CONFESSION OF A 20-YEAR-OLD ENTREPRENEUR

Paul Staines, 20, is a freelance Public Relations consultant specialising in youth-orientated goods and services, is a majority shareholder in a fashion goods company and is a director of a wine bar venture.

People tell me that it is the age of the entrepreneur, that Britain is moving away from its old anti-capitalist ways towards a culture that values wealth producers and promotes the enterprise ethos. I hope it is true.

I left business school after only one year. Apart from some book-keeping and business law, almost everything I was taught has proved irrelevant. Lecturers assume that you are going to work for a big corporation, but I could not face the thought of a structured management career, job security, fringe benefits, gradual promotions and the chance one day of a share option. Thanks, but no thanks. My instincts told me that entrepreneurs are free, they prosper by their own sweat, they get rich ! (They also go broke but, what the hell, risk is the spice of life.)

My parents were horrified and my friends were sceptical. I was 19, broke, jobless and clueless. I opened a yellow pages and started thumbing through it. Public Relations caught my eye, not because of the brilliant advertisements, but because there were only four PR companies in the city. After much twisting, I convinced friends and parents to lend me 1000, then went on to the Enterprise Allowance Scheme which paid me an extra 2000 a year. I bought an answer phone and some letterheads and started writing and phoning people telling them how much they needed to hire my services. Now I am 20 and a director of three companies - the gamble paid off.

I always tell my friends that the best time to become an entrepreneur is when you are young ; you have no family commit-ments and no financial responsibilities such as mortgages. You also have the freshness and energy that only the young possess. In short you do not have anything stopping you taking that risk except your own lack of confidence.

The major factor that weighs against young entrepreneurs is their inexperience. This can result in a lack of credibility - bank managers and customers alike feel uneasy negotiating with a teenager. The only way to prove your worth is by results. If a bank manager is not forthcoming solely on the grounds of your age, then just go elsewhere. It's the banks' loss, not yours.

With customers it is often possible to turn your youth to advantage. In my field, public relations, I emphasize to clients that if they sell goods and services to young people then I am the best person to hire. Who better to promote goods aimed at young people than a young person ? You can also use your youth as an asset to gain "whizz kid" publicity in the local papers.

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