One of the hardest parts about being a young entrepreneur is actually just being young. An enormous challenge I’ve had to tackle over and over since I started my first serious business during college is getting people older than me to believe in my vision, my capability, and the value I claim to deliver – collectively known as one’s credibility. This challenge is compounded by the fact that I look 3 years younger than I actually am (a trait I will no doubt relish when I’m 60!).
Society teaches people to associate age with experience, and experience with competence. This expectation by default surmises that if we are young, we are inexperienced, and therefore not likely to be competent (and often this is true). In just about every household around the world, parents raise their children, as we see it in nature. In South Africa, almost all cultural tribes are guided by their council of so-called “elders”. In western high schools, there’s a social pecking order based on your class year (I’d bet your high school bully was older than you).
This is a pretty high barrier to entry for any young entrepreneur. Society expects you to be less capable than you believe yourself to be. But any inspired young entrepreneur would fervently argue that they have more than what it takes to compete and excel with older counterparts. After all, the world is changing fast and you can adapt quicker than anyone; you are more adept with modern technology than any other educated generation because you grew up with it; you have a rare mix of traditional education and street savvy to make next-gen businesses relevant; you have fewer life commitments and therefore are more willing to take strategic risks. As a young entrepreneur you have a choice today: do you want to fall prey to society’s false expectations until deemed old enough to be brilliant, or do you want to fast track your career?
Consider a time when you’re building yourself a championship-winning team. John C Maxwell is one of the best team-builders in the world, and he’ll tell you emphatically that a great business exists only atop the foundation of a great team. A business owner must surround themselves with the best people they can find. Sometimes that will mean attracting recruits who are older than you. Sometimes they’re old enough to be your parent. Don’t ever assume that giving someone a paycheck buys their faith in your leadership. If your own team does not take you seriously, you have a business with front wheels driving and back wheels braking.
Looking outwardly, chances are that there are hundreds of other businesses offering what you’re offering to your target market. Corporate clients and consumers have their pick of options. Don’t let your age be the reason they don’t choose you. Some businesses don’t require that you as CEO interact directly with customers and clients (eg. e-commerce stores), but many businesses do.
Here’s how to overpower people’s false expectation:
1. Promise yourself to never allow other people’s false expectations of you to influence your reality.
2. Deeply believe in the value that you and your organization have to offer – to both employees and customers. Be postured around that.
3. Express your passion every chance you get.
Passion is contagious and will help override the so-called “logic” of age vs. experience.
4. Beat skeptics to the punch.
Address concerns or objections before they’re expressed. Prepare an “elevator pitch” that starts with, “You may think that we’re very green”, then focuses on details like your team’s collective experience, how long the business has been operating despite the economy and your past achievements.
5. Let your work sell itself.
Deliver work that you’re proud of and show it off. Apple’s products are a good example of products that sell themselves.
6. Let people invest in you personally.
Take time to have meaningful conversations with people and share your ideologies.
7. Ask for customer referrals.
Someone who you have demonstrated value to is a powerful champion of your credibility.
8. Be willing to learn.
Remember, you’re fast-tracking your career and experience does not need to be directly related to age, so absorb everything you can.
And finally, remember that age is nothing but a number. Do you have any tips?
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