Millennials have been dubbed the “entrepreneur generation” — and rightfully so. More and more young people are forgoing a traditional corporate career and setting out on their own to build the next great company, and many are starting out right here in Philadelphia.
Even with the odds of success stacked against them, hard-working young people press on to pursue their vision and embark on the journey of turning an innovative idea into a thriving business. Sounds simple, but of course, starting a business from the ground up is easier said than done, and with any new venture comes challenges.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when successful entrepreneurs offer advice and mentorship to those just starting out, they often focus on a few key issues — depleting capital, slow sales, limited brand awareness and competition, to name a few. These are all valid and common challenges, however, there’s another that is rarely shared with young leaders, and the one that I believe is most difficult to overcome, and that’s earning respect.
Young entrepreneurs, in particular, often face difficulties earning the respect and trust of the business community, customers and even folks looking to join their team. People are often quick to associate a young face with inexperience. It’s a stigma that young entrepreneurs will surely encounter, and one that I’ve had to learn to overcome first-hand.
I started Medical Guardian — a 21st-century medical alert service for seniors — from my Center City apartment when I was 25 years old, and it wasn’t long before my age got in the way of my vision. I want to share what I’ve experienced to help young entrepreneurs better prepare for the challenges ahead. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to earning the respect and trust of others, but there are ways for young leaders to build the framework early on to help them overcome skepticism and establish themselves as trustworthy, capable leaders. Here’s how:
1. Know the customer
If young entrepreneurs want their customers to trust them, they must first focus on cultivating relationships with the individuals that they want to use their product or service.
When I first started Medical Guardian, I spent countless hours on the phone with aging seniors and their worried adult children, and made the first 2,500 sales completely on my own. Logging hours on the phone everyday provided me with a deep and personal understanding of our customer base, which allowed me to develop medical alert solutions to meet their specific needs.
When you understand your customer, every decision you make can be predicated on their wants and needs. This creates a mutual understanding and trust between a business and its customers.
2. Lead by example
Don’t just delegate tasks, execute them alongside employees to demonstrate expertise.
Young entrepreneurs need to show employees that they know what they’re doing if they want to earn respect and trust. It’s not enough to have a great idea — the idea must be a 24/7 mission and instead of automatically wanting to outsource, good leaders need to get down in the trenches.
It took some time for older employees to trust me and my vision for Medical Guardian. But since I had been in their shoes when I was a one man operation, they knew I had the experience to back up my vision. Young entrepreneurs must practice what they preach and understand every aspect of their business.
3. Challenge the status quo
Young entrepreneurs frequently face many doubts from older business leaders, especially at industry events and conferences. But it often takes a fresh perspective and a younger mind to recognize new business opportunities or revitalize a stagnant industry. Don’t be scared to push boundaries.
The medical alert industry had not fully expanded into the digital marketing landscape by the mid-2000s, creating an opportunity for me to breathe new life into the market. My vision was to move away from fear-based marketing tactics, and offer services and technologies that help seniors age in place and obtain a more active lifestyle. It was exactly what the industry needed, and what customers wanted. When young leaders successfully challenge the status quo, it’s hard for competitors and the business community to ignore their thought leadership.
Earning the respect of others doesn’t happen overnight. Young entrepreneurs need to follow their passion and build their business from the bottom up to earn the respect and trust they deserve. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be quick, but it can be done, if they’re prepared for the challenges ahead and the adversity they’re bound to face as a young leader.-30-
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