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Is Age a Barrier or a Boost?

How to use your status as a teen entrepreneur to your advantage

(YoungBiz.com) - Sometimes, one of the most difficult parts about being young is getting people older than you to take you seriously. And since most people are older than you when you're a teenager, that's a lot of people.

It's frustrating--sometimes downright annoying--when the people in question are your older siblings or parents. But imagine if it were a customer.

That's what happened to K-K Gregory, the inventor of Wristies, a fleece warmer that's worn between the coat sleeves and gloves to keep the snow out. Even though she incorporated her Bedford, Massachusetts, business and trademarked her product, Gregory says some of her customers still didn't take her seriously. "People just couldn't believe someone my age could own a business," she says.

One incident in particular stands out in her mind. Upon being introduced to Gregory, one adult businessperson exclaimed, "Oh, look! How cute!"

Gregory, now 18, felt the remarks were not only condescending, but unfounded. She was right--and she's got the business success to prove it. Her Wristies have received the annual Apex Award for Design Excellence from Malden Mills--and they're sold in retail outlets all over the country.

The Exception, Not the Rule
Fortunately, 'treps like 18-year-old Joe Mellin, owner of Joe's Original Garlic Dill Pickle Co. in San Anselmo, California, report that incidents like the one Gregory experienced are not the norm. "I think people enjoy helping teens out," he says. "That's one of the major advantages of being young."

In fact, some customers may prefer teen business owners to their adult counterparts. That's the case for Melissa Sconyers, the 18-year-old owner of Ativity.com, a Web design company in Austin, Texas. Her knowledge and design skills are in demand because she brings the teen perspective to clients who want to reach the youth market.

Obstacles to Overcome
When it comes to the legal side of business, age-related obstacles are a reality for teens. That was the case for David Liu, 16, and his partners, Wei-Cheng Hsu, 17, and Wenche Gao, 18, when they tried to open a bank account for their Web site design company, Ink21 Design Studios, based in San Ramon Valley, California. At the time, all three teens were under 18. "Every bank we tried to open an account at required that one of us be 18," Liu explains.

Liu, Hsu and Gao decided to turn to their mentor, Joe Donahue. Donahue's established relationship with the bank worked to their advantage, and the trio was finally able to open an account.

Creativity Counts
Daniel Anstandig learned that, for teens in business, a little creativity goes a long way. His Internet radio station, www.internetradiodaer.com, attracts 1.2 million listeners every month. That's the good news. On the flip side, the Beachwood, Ohio, teen requires an attorney's services to protect his business.

Faced with that costly obstacle, Anstandig combed through the business contacts he had made. His networking abilities paid off when he found an attorney who donated his services. Anstandig, 18, reflects: "If I had started this business at age 30, I don't think I would have been able to rally this kind of support."

That's Business!
Business owners of any age face obstacles--it's just part of doing business. But those who are successful in business learn to work with whatever comes their way. Here are some suggestions from successful 'treps on how to overcome age barriers:

  • Be dependable. Always be on time for your appointments and deliveries.
  • Wow them. For starters, offer a written guarantee for the quality of your goods or services. Then, back it up with good customer service that goes above and beyond what they expect.
  • Be professional. Dress professionally, make sure your voice-mail message is business-like, and always be prompt in returning calls and e-mails.
  • Strut your stuff. Have some professional business cards and stationery designed for your company.
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