10 Tips to Look Great on a Budget for Female Entrepreneurs

03/18/2013 04:54 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2013

In Patti Stanger's book Become Your Own Matchmaker: 8 Easy Steps for Attracting Your Perfect Mate she's not understanding of folks operating on a budget. She tells her readers to get their butts to the salon anyway. While this advice is given to women looking for a mate, I believe Patti's intense wardrobe and self-care doctrine should be given for small business owners as well. Whether you are a man or a woman--if you work for yourself every time you go to a networking event you are representing your brand. Fortunately for some and unfortunately for others first impressions matter.

I moved to NY when I was 21, and I wasn't an entrepreneur yet but I was somewhat of a stereotype--small town girl in the big city. I was surrounded by stunning models, perfectly suited ibankers and La Mer covered PR mavens. It was humbling to say the least. Along the way of trying to come up with a look that worked for me I made many mistakes. I bought a lot of "fast fashion." I lost most of these clothes during moves from East Village to Bed Stuy to Greenpoint to Hell's Kitchen. Over time I figured out how to look the part without going into debt--and now that I'm an entrepreneur I use my own cost saving techniques without skimping on fashion.

Don't worry--I know you might feel stressed out--feeling like you could really use a gift certificate from Bloomingdales right now (and the last time you got one of those it was your Bat Mitzvah). Don't worry! Today we're going to get you suited up on a budget--a real budget.

1. Full priced is fool priced. At a certain point I realized "why should I pay full price for something when I can get it for less? The millionaire next door doesn't throw money at full priced goods just because they can afford it. They became a millionaire by keeping their costs manageable along the way. Nordstrom Rack, Loehmans, and designer clothes for less stores are an amazing resource. In the age of Ebay why pay full price if you don't have to? But beware, just because it's a Diane von Furstenberg dress doesn't mean you should buy it. No one cares if your tutu is designer--you might look a little too Swan Lake for a business networking event.

2. Make ONE thing pop. Big necklace, no earrings or big earrings, no necklace. You don't need to dress in head to toe designer clothes (that have the label on them in huge letters), bags and shoes--you just need to be presentable. Don't come off as "trying too hard" by overdoing it. Make one accessory stand out.

3. Don't buy shoes if you're hobbling around in them. While heels are sexy, there is nothing less sexy than watching a woman look like she's hobbling across the street on stilts. We don't want another Jennifer Lawrence Oscars situation.

4. Get your nails done, but don't get all the add-ons. It's important to look clean. You don't need to get the most expensive items on the menu, but make sure the nails are well kept. If you can't keep your nails up yourself I encourage you get a professional to do it.

5. Skip Forever 21. I am the first to admit I used to shop Forever 21 on my Friday lunch break to find the right top for a Friday night event. I believe most of these clothes were worn only once. I strongly encourage you to not buy fast fashion. Aside from the fact that you don't know how old the person was who made it, it's also really poor quality. Many times these clothes are also a little too sexy. When you go to a business networking event you don't want to walk away with a date. You want to look professional. That means nothing too short, no cleavage hanging out, and no obvious panty lines. You don't have to break the bank to get quality--remember Nordstrom Rack has amazing deals!


6. Make-up: less is more. If you ask men what they like, most of them will say women who don't wear a lot of make-up. We're so over-marketed to by the cosmetics companies we can over do it with the layers of product--we can look clownish. Light make-up is very pretty. If you want to make something standout, leave something else "unpainted." Dark eye shadow, light lipstick. Dark lipstick, light eye shadow. You get the idea.

7. Coach outlets. I do believe every person should have at least one nice bag and you don't need to break the bank to score one. Outlets such as Coach have wonderful deals on beautiful bags. I never buy a designer bag full-priced. As a side note, buy the leather cleaner so your bags last longer.

8. Go to the shoe cobbler instead of buying new shoes. While it's really important to look nice, you don't want to go into debt over a pair of shoes--I don't care what Carrie Bradshaw would have done. If you're thinking of buying a standard pair of black heels consider going to the cobbler to see if you can clean up an older pair. I am a frequent cobbler customer (mostly because I had a teething yorkie terrier who found her way into my closet) and it has saved me hundreds of dollars.

9. One versatile black blazer.
One very elegant blazer can add a professional seal on your outfit. Black blazers are incredibly versatile, and you can change up your look just by rolling the sleeves up just under the elbow. Pair a blazer with a pencil skirt, slacks or even a long shirt and yoga pants. Just make sure it's classy.

10. Ask for help. When I moved to New York I had no clue about make-up. I would wander through the department store--or Sephora--and I would ask the make-up artists a million questions. I would ask them to try different looks on me. I don't have a face that takes to make-up easily. Over the years I learned what is flattering and what is not. I consult with make-up professionals, estheticians, hairdressers, retail salespeople.... it's free advice--and they will tell you the truth unlike your friends.

Whatever you decide to do, know that underneath all of this you must feel good about who you are in your heart. No amount of fashion, make-up or jewelry can give you the confidence you have when you really love yourself.

But....the look can definitely put you in the right frame of mind!