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Young and in Charge

Young entrepreneurs can earn client trust and establish credibility.

This story appears in the December 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Even if you're a young college at the top of your game, you probably still need to persuade potential clients to look beyond your age and give you a chance. When your company deals with highly technical information or requires specialized knowledge, it can be that much harder to get potential customers to trust you.

When , 24, and his brother Lucas, 30, launched in 2004, they knew that was a vital element in building their payment processing company. Dan, who graduated in June, says he wanted to bring something new to the payment processing space--especially to serve small and midsize businesses. The brothers' strategy for earning credibility for their company was making payment processing more transparent for merchants so clients knew exactly what they were paying for. "We [also] disclose our costs and how much is going to us to do the actual processing," says Dan.

Researching the payment processing marketplace and how it could be improved were key to gaining their clients' trust. "If you know your stuff, you don't have to wear it on your chest," says Peter J. Burns III, chancellor of the College of at Southern States University. "[When] you're quietly confident, that speaks legions."

While gaining trust is never easy, Burns notes that because entrepreneurship has become so popular with young people in recent years, clients may be more accustomed to doing with younger business owners. "I believe the total framework for doing business with all ages is a lot easier today than it was before, but you still have to overcome the hurdles of people taking you seriously," he says. "Your performance [overcomes] their lack of trust in doing business with you."

To up your credibility quotient, Burns suggests networking with business leaders in your community and industry to learn and share knowledge. "You get into the mix and just sound smarter," he says. "You can accelerate your learning."

Dan goes into meetings knowing that often people are surprised by his age--but he goes in confidently, armed with knowledge of his industry. "Anytime you're trying to build trust with someone, the key is to be honest with them," says Dan, whose company expects sales of $5 million this year. "Normally there's a bit of hesitancy in the handshake, but within a minute or two, I'm able to create a rapport just by the honesty, openness and knowledge I've built in the industry."

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