How young entrepreneurs can influence how they are perceived

Twenty three year-old Andrew Pallett, director of online retailer Urban Alpha, explains how young entrepreneurs can influence how they are perceived.

As a young entrepreneur, one of the biggest obstacles you face is actually your own doing – namely a lack of experience. Who would you rather work with, a 20 year-old kid who has never had a full-time job, let alone ran a successful company, or a 35 year-old with ten good years of experience and contacts? Yes, you could successfully argue that youth brings a fresh perspective and has led to some groundbreaking innovations, but that is more often than not the exception rather than the rule.

So, if you’re a young entrepreneur eager to get out there and show the world you are worth noticing, what can you do to make up for your inherent disadvantages? In early 2011, I was at the stage with my e-commerce start-up where I had the plan and the finance in place and the website ready to be built, but I wanted to make sure the brands were at least interested in what I was doing before fully committing. As I was going into a business environment to essentially ‘sell’ the concept of my business, I thought I should dress accordingly.

When the morning of my meeting rolled around, I was suited up, made sure my shoes were shiny, gathered all my notes and set off. But when I got to my appointment, I was amazed to find that everyone was relaxing in jeans, trainers and t-shirts! It threw me a little, but the discussion went great, the brand liked where I was going and was more than happy to work with me.

A couple of weeks later, I had some big meetings with brands down in London to see if they would be interested in my website. Up to this point, I had only been to London once before so I had no idea what to expect. I figured that London would be a much more relaxed place, as I’d heard about the amount of ‘creative types’ who flock there, so I dressed extremely casually: shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses, and jumped on the train.

Travelling from Manchester to London is about 2½ hours on the train, so when I got inside and had told the receptionist I was here for a meeting, I asked if I could go to the toilet quickly before I was shown in. As I was trying to find my way, I noticed that everyone was dressed as though they had just stepped off a catwalk!

After a few minutes of wandering round, I was stopped in my tracks by a gentleman whose first words to me were ‘Young man, if you wish to have a successful career here I suggest you start to dress accordingly’. I apologised and explained that I was here to look at the new season’s styles as a buyer, told him a little bit about myself and that I was lost looking for the toilets before my meeting. He found it so funny that he sat through the meeting with me, and because I felt much more comfortable in myself, managed to negotiate quite a nice discount on my first order.

You may be wondering how this all relates to my original point. Well, the way I see it, it’s quite simple – just do whatever you have to so that you feel comfortable in a given situation. I know full well that not everyone is going to agree with me, and I am definitely not suggesting you do what I did, but think of it this way – as a young entrepreneur, people have to buy into you as much as they do your business. If you don’t feel comfortable, you won’t be confident, and it could make the difference between success and failure. Make sure you don’t let it.

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Young Entrepreneurs

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