Everyone knows being an entrepreneur is tough, but it’s even tougher to start-up when you’re a young entrepreneur.
Credibility is key to growing your company, whether it’s with potential customers, employees, suppliers, or investors.
Fortunately, there are ways to establish yourself as a credible expert in your industry, no matter your age.
Today I’ve asked Shreyas Tallamraju to show us exactly how it’s Done.
Shreyas is an entrepreneur, investor, and youth entrepreneurial advocate. He built 2 profitable ventures before turning 18; including building and running a tech consultancy company that employs 50+ contractors and holds $1.1 million in contracts.
Take it away Shreyas!
I built a successful IT consultancy when I was 15 years old, growing it to 50+ employees and $1M+ revenue.
I had to deal with expert IT professionals and large, bureaucratic companies that would not do business with me unless I could demonstrate the following:
- I was legitimate
- I would deliver.
Here’s the techniques and tips I used to build credibility in my industry (IT/Software) and successfully get clients to buy my products, investors to give me money, and, most importantly, employees to work for me.
As a young entrepreneur, here are 7 ways to build credibility:
#1. Display Extensive Industry Expertise
There is absolutely no way around this – the most important way to build credibility is to have the knowledge necessary to intelligently converse with anyone in your industry.
There is no shortcut—customers and colleagues won’t cut you slack because you’re younger than they are. In fact, you may have to go a little above the ‘average’ expertise to compensate any hesitation that is derived from your young age (more about that on #3).
The key is that you always know what you are talking about when you are pitching for more business or hiring. You should know every single piece of jargon in your industry.
For the IT industry, for example, a commonly used term is ‘RCA’, which stands for ‘root cause analysis’. Despite the fact that most people can guess what ‘root cause analysis’ means, I knew what I was supposed to talk about when a customer asked for a ‘RCA’.
Bottom line is, there’s only two true ways you can be credible—to have expertise and to be ingrained in the culture of your industry. You can BS in the beginning if you want, but that will inevitably lead to not delivering (#2), and losing your reputation.
#2. Always Deliver
The biggest problem that other key players in the industry (customers, employees, investors) see when doing business with a young entrepreneur is the risk. They don’t know if you’re going to deliver the results as well as a dependable adult, or if you’ll slack off and lose focus (which are qualities that are perfectly normal to have when young).
The only way you combat this is to make a pledge right now. Go on, raise your right hand, and repeat after me:
I will always deliver.
That is a mantra that you should remember forever. Starting from the first time you ever make a deal, always keep your promises, and deliver. Build a reputation that screams, “I am dependable and you can count on me!”
This means that if you make a deal with a customer to deliver, always send something back within an agreed time frame. Even if you’re not finished or you are behind a set schedule, send a progress report. It could be code if your developing an app or website. It could be a photo of a prototype.
Never go into any meeting or deal empty-handed.
#3. Always Deliver 120%
Now, you always deliver, but to truly build credibility, your work/product needs to be excellent. As in, not just finishing the job given, but delivering exceptionally excellent results.
As a young entrepreneur, you send addition signals of risk to older customers or co-workers. In my experience, people actually hire other expensive IT companies who charged 120% of what I did, just because they thought I was a risk to hire.
Thus, you need to mitigate this risk by delivering not 100%, but 120% of the value you are paid for. I realized that my customers were paying a 20% premium for reliability, so I would provide work that was 20% better than everyone else to justify them hiring me.
If you want to seriously compete with companies that are several times larger and filled with dependable, experience workers, you need to completely out-compete them to win.
The best way to do this is to always deliver 120%.
#4. Leverage Prestigious Authorities
I like this strategy a lot more than the previous ones, and it’s because this is the best way to build credibility without working harder than you already are (at least, in the traditional sense).
Prestige is largely an association game—people will look at brands and other people you associate with, and judge you accordingly. Whether this is unfair or not, this is what happens in the real world.
Thus, you, as a young entrepreneur, need to find credible and eminent domain experts who you can meet with and associate publicly.
I used this strategy to great effect—I once scheduled to speak at an IT industry conference. I knew that my young age (I was 16 at the time) would dilute the credibility of my words, so I had a well liked and respected peer in the IT industry (who happened to be 54 years old) introduce me before I gave my presentation.
This prestigious association immediately made a difference—my company grew nearly 70% in revenue in the one month following alone.
Because a young entrepreneur starts out with little prestige, this association with experience mentors and references can change your perception in the industry by leaps and bounds.
Your end goal is to be the prestigious person that would introduce less-known peers. This is when you know you have truly built credibility.
#5. Be Humble
Yes, you’re a young entrepreneur. While many others your age still study for exams and a chance to someday impress a HR representative, you’ve gone out into the unknown and are trying to do what others would only dream of. Good for you.
The issue is that many of the people you deal with are not like you. They are hard-working employees, thrifty investors, and hip consumers.
They don’t care about your accomplishments of ‘escaping the rat-race’ of Corporate America. They don’t care that your 18 and started your own profitable company that makes more in a month than they do in a year.
In the end, bragging about being a young entrepreneur, or having an air of conceit because of your entrepreneurialism, will turn off almost every investor, customer, and employee you meet.
You absolutely must have an air of absolute humbleness and be willing to learn from anyone around you, even your employees, if you are to succeed as a young entrepreneur.
Even if you think that you know exactly what you’re doing (which you do, according to #1), I’ve found it helpful to actually ask questions to my older employees and customers to build a reputation as someone who is willing to learn from others.
People will be jealous of young entrepreneurs no matter if the company succeeds or fails—it takes a lot of guts to go out there and do your own thing. Just make sure that you remain humble and willing to learn the whole time.
#6. Have Silent Confidence
At the same time, avoid fake humility like the plague. When you know something, and everyone else know you know it, pretending that you need help because you’re young will win you nothing—indeed, it could actually turn potential customers/investors off.
Since it’s granted that you are a domain expert, you should have an aura of silent confidence no matter what the circumstances are. This is a natural quality of all leaders, and young entrepreneurs are no different.
This is especially important for a young entrepreneur’s relationship with their employees. Since employees of young entrepreneurs tend to be of a similar or older age than the CEO, it is incredibly important to show everyone that the leader is in control of the situation, and seems to know what to do.
The key word is ‘seems’—ask any entrepreneur (young or old) and they will tell you that there are times in which there is no right answer or one could not possibly know the correct decision, and that’s OK.
You may not have the answers to every decision, but you have to seem like you are always in control. The slightest inkling of panic from you will be compounded by the fact that you are young to others, and you’ll be left with a dead business before you know it.
#7. Be Authentic and Don’t Fake
I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen too many fellow young entrepreneurs who have no idea that the three business courses they took online have made their pitches to me look like a Dilbert comic strip, or an unfunny parody of modern office politics.
You are a young entrepreneur, but you won’t gain credibility by simply acting like an older one.
People won’t believe that you are serious if you speak exclusively in business-speak (words like ‘synergy’ and ‘workplace positivity’ come to mind) to them. You’ll simply look like you ‘playing’ entrepreneur, instead of actually owning a company. In the end, you aren’t really selling just a product.
You’re selling your brand and your story. Present yourself as an authentic and serious person who is an entrepreneur who happens to be young.
Follow the 7 tips I’ve discussed above and customers, investors, and employees will begin to take you seriously. You’ll be treated not as a cool news story piece, or a novelty, but a serious businessman/woman who is looking to build a real business.
Remember, it’s not about being a young entrepreneur. It’s about being a successful one.