small business, first impressions are crucial. Regardless of the type of practice you own, a patient’s opinion of your business begins the moment he or she walks through the front door. (For tips on getting more patients through the door in the first place, be sure to download our free marketing e-book.) The more welcoming the space, the better your chances of building a positive client experience right from the get-go. Here are five tips for creating an inviting reception area in your small business:

reception1. Offer a friendly greeting to each customer. One of the simplest ways to make people feel welcome is to verbally acknowledge them as they arrive. As this Smart Company article suggests, the front office staff member in charge of receiving clients should be a bit of a social butterfly with a naturally outgoing, friendly, and helpful personality.

2. Keep your entryway clean and clutter-free. Visible grime is a universal customer turn-off — it suggests that you and your staff are lazy, disorganized, and inattentive to detail. There should be an, obvious path to your “landing area”—be it a front desk, a podium, or a main product display. Even if you’ve set up shop in an older building, you can create a feeling of freshness with new paint, flooring, furniture, and light fixtures. If you put up signs, make sure the wording is clear and positive (“We’re happy to help you when you’re finished with your phone call” instead of “No cell phones at front desk”).

3. Provide appropriate lighting. There are a lot of lighting options out there, and the light sources you choose to incorporate in your clinic largely depend on what kind of mood you’re after. Soft, bright light gives people a sense of calm and increases the appeal of items on display. Low, warm light emits a “homey” quality and can add to the atmosphere and charm of your practice if you’re going for more of a family vibe. However, lighting that looks and feels artificial—think fluorescent bulbs—often comes off as harsh, cold, and industrial, and generally does not work well in a reception setting.

4. Incorporate memorable details. Lots of reception areas have water coolers; set your business apart by offering something fun and different—a carafe of fruit-infused water, for example. Follow the advice of this Optometric Management piece and establish a few points of visual interest—fresh flowers, a well-maintained fish aquarium, or a tasteful piece of art. If you provide reading material in your waiting area, consider the interests of your clientele. Do you run a sports rehab center? If so, your clients are probably more interested in Sports Illustrated than Architectural Digest.

5. Use décor to add personality. Fashion is a means of personal expression; think of décor as a means of expression for your clinic—a way to reinforce your brand identity. This definitely is an area where you can get creative, but it helps to have some kind of focused concept. Too many clashing elements will overwhelm the senses and give off an air of chaos. If you’re a little clueless in the design department, consider consulting with an interior designer or reading up on basic design principles.

Well, there you have it—five ways to spruce up your clinic’s reception area and create a first impression so memorable, it will linger in patients’ minds long after they walk out the door. Have you tried any of these tips in your rehab therapy clinic? What other advice do you have? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.