I started my business at the whopping age of 22. I was newly married, paying rent in the most expensive city in Tennessee, dealing with a huge car payment + plenty of student loan debt, and had virtually zero savings.
Sounds like the perfect time to start a business, right? LOL NO.
The truth is it will probably NEVER feel like the perfect time to quit your day job and pursue your dream career. Being young has its own problems to consider, but being older does too. I get asked often what advice I would give to those who are young (maybe even VERY young), but want to pursue entrepreneurship. Here’s what I can offer!
Here's the Instagram post that inspired so many wonderful questions from all of you that prompted me to (eventually) write this post!
"You should choose a career that is more stable." -That's what my high school guidance counselor told me when I shared my dream of starting a business. ☹️ When I was in high school, I was never bold enough to tell people what I really wanted to do when I "grew up". I stuck to the status quo (gotta fit in right?), and I would say I wanted the same job that every other girl at my school said. . In college, I found my passion in graphic design and started dreaming again about doing my own thing. But, my pessimistic mind told me that would have to be at least 5-10 years AFTER college. (Gotta love the way our own thoughts can defeat us, right?!) 😏 . So, I got a stable job at an advertising agency. But, I didn't love it, and that dream was still knocking. I decided to listen. Even though I felt TOO young, TOO inexperienced, and TOO poor, I did it anyway. It was not easy. It required so much hard work and faith. But, it was beyond worth it. . Now, I do work that I love. I am confident going after dreams and new ideas. I make 3+ times what I did at the "stable" job. And, I have fun. SO MUCH FUN. Because following a dream is always worth it. 🎉😉 What's holding you back from going for that big dream today?
Practical advice for starting a business when you’re young:
Be ok with starting small.
One of the first 3 branding projects I completed was done for free and for the other 2 I was paid less than 50% of what I charge now. And, that’s OK! I actually believe that’s how it should be. I’ll save my issues with the “charge what you’re worth” mentality for another day, but know that you have to start somewhere. Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Although doing work for free might feel like an unfair exchange, you ARE getting something in return. You do the free work (or for little money) to learn, receive feedback, and add to your portfolio. It’s very good to exchange for someone who is just starting out! Seek out opportunities that will allow you to gain valuable experience.
Don’t advertise your age.
I’m NOT saying you should lie about your age. Don’t do that! But, there’s no reason for you to plaster it on your website or social media either. Years ago as a college student, I worked with a lot of real paying clients who never knew I was still in college. And guess what? It didn’t even matter. I was appealing to them because of my portfolio, recommendations from other business owners that they trusted, and not gonna lie, they probably loved my low rates at the time too! I provided the work they needed and was professional, all was well and age didn’t matter. I charged what their budgets allowed, and in exchange, I was able to grow as a designer and gain some pretty sweet portfolio pieces.
If you don’t believe in your skills, then keep learning and practicing until you do.
I think some of the skills that it takes to run a successful business are inherent, but I believe that most of them can be learned. You have to want to learn though! In most fields today, you have to be a forever learner. Your time in education isn’t finished when you got your degree or take that online course. Acknowledge that you should always be learning (no matter how talented you are) and seek out ways to learn! Learning new skills for running your business does not have to be expensive. In fact, I believe that some of my most valuable learning experiences so far have been from podcast, which are FREE!
Here are 3 free ways you can learn:
- Podcasts: Find some of my top recommendations here and here. I listen to podcasts anytime I’m driving alone, working out, on a walk, doing laundry, etc. I am able to learn SO much while doing a task I was already going to have to do.
- Webinars/Live Trainings: Most of these are free because they often have the purpose of making a sale (YAY!). Look for webinars on a topic you want to dive deeper into, chances are you’ll be able to find something amazing for free!
- Local Business Meet-ups: Organizations such as The Rising Tide Society host free meetups each month to help educate entrepreneurs and allow you to network with fellow business people.
So what do you do when a client asks you how old you are? Or how much experience you have?
Potential clients are only going to be as confident in you as you are in yourself. It’s been a while since a client has asked me my age, but early on it did happen occasionally.
Don’t hide away and timidly say “I’m only 20, but… I really think I could help you… and ….”
NOPE. If you believe in yourself and the value you can provide your customer, then sell actively.
The conversations could go something like this:
Potential Client: “To be honest, we are hesitant to hire you because you’re so young.”
You: “Thanks for being open with me about that! Yes, I’m 20 years old, but I can assure you I have the skills needed to complete this project for you. I also believe hiring a younger designer, like myself, will help you reach the millennial target audience you hope to attract.”
Or like this:
Potential Client: “Where did you go to college and when did you graduate?”
You: “I studied graphic design at X University, and graduated in X. While I was in college, I worked part-time doing projects for a variety of clients such as X, Y, Z, and since then I’ve been doing X. So, although I’m a recent grad, I did plenty of paid projects while in college.”
See, confidence wins!
Define what success means to you.
If you don’t define what success means, then all the bombarding messages of our world will define it for you. And a little advice, your definition of success does NOT need to be strictly based on your financial earnings. Define what success means to you on every level. What does a successful work day include? What does a successful project look like?
Get Ready to Evolve
Our minds want us to think that because we haven’t done something yet, that means we can’t do it.
For example, our minds lead us to think things like “I can’t start a business on my own because I’ve never done that before.” Or, “I’ll never be able to be as good at this as her because I don’t know how.” What if as a baby you had just decided “I’m not going to walk because I’ve never done that before.” There would be NO moving forward!
If you’re seeking a result you've never had before it's going to require you to do something that you've never done before.
We are drawn towards what is predictable (what we’ve already done) because it keeps us safe. But to evolve and really get what you want, you’ve got to do what’s scary.
When you have a self-defeating thought, ask yourself, does that thought come from my past or my possibility?
I have a writing exercise that I HIGHLY recommend you try out. This is taken from my favorite podcast, The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo. Click here to listen to the full podcast episode.
Step 1: Write a letter to yourself 5 years ago from yourself right now. (So, for example, for me this would be writing a letter to my 20-year-old self.) Write what you would want to say to yourself then if you could send yourself a message back in time. Is there a struggle you were going through that you would encourage yourself would all work out? What would you say? And what would it be like to have read that message 5 years ago? This will show you how much you’ve grown!
Step 2: Now, consider your dream self five years from now. What is your job like? Where do you live? What are your priorities? Identify what your future self would say to you right now. Write that letter. (So, for example, for me this would be writing a letter from my 30-year-old self to my 25-year-old self.) What have you accomplished? What big issues weren’t so big after all?
We can’t see the path in advance that we will go on to get to our dreams. But, we can learn from our future selves in order to grow. Here’s an excerpt from Brooke Castillo about this idea:
“So many of us don't want to believe in our dreams because we have to understand the exact path to get there. And what our future looks like for most of us is we pin it on the map and we know where we are and we don't know how we're going to get there. We don't get to see the route exactly. We know how we think we make it there, but what I've seen more and more times is that you can't anticipate the amazing journey that will get you there, but you can be that person that gets there by being identified with your future self.”
I did these exercises right before my 25th birthday and it was EYE OPENING! It was emotional writing the encouragement I would have given to my excited, but nervous 20-year-old self. And, writing from the perspective of my 30-year-old self, allowed me to dive into what I really want and think about the future in a way that will really get me there.
A special note to the girl who is still in college, but wants to start her own business:
That was me. While in college, I DREAMED big about starting my own design company, but fear and traditional thought made me believe that it would have to be years down the road before I could do it. And that my friend is a lie you’re believing. Start today! Yep, today. Starting a business doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal filled with licensing and expensive business cards. As soon as you find your first client you are on your way to having a business. Find your first client (even if it’s unpaid or low pay) and start building up your portfolio. You will learn along the way. Seek the advice of your college professors to figure out how much you should charge and how to go about finding work. When you do real-world projects while in college, you are stepping into learning the skills you will need to run a business. I did plenty of work for real clients while I was in undergrad. Some of it makes me cringe now to look at (what was I thinking using that font!?) and some of it is STILL in my portfolio on my website today. Don’t compare your start to someone else’s middle. BE DETERMINED and resilient. Successful businesses are not created by doing things half-way. You’ve got to give it all you’ve got!