Your mother was right — manners are important. That’s as true in business as anywhere else in your life.

Business etiquette is essentially a matter of helping people feel comfortable and respected, says Kimberly Law, a certified image and etiquette professional and president of Vancouver-based Personal Impact International. As a bonus, good etiquette can give you a competitive advantage by establishing you as someone with whom people enjoy doing business.

Below are five tips to sharpen your manners:

1. Make a good first impression
When a client visits your office for the first time, stand up and come out from behind your desk to meet them, making eye contact and smiling. Introduce yourself, giving your first and last name, and shake hands using a grip that’s neither too soft nor too aggressive.

“Address the client as they introduced themselves,” Law says. “Don’t shorten their name without asking permission to do so.”

And be sure to turn off all electronic devices so you’re not disturbed during the meeting.

2. Don’t be a “card shark”
Wait to be asked before offering your business card, says Rosemary Smyth, president of Rosemary Smyth & Associates, a Victoria firm specializing in business coaching for financial advisors and managers.

“Some people hand out their cards automatically,” she says. “But it’s better manners to wait. And if someone requests your card, always return the favour.”

Take time to read every business card you receive, Smyth adds. Comment on something about it, such as the colour, the logo or the person’s address.

3. Be a good host
If you invite someone to a business meal, Law says, you should choose the restaurant. Ask if your guest has any food preferences, and pick a place that’s convenient for him or her.

Arrive at the restaurant first and wait, either in the lobby or at the table, but don’t touch anything until your guest arrives — not even your water. Stand to shake hands when your guest arrives and gesture them to the best seat.

The timing of your conversation is important, Law says. Make small talk when you first sit down. After ordering, lightly touch on the meeting subject but wait until after dessert to have a fuller discussion.”

Nothing — iPad, smartphone or notepad — should go on the table until everything but the cups has been removed.

And, as the host, make sure you pay for the meal.

4. Network without selling
The key to successful networking events, Law says, is to show consideration and sincerity without coming across as if you’re selling something.

“Networking is about building relationships, not selling,” she says. “Arrive with the right tools, the right attitude and a full stomach, so the buffet table isn’t your main focus. It’s difficult to shake hands when you’re juggling a drink and a plate of food.”

Smyth says it’s important to do your homework about the event: who will be there, who the speaker is, etc.

“That tells you how to dress,” she says. “Remember that your clothes are the first thing people see when they meet you and they’re a large part of the initial impression you make.”

Keep your focus on the person you’re talking with and encourage them to talk about themselves, Smyth says. Listen actively, smiling and nodding occasionally.

Also be aware of your body language. Don’t slouch or tap your foot. Maintain eye contact; if you constantly look away, you appear insincere or uninterested.

5. Show respect
Make a point of learning about the backgrounds and customs of your clients so you don’t make a cultural misstep.

It’s also important to respect people’s boundaries. Says Smyth: “If someone declines a drink or a particular food, don’t urge it on them. Always be sensitive toward differences.”