When Ryan Smith and Mike Fridgen founded Seattle-based International Student Tours last January, they had no idea their ages would be a major hurdle. In those early days, credibility was a big problem for Smith, 24, and Fridgen, 22. The partners, along with their staff of 35 (all aged 25 or younger), provide escorted spring break and graduation trips to Mexico and Hawaii for high school and college students in the Northwest.
"In Mexico, we would meet with hotel managers to set up contracts and weren't taken seriously," says Fridgen, the company's president. "We ended up bringing in an older advisor to participate in the negotiations with us."
While youthful business owners are par for the course in the high-tech industry, young entrepreneurs in other industries often face age-related problems ranging from credibility to getting carded in front of customers.
Avoiding these problems requires projecting the proper image, says Dianna Pfaff-Martin, founder and president of California Image Advisors, a Newport Beach, California, image, training and development company. "Now that you're the president of a company, you are perceived as successful," she says.
That means acting like a successful person. "Successful people know they bring value to a company and have a strong sense of self," says Pfaff-Martin. They are deliberate, logical and direct when discussing how their product or service can make a difference.
Successful people prepare ahead of time, continues Pfaff-Martin. "If they are going to entertain at a restaurant, for example, they'll visit in advance, introduce themselves and say upfront, `I'm a young entrepreneur entertaining business clients and I'm frequently carded. I'd like to show you my driver's license now to avoid potential embarrassment [later].' "
Your body language can also lead to problems, says Pfaff-Martin. Here's how:
- Clenching your hands advertises your nervousness.
- Sitting arrow-straight with both feet on the floor makes you appear nervous and makes others uncomfortable.
- Using flailing hand gestures or talking in a high-pitched, rapid-fire voice displays a lack of confidence.
Fine-tuning your image and appearing successful to prospects will help you win new clients, says Pfaff-Martin--and can help demolish age-related roadblocks.