Over my career, I have managed many young adults, many of them in their first real jobs. In my current life, I have the privilege of working with a number of young entrepreneurs. It is a great experience for me as I get to help shape the ideas of and learn from some of these great young adults.
In general, the young entrepreneur is blessed with a number of advantages:
- Lots of ideas
- Unbridled optimism
- No jaded perspective
- Low cost of living
- Self sufficiency
However, there are life lessons that they need to be aware of as well (with apologies to Robert Fulghum):
- Grammar and punctuation count.
People will sometimes judge you based upon how well you can present yourself in writing. Make sure to use your spell checker, but don’t leave it at that. Make sure you understand the difference between their and there, its and it’s and your and you’re. The caps key is there for a reason. Use it to start sentences. If you aren’t sure about the usage of something, find somebody who does know and ask them to review the piece before you send it out. If you have a table of numbers in your document, make sure the totals foot.
- Communications is 90% of the game.
Show up when you say you’re going to show up. Deliver when and what you promise. Document your understanding with your partner, client, vendor, investor. Get out from behind your computer or desk and meet people. Find opportunities to take people out to lunch or coffee. Yes, I know that sometimes we all have ADD, but your customers are counting on you to do what you say you are going to do. If you can stand out in this area, people will recommend you to others who can use your product or services.
- Listen. Intently.
When client describe what they require. When investors talk about what is important to them. When vendors explain how their product is different. I know that you are very keen on your idea. People will give you an opportunity to talk about what you are doing. If you have listened intently, you can make your presentation that much more relevant to your communications partner.
- Always say thank you.
I know that it sounds like I am talking to a three year old, but it is critical that you recognize when people help you. Saying thanks in a personal way (not a Hallmark card, but a handwritten note or personalized email) in a timely manner will make a huge difference in how people perceive you, the person and by association, your company.
Find ways to connect people. Start to build a contact list of people that you admire or who have specific skillsets. When you meet with someone who has a need that you can help to connect to one of your contacts, do so in a professional way. Send an article that you think might be compelling. Point someone to a blog you like. Being perceived as a connector can only help to pay dividends for you in the future.
- Dress well.
It never hurts to dress one step higher than you think is necessary. Worst case, you can always take off that darned tie. Even if your company is in an edgy marketplace, see if there is a way to make it classy edgy rather than raw edgy. Again, people do sometimes make quick impressions that stick. I know people that console themselves with “If they only cared about what we wore and not what we do, we don’t want to work with them.”. However, often this comes up only as sour grapes, once the contract has been lost. It is always better to be ahead of the game.
- Underpromise and overdeliver.
While the true bean counters will not be happy that you were ahead of your forecast, everybody else will be delighted that you were able to do better than you promised.
- Give something extra.
The Cajuns have a word for this – Lagniappe, something extra. In many Cajun restaurants, you will get a little something extra – perhaps a small dessert or trial of another entree. It costs next to nothing and has people talking. Look at it as an almost free focus group.
More life lessons on young entrepreneurs to come in future postings.