Yaneek Page | Help for young entrepreneur facing age discrimination
QUESTION: Good day, Yaneek. I need your advice on a huge problem I'm facing right now. I'm 23, a college graduate and I run a digital marketing business. I do content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimisation, as well as website planning and creation. I notice that when I pitch to potential clients, they are worried I'm too young to manage their account and run my own business. One man had the nerve to ask if I have a partner who's older. I'm pretty sure I lost out on at least three major contracts because of my age. How can I stop them from discriminating?
- College Grad
BUSINESSWISE: I understand your frustration. I started my first business at age 17 and also faced discrimination, especially when dealing with customers, employees, and suppliers. This was extremely demotivating.
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to reassure your prospects and diminish their concerns about your age. In fact, I'm going to share an idea about how you can use your age to your advantage.
The first thing you need to do is change your mindset and start thinking like your potential customers. You seem to be personalising the concerns about your youth and taking on the persona of helpless victim. Step back and look at all angles of the situation.
When you are pitching for new business, you are asking someone to take a chance with you. In some cases, you may be trying to displace an existing service provider who already has the advantage of a strong professional relationship with your prospect. You have a lot to prove and must be humble in receipt of feedback and eager to address any concern raised.
Reflect on the legitimacy of the concerns. They are trusting you with their brand and how they present, engage and sell online every day it is a huge ask. You should also know that there are virtually no barriers to entry in your field. Anyone can set up shop tomorrow and claim to be a digital marketing specialist.
It is only reasonable that your experience would be a factor, among other concerns.
Unfortunately, as a local consumer of this service, my experience is that several young people have made it harder for you by offering unprofessional and ineffective service. All things considered, any competent manager will need strong evidence of the following in order to hire you:
- That you are qualified and capable of effective execution.
- That you have a good reputation and a track record of past performance on which they can rely.
- That you run an organised business with the right leadership, governance, people, proper systems, procedures and infrastructure.
- That you pay attention to risk management, security and the confidentiality of their information.
- That the business is not 'fly by night' and will enjoy reasonable continuity and sustainability.
Once you start thinking like your customer, you need to communicate with them accordingly and strengthen your business infrastructure to deliver on your promises. Therefore, your new proposals should include a detailed profile of your company.
If you don't already have a board of directors, you may want to consider putting one together, or, at the very least, assembling an advisory board to demonstrate that you have basic governance structures in place. Ensure that the board is diverse in terms of age, gender, competencies and experience.
Prospective customers will be expecting to see your team's qualifications and track record of performance demonstrated in your company profile, so including short bios of your directors and key team members may lift your company image and build stakeholder confidence.
You will need to revise your sales pitch and how you present in a meeting. This is where you can use your youth to your advantage. Sales is more of an art than a science. You want to appear bright, energetic, and passionate; confident, but not boastful; assertive, but very respectful, and a keen listener.
You need to sell the characteristics typically ascribed to young entrepreneurs creative, technology-savvy and futuristic, hungry to succeed, highly optimistic and eager to innovate, in touch with the youth demographic, especially how they think and what they want.
The sales pitch is where you demonstrate your depth of understanding of the customer goals and challenges, and how you apply tactical and technical knowledge, imagination and your authentic brand to achieve specific outcomes.
You may want to go further and offer a no-commitment trial period, making it easier for them to say yes. Most important, when you win their confidence, ensure you exceed their expectations.
Finally, remember that all is not lost when you are rejected or lose a bid for a contract, once you ask your prospective customer what you could have done differently and use the experience as a lesson.