The Flipside of Starting a Business in Your Early Twenties

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Expect a few extra hurdles.

Age may be just a number, but if there’s one place numbers count, it’s in business.

For the founders of Sydney-based creative agency Uncommon, Chloe Smith and Steph Wong, going it on their own at the age of 22 wasn’t something they’d planned. But when the marketing company they were working for suddenly closed, they realised just how capable they really were.

“We were 22 with no immediate intention of starting a business, but just knowing we had that support from all angles really drove it home,” Steph tells us. “Before I had a chance to even think of other career prospects, clients had reached out to ensure I kept in touch in the hope of bringing over their accounts and business to wherever I was moving onto. Though it didn’t seem like the light bulb moment then, it was certainly the catalyst for the business.”

The pair have since gone onto create campaigns and concepts for major clients such as Warner Music, Sydney Festival, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, but scaling their small business and getting new brands on board hasn’t exactly been easy.

“The most difficult part has definitely been building our client base,” Steph adds. “Whilst it was amazing to convert and execute campaigns before we had officially launched, these conversions had come from previous contacts or were referrals. It wasn’t until we had a couple under our belt that we could use as case studies to then meet and reach out to potential clients.”

And while scaling is a great problem to have, that comes with its own growing pains.

“We offer a national service scope which can be challenging to juggle concurrent campaigns across five major cities around the country,” says Chloe. “We now have a campaign coordinator in every state to help execute and manage all activations ‘on the ground’, but it was a huge challenge to find and hire people who we trusted to represent a brand we’ve worked so hard to build.”

Despite the successes though, there are a few additional hurdles these young guns had to face in their first two years of business. Here’s a handful of them.

People will be tempted to overlook you

Especially if you’re female, found Steph.

“We didn’t anticipate that being two young female business owners would be such a major hurdle professionally, let alone the fact it still rears its head two years down the track,” she explains. “We’ve also never had the urge to put ‘founder’ or ‘director’ in our signatures, so there are times where we have been treated unfavourably in some situations, especially over the phone or via email. I’ve often been mistaken for ‘Stephen/Steven’ because somehow ‘Steph’ in a national sales manager role just ‘doesn’t’ sound right.”

You’ll have to take a few risks

“[We’ve given] away ideas for free,” Chloe explains. “Most people are shocked by this, but it’s this approach that has helped us secure a large number of our now regular, long-standing clients. In the vast majority of cases businesses don’t have the time, resource or localised knowledge to execute our ideas on their own, so we’ve had very few issues with concepts being stolen.”

You’ll have to prove yourself

“In the early days it was also challenging to convince new clients to commit to some of our strategies regardless of our individual and professional experience,” Steph adds. “In the eyes of some we were still considered as a ‘startup’ with a lot more of the negative aspects such as risk, rather than the fresh, unconventional ideas we are creating. Thankfully, time has been kind to us in helping rectify this as have the case studies.”

Ultimately though, the girls haven’t looked back since launching.

“It’s challenging to constantly be mindful of how to grow the business, campaigns, clients, employees and promotional teams all at once, but it’s also something that makes every day different and allows us to evolve as business owners and people,” Chloe says. “What more could you ask for?”

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