Question: What's one tip you'd give a school-age entrepreneur who wants to build a network but is having trouble being taken seriously?
Take the Role of the Mentee
"I was able to build my network at a young age by taking the role of an innocent mentee trying to learn as much as I could from the older and wiser. For young people, flattery is one of the best tools that you can use to connect with power players. Many established entrepreneurs would love to connect with younger entrepreneurs -- especially if they see a little of themselves in the younger person."
Believe in Your Vision
"I recently met someone I thought was approximately my age. He was as confident as I was, took his business as seriously, and had a similar sized organization. The day after we met, I learned he was a decade younger.Serious commitment to your vision, organization, and knowledge makes you seem much older and more experienced than you may seem to yourself."
Find Your Tribe
"The company you keep is an important driver in your success. No matter the age, there are like-minded people who share your passions and your mindset. Seek them out and surround yourself with respectable, successful people who will support you in your dream and support you, as well. "
Ask Great Questions
"Ask people ultra-specific questions and don't make busy entrepreneurs do the work for you. Do the research up front, ask the question, and then provide a couple of options for the entrepreneur to provide very specific feedback on. You're making it easy on them to answer and they'll be impressed you have done the leg work prior to reaching out. You'll be surprised how many people want to help you."
Know Your Targets
"If you're trying to build a network of great leaders and mentors, take time to learn about each target before you approach her. Read as many books or articles by the person as you can get your hands on, and then approach her with thoughtful, specific questions based on her work. This will set you apart from other young entrepreneurs and make it easier to forge a relationship."
Get Credible as Fast as Possible
"Do what you can to score some well-known customers. Get publicity or surround yourself with other successful individuals. Build your perceived value, and let your actions do the talking for you. People can doubt you because of your age, but they can't argue with results."
Start a Blog
"Few successful people will turn down press. Reach out to people you admire and say, "I'm a student, and I run a blog where I interview successful people. Could you spare 20 minutes to help students learn about what you do?" They won't care that your blog has a small readership because it's helping students, and you'll gain them as a contact in the process. Just follow up to build the relationship."
"No one can tell how old you are from an email unless you tell them. Take advantage of that fact -- at least when you're making initial contact. Go online and build your network there as a start, and don't make a big deal about your age. Let your contacts make assumptions about your age, but don't lie. You can find opportunities to prove yourself before you meet with anyone in person."
Network in Your Existing Circles
"This happened to me when I started my first company in college. A lot of people wouldn't take me seriously because I was 19. Use classes you take as networking time, and use the people you meet as your test. You need to know everything about them: the industry, current trends and names they might drop. Go out and get an "A," and you won't be doubted again."