5 Steps to Be Taken Seriously As a Young Entrepreneur
Joshua Davidson wrote this article
This is an article that truly hits close to home for me.
When I began Chop Dawg, I was only sixteen years old and hadn’t even begun my junior year of high school yet (the 11th grade of school for those reading this who aren’t from the United States).
I remember the days of walking door-to-door in my home town, asking small businesses the opportunity to allow me to create for them a website. The entire first month that I began Chop Dawg, I was turned down over 100 times. Yes that is right; I kept count. It wasn’t until the very last shopping center that I talked to in my town that our first closed contract would be signed – or even acknowledged.
Being a young entrepreneur was rough at the start. Let’s face it, I was an overly excited kid with way too much hair. I couldn’t dress professionally, even if the clothes were laid out in front of me, and had a little to no track record to back myself up. To make matters worse, having a sales pitch nailed down at the beginning wasn’t even my forte either.
So how did I overcome this and end up making Chop Dawg what it is today?
1) Build a Portfolio
This is the most critical of the five steps that I am sharing with you. You need a backing, a calling card, proof that you can deliver as a first time entrepreneur to potential clients. Validation is key. You need to have a portfolio, a case study, an example of what it is that you are trying to sell that you have delivered in the past.
When I started Chop Dawg, I honestly used the fake it until you make it mentality. I had created multiple websites for my own personal benefit, for my own skillset, and knowledge growth. This ended up making the first portfolio that I would share with potential clients at the time. The thing is, I had all the confidence in the world because I honestly believed (and knew) that my stuff blew away the competition in my town. The end result? Ability to sign my first (few) clients and begin growing my business from there.
2) Build a Reputation
When you begin working with others, focus on maintaining the highest quality of customer service possible, create (or provide) the best product possible, and make sure to really learn your clients. I am not just talking about their businesses, learn about them. What do they like? What are they into? What are their passions? What can you learn from them?
When you do this, you are now building the start of your reputation. They will pass this along to their colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family and word will travel. Nothing is more powerful than word of mouth. We still use this today to bring in many of our new clients, using our existing client relationships. Hell, even the ones that aren’t referring us, we use them as a reference. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. However, you can’t just count on this. You need to over deliver to establish this trust, this relationship, and this reputation. Always go above and beyond for your clients.
3) Use the Networks of Others
Circling back from above, use the networks of your first customers to your advantage. Odds are, most entrepreneurs know other entrepreneurs. Most executives know other executives. Most sales people know others in sales. We all talk and network with one another, especially in the same verticals, when it comes to our industries. Odds are, that means they know your exact target audience, since you’re already working with them. Again, merging your reputation, portfolio, and track record with an existing customer – use this all to your benefit. Don’t forget too, name dropping people you have worked with that others would know is a huge advantage to being taken seriously.
Another shot of a young me (Joshua Davidson) back when I started Chop Dawg in 2009.
4) Dress the Part
I am not suggesting that you should be showing up to new customer meetings in a tuxedo, but don’t dress as many young individuals do. I made this mistake personally, and trust me, I probably left thousands of dollars on the table at a young age due to this costly mistake.
It is proven that when you dress well, people take you seriously, no matter how young or old that you are. I make it a point every day to always wear a button up and, at least, presentable clothing around that. Do the same. Dress how you would want people to treat you and to think of you. Show that you care about yourself as much as you care about your new business venture and your customers. First impressions are key and again, tie into all of the factors listed above.
5) Leverage Your Young Age to Your Advantage
This is honestly the most underrated aspect of being a young entrepreneur (which I miss) – people eat up a great story. Nothing was better than the free publicity that I used to get from colleagues, clients, and even the media about being a 16-18 year old entrepreneur with a thriving and growing business. People love this, because it is that classic underdog story; it is the story of someone doing something most people dream about doing. And above all, it makes a great story. Leverage this to your advantage for free advertising, free word of mouth, and free traction, which you cannot leverage later on life. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for some – use it.
Starting my company at such a young age was the greatest decision that I ever made. I never envisioned Chop Dawg to be the company that it is today, helping everyday entrepreneurs with technical ideas, and turning them into reality. With that mentioned, it was a blessing to go through a lot of the learning curves early on in life. And for those who are young and on the fence about starting, my suggestion for you is just to start. You’ll learn as you go, you will make mistakes, but most importantly, if you are a real entrepreneur, you will learn over time exactly what problems need solutions and how to monetize those solutions to turn your startup into a thriving company.