How to be taken seriously as a young small business owner
If anyone knows what it takes to be taken seriously as a business owner it’s teen entrepreneur and Freedom Scrub founder Ali Kitinas. She exploded into prominence in 2017, billed as one of Australia’s youngest CEOs. She was even mentored by billionaire Richard Branson, after being chosen for a mentoring program for other young entrepreneurs.
“I’ve always gotten a lot of weird looks being a young person in business. It’s tricky because I’d walk into an event aged 11 and 12 and get weird looks,” she recalls.
“When I walked into meetings with corporates, all they saw was a teenage girl and all of the prejudices that come with that.”
Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet when it comes to being taken seriously, Kitinas says. But there are some tips to speeding up the time it takes to earn respect.
1. Don’t let negativity get you down
Kitinas’ number one tip for young businesspeople is to not let the negativity get to you.
“Follow your heart, stay true to yourself and let them see for themselves what you can accomplish. At the end of the day if people don’t agree or support you, that’s their issue,” she says.
For example, when first starting out, Kitinas remembers going to networking events and people not giving her the time of day.
“One day my mum was actually asked: ‘Could you not find a babysitter to care for her?’ My mum just said to her, ‘Why don’t you go and have a conversation with my daughter, and then come back and tell me what you think?’,” recalls Kitinas, who now employs her mum as operations manager.
“The biggest way you can overcome the issue of not being taken seriously or not being respected in business is just to continue doing what you’re doing and show people the proof in the pudding.”
2. Seek advice
Kitinas’ next tip is: don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
“It can seem daunting because we are young and we want to be taken seriously, but it takes a lot of courage to look to someone for advice,” she says.
Kitinas admits this can be tricky because you don’t want to seem vulnerable or show that you have weakness.
“But I think there’s a lot more strength in asking for help than there is weakness. Not asking people for help when you really need it can be to the detriment to yourself personally and emotionally, and in business as well,” she says.
3. Don’t underestimate the power of your business
Kitinas’ third tip is to never underestimate the power that your business has to create a bigger impact socially.
“We’re starting to learn that businesses have probably one of the largest roles to play in making a positive impact in the world,” she says.
For example, the coffee grinds used in Freedom Scrub are ethically sourced through direct trade. And for every Freedom Scrub purchased, funds go towards providing health care and medical services for children living in the streets and slums of Kolkata, India.
“I think a lot can be said for people that do place those social values first. And I think that does gain a lot of respect,” she says.
4. Have a strong online game
AMR Hair & Beauty CEO Ammar Ahmad, 29, also started building his business empire when he was a still a teenager.
While the company boasted $24 million revenue in 2017, Ahmad says he struggled to even get a meeting with suppliers when he was establishing his business.
“They all thought I was too young. They’d ask ‘who’s backing you? Where’s the money going to come from?’,” Ahmad recalls.
As a result, Ahmad says the only way he could initially score a meeting with potential suppliers was by reaching out and building rapport over email, which he complemented with a strong online presence.
“Don’t show your face until it comes down to it. And then on the day of the meeting, you just have to convince them to place an order there and then,” Ahmad says.
5. Leverage your existing network
Once you’ve established yourself a little more in your industry, Ahmad recommends leveraging your network to open more doors.
“I networked with some of the biggest distributors – they were older, had been in the industry for a long time and were from different countries – so we weren’t in direct competition,” Ahmad recalls.
“I’d get them to put a word in for me and say, ‘hey, this guy’s really big in Australia. You’ll make a mistake if you don’t sell to him.’”
Ahmad says you don’t even have to do business with these contacts – a simple friendship is all it takes.
“But you can’t ask them for it straight away – you’ve got to build up a relationship where you’re also helping them,” he says.
Remember, age is just a number
At the end of the day, age is just a number, says Kitinas.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are 12 or 20 or 60 or 80 – it’s never too early or late to start anything that you’re passionate about, whether that’s business or studying or some other career path,” she says.
“And if there is anyone trying to stop you from achieving your dreams because of your age, that’s where the problem lies. The problem doesn’t lie with you.”
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