Q: How do I appear professional and get taken seriously?
A: This is a concern of nearly every young entrepreneur out there. Many people still believe that MBA grads or corporate execs are the only ones whose opinions count, even thought teenagers are now more and more often the ones telling the success stories.
Hopefully, that stereotype will change as people become more aware of teens in business, but until then you will still face the challenge of demonstrating that you're credible, in spite of your age. So how do you do this?
Before you do anything, consider your attitude. In other words, think of your youth as an asset. You have a fresh, new way of thinking that has not yet been tainted by formal training or "traditional" methodology. You have an energy that allows you to come up with innovative ideas and unique solutions to problems. And you have a perspective that may be vital to clients who are trying to reach--but can't understand--the teen market. You have all this working for you, and if you believe this, they will believe in you.
Once you have your attitude in place, you are ready to meet potential clients. If you meet with them in person, it is important to dress professionally and act the part to blend into the crowd. Come equipped with business cards and a briefcase, and avoid talking about certain topics, such as school, your parents or your favorite TV show. If you do not yet feel comfortable with face-to-face meetings, limit contact to e-mails or telephone communication. You can worry about in-person contact later.
As you start out, consider offering special discounts for first-time customers or other financial incentives to try your services. This will give clients a chance to test out your skills and find out that you really do know what you're talking about. Once you have established your credibility, any financial sacrifices you made at the beginning will be made up for in the form of repeat business.
From there, getting clients will start to come naturally. Satisfied clients will breed additional satisfied clients--word-of-mouth will create a buzz about you, and before long any trepidation about your age will be replaced by a genuine respect for you and your offerings.
Just keep in mind that you do not always need a degree or a lifetime of experience to be successful. Tom Monaghan--who purchased a pizza store at age 19 that later became Domino's Pizza--and Michael Dell--who started out by selling PCs from his university dorm room--would probably agree.