Starting a business is no longer the sole province of business veterans and boomers.
Some of the world’s most exciting innovations and successful businesses — especially in the realms of technology and digital media, as well as emerging fields like clean energy — have come from the minds of young people. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be out of reach just because you don’t have decades of experience under your belt.
However, even for a young entrepreneur with a great idea, there will still be some challenges that seem daunting without relying on lived experience. Throughout my career, I always relied heavily on the wisdom of other people: friends, family, colleagues and successful business leaders I admired. Here are some pieces of advice I received along the way.
1. Age Is Just A Number
According to a recent report, 4% of small business owners are between the ages of 18 and 29, and 14% are aged 30 to 39. In fact, more and more millennials are starting businesses in pursuit of the flexible structures, freedom and work-life balance that can come along with being your own boss.
2. Lean On Your Strengths
Ideas can come from anywhere, not just your previous job experience. However, if you have previous experience and strengths, it is a good idea to put it to use.
For instance, when I was building my mortgage company, and then later my solar energy company, I focused on making them sales-driven organizations because that’s my strength. I used my sales background to identify lucrative opportunities and create a sales pipeline process to deliver results.
Sales is, of course, a useful skill in building a business, but you can parlay any background into an important asset for your business. If you’re a great writer, leverage that into creating compelling marketing content. If you have HR experience, put those skills to work by overseeing the creation of an amazing team. You may be embarking on a whole new career journey, but it’s always valuable to remember and water your roots.
3. Surround Yourself With Experts
Your business is your baby, and it can be tempting to want your hands in everything. But, if you want to grow your business, focus on that, and let others lead and thrive. Use your expertise to your advantage, but also know when to step aside and let experts in other areas take over.
And don’t forget about mentorship. You may be the CEO now, but you can always learn from others. Keep taking advantage of opportunities to learn, whether it’s through listening to podcasts from industry veterans or technology whiz kids, or even just connecting with your team and support systems to keep yourself grounded. Other perspectives are always valuable.
4. Be The Boss You Wish To See
Plenty of millennials start their businesses because they are ready to be their own boss or are dissatisfied with corporate America. Presumably, this is because they have had some negative experiences working for other people. Why, then, would they run their businesses in the same way that made them feel unfulfilled?
When I was coming up in the mortgage world I saw plenty of organizations that treated employees like cogs in a machine instead of people, and I knew for certain I did not want to be that kind of boss. So, from the beginning, I made it a priority to stay connected with my team with regular meetings and check-ins to ensure everyone felt comfortable with their responsibilities and opportunities to achieve. This is another area where mentorship is important, but this time you are providing guidance for others.
I’ve also found if you chew people up and spit them out in the name of growing your business, you won’t go nearly as far as you will nurturing them and giving them an opportunity to be part of something important. Young entrepreneurs have the opportunity to challenge the status quo of running a business and to create a workplace environment that provides opportunities for both individual and group advancement.
5. Don’t Let Limited Resources Keep You From Getting Started
Plenty of older entrepreneurs have the benefit of years of saving money, gathering business knowledge and building an influential network of connections to give them a leg up when they’re ready to go out on their own. Young entrepreneurs may not have those benefits, but that shouldn’t keep you from taking the plunge.
In fact, 69% of U.S. entrepreneurs start their businesses from home. One-third of small businesses start with less than $5,000, and 58% start with less than $25,000. Not everyone has the privilege of personal capital or family and friends they can lean on, but there are ways to do more with less and plenty of small business loans are available.
Using social media and word of mouth to spread awareness is a very low-cost marketing method, and incremental loans can help you expand gradually so you don’t get in over your head.
Entrepreneurship can be a trial by fire; one of the hardest things about starting a business is working without a safety net. But it’s also some of the most important lesson-learning you can do. After all, more than half of respondents to Small Business Trends’ survey question, “What is the best way to learn about entrepreneurship?” simply said, “Start a company.”
Young entrepreneurs don’t have to wait until they’re older or more experienced to start a thriving business. That said, you should always consider the insight of those who came before you. Entrepreneurship is a never-ending learning experience, and while you may not succeed the first time, you can’t succeed if you never start.