I once turned up to a meeting with a new client for them to ask whether I was “the intern” and where my boss was. When I explained that I was, in fact, the person they were meant to be meeting and the owner of the company, they seemed rather concerned at my young age. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident – this happens to myself and other freelancers again and again. I find this response to a young freelancer totally and completely infuriating, and, I should add, extremely unfair. Age does not determine an individual’s ability and people need to realise that they cannot undermine someone based purely on their age.
When I became a freelancer in 2014, I was 22-years-old and a new journalism graduate. I had looked at graduate schemes and internships but each seemed worse than the next; low pay for long hours and very slow career progression. (I didn’t even bother to apply for any at all, despite every lecturer telling me I really should.) While my friends were applying for graduate schemes at Coca-Cola and Unilever, I was quietly building my business plan.
I knew what I wanted: the freedom to work how and when I wanted, without a boss breathing down my neck. I’d just completed a three-month internship in a busy office environment as part of my degree, and while I loved the people I met, I disliked the time constraints that this kind of work placed on me. Like many new freelancers, I loved the concept of working remotely, running my own small business from home and managing my own time. I had high hopes for myself as a freelancer; I dreamed of the successes I would have and how my career would quickly progress.
Unfortunately, although I have managed to freelance for the best part of four years and earn a liveable income from doing so, what I’ve found is that as a young freelancer I am not always taken seriously. People don’t expect someone my age to be competent at what they do, let alone run a small freelance business of their own. Far too often I’m passed over for an opportunity purely due to my age.
There’s a lack of belief in young freelancers
There seem to be three things that many people presume younger freelancers lack: reliability, knowledge and experience. I don’t understand why. Yes, we are young but we are just as qualified at what we do as anyone else, and surely that is what matters?
I may be ten or even fifteen years younger than most other freelancers, but that doesn’t make my experience, knowledge or ideas any less valuable. So why do so many professionals presume that it does? Personally, I think it’s a generation thing; I’ve found that the older the person is, the more concerned they are with my age and “lack of experience”. However, the younger the person is, the less of an issue this tends to be.
On one occasion I was invited to review an up and coming new restaurant for a feature. I had spoken with the PR Consultant who had set up the review on multiple occasions via email and over the phone. I was under the impression that she would know my age – after all, many of my bylines come with a photo attached – but it became clear when I arrived that she did not.
At first, she didn’t give me a second look, assuming that I was just another customer. However, when I told the seating clerk my name, recognition dawned on her face. I smiled and introduced myself in a friendly and professional manner, for her response to be “I didn’t expect you to be so young!” This completely threw me. Was she disappointed by my age? Would it be a problem? I wasn’t sure how to react, so I just smiled at her.
She looked disconcerted, which made me feel uncomfortable. I even wondered if she was about to back out of the review. Luckily she didn’t and the results spoke for themselves.
What I would say to younger freelancers who are just starting out, in any area, is to have belief in yourself and your own ability. If someone doubts you due to your age, take it as a challenge and prove them wrong. That’s exactly what I did with the restaurant review; I created the best piece of content possible, taking high-quality photos and sharing the piece everywhere.
Questioning whether I am too young to freelance
The problem with being a youthful freelancer is that people don’t always take you seriously. They assume you’re not responsible enough to deal with completing tasks, when that actually isn’t the case at all.
I’ve often found myself questioning whether it was a bad idea to start freelancing at such a young age, as there seems to be a culture of ageism. It’s harder to get work because people worry that you lack that all important life experience or that you haven’t had enough time to hone your skills.
Despite ageism being a common trend among older business owners, I’ve realised that as a freelancer I am not defined by my age but by my ability to offer high-quality work and perform in a productive and reliable manner. What defines me is not the number of years on my body clock, but my mind, skill, and ability to perform.
The best thing that you can do to prove that your age doesn’t determine your ability or skills is to provide unarguably high-quality work consistently. It might take time but you will make a name for yourself, and when you do your age will become irrelevant.
I love what I do and I have no reason to stop freelancing
Although at times being a younger freelancer can be hard, it’s still a lifestyle that I and many others love. In fact, I would recommend freelancing to anyone with a passion for what they do, who also has the drive to succeed on their own terms, working under their own steam, rather than going down the route of employment.
Admittedly, getting started as a young freelancer might be hard work but you can’t let a lack of love for younger freelancers put you off. Instead, focus on how you can educate people about the benefits of working with freelancers your age, such as fresh skills and more modern training methods.
What I would say is that if you’re starting out as a younger freelancer, source support from organisations for people your age. Look for local networking groups for young business owners, and if you can’t find one, create one.
Be proactive, educate people on youthful freelancing, and most importantly be brave. Don’t feel intimidated, you are just as good at what you do as anyone else, you just need to make people realise that.