“Why did you start your nonprofit?"
As a teen entrepreneur, I'd expect that to be the most common question I'm asked, but reality is a different story. Looking back a year after founding my first initiative, questions about what my nonprofit does or what impact we’ve had have been far from most popular. After introducing myself and explaining what I do to curious adults, most ask about how I manage it. Do I have any free time? How do I communicate with team members who are located thousands of miles away? What about finding business partners - aren't we in a pandemic?
I’m Karolina Dubiel, the founder of the Girls in Aerospace Foundation, a global nonprofit aiming to connect young women with aerospace professionals. Starting a business from your bedroom – especially during a global pandemic – is not something that the majority of teens take up, and for understandable reasons. Navigating the world of managing teams, marketing yourself online, organizing programs and events, and creating a good PR image is never easy, especially without mentorship. Apart from religiously faking-it-till-I-make-it, I’ve picked up a few hacks that have helped me stay (mostly) sane while leading a team of like-minded changemakers into making the foundation as successful as possible.
Personal Branding. Alongside branding your company – or even beforehand – it’s important to establish your own online presence. People should be able to access the right information about you with just a web search or two. Especially for high schoolers or young college students, it can be challenging to brand yourself while staying safe online. Always make sure you aren’t revealing any sensitive information, but also keep in mind what you want people to know about you. Did you take an awesome online course over the summer that sparked a new passion? Did you intern at your local museum? The key is to ensure employers find this information before they come across your Instagram spam account.
Separate personal and professional. This is a difficult one. You can absolutely be successful while having a public, active Instagram account that portrays you in an “unprofessional” or relaxed light. However, it’s usually a good idea to market yourself in a different corner of the internet than the one where you post selfies and photos of your dogs.
LinkedIn will make or break your image. LinkedIn is important because it has great search engine optimization, meaning it will be one of the first results that show up when your name is searched. While there is no perfect LinkedIn profile or a strict set of rules to follow when creating an account, most people can tell the difference between a professional and an unprofessional LinkedIn profile. While it is absolutely ok (and encouraged!) to use colors, features, and articles to portray yourself and your passions, stick to proper English with a semi-formal voice. Use keywords and adjectives in your position description and get people to endorse your skills!
Make a personal website. Online CVs go a long way! Making a personal website is a good way to direct internet traffic towards information that you want to be known about you. You don’t need any coding experience to do it, either – buy a domain on GoDaddy or another service, then use a host like Wix or Squarespace to put together your site. I like to include my social media, projects that I’m currently working on, and my interests.
Company Branding. Company Branding doesn't only involve giving your company a "look" or "aesthetic" - it also establishes a professional, trustworthy image to attract customers and partners.
Use Canva! Canva is a free online program for graphic design, but it's useful for so much more. To get started with creating a template for your company, choose 1 or 2 main colors and a few accent colors that your media will focus around. Choose what your headings, subheadings, and paragraphs will look like. Will your designs be intricate and advanced, or will you focus more on simplicity and cleanliness? Deciding the aesthetic route that you'll want to take when branding yourself is a crucial first step to building a continuously trustworthy look.
Utilize as many avenues as possible. Generally, teen-led initiatives have an Instagram account and personal website. This is a great start, but it's a good idea to be aware of the audience that you'll attract with each. Instagram generally will bring the youngest audience, young teens and college students. Twitter usually provides Millennials through middle-aged, while Facebook supplies the older population. Having active, engaging accounts on social media sites that allow you to reach your audience of choice will ensure that your services are getting to people who will benefit from them.
Opportunity Collecting + Networking. Networking doesn't involve anything intimidating or sophisticated - it's just letting people know who you are and what you can offer. In terms of your company, networking will enable you to find future business partners and mentors.
Make a "Master Sheet". A Master Sheet is a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, etc.) that contains names, summaries, and contact information for future partners. Putting one together is a continuous task: set aside a few hours each week as networking and outreach time, or delegate that responsibility to a team member. The easiest way to add to your Master Sheet is through LinkedIn, as it’s already a professional database with easily accessible information. Use keywords (like "astrophysicist" or "chemistry professor") to find professional contacts in the field with who you could partner in the future. Even if you don't think they will reply, take note of their contact information regardless. Having a database of potential mentors will always be helpful.
Cold emailing sets you apart. Cold emailing refers to reaching out to someone you've never met without being contacted first. It's one of the easiest and most accessible forms of opportunity creation available to teen entrepreneurs, and it's easy with a Master Sheet! Networking through cold emailing or messages is another subject that comes with a set of guidelines and measures to loosely abide by. There's no specific rubric for how to write a cold email, but remember to be clear and concise: state your request for the recipient and why your cause is worth it. Remember to follow up as needed, but refrain from clogging their inbox. If someone isn't willing to collaborate, move on to the next person on your list.
Above all else, remember that teamwork doesn't only make the dream work - it's what creates the dream in the first place. Running your organization should not be a one-person job. As a leader, make it your focus to create opportunities for others and listen to their ideas. Working with a diverse group of motivated people is one of the biggest blessings as an entrepreneur.
Lastly, keep in mind that it's encouraged to do things differently. While this set of guidelines worked for me, they're not adjusted to everyone's circumstances or starting lines. Your business should be about your team and audience, not anyone else's. No matter what creative direction you head in, preparation and genuine passion will always be visible to anyone who comes across your collective.
About the Author:
Karolina Dubiel is a high school sophomore and student pilot from Seattle, WA. After witnessing the inequity in the aerospace industry, she founded the Girls in Aerospace Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing young women with professional opportunities and connections. When she’s not replying to emails or organizing webinars, she enjoys iOS and web development, running, or re-watching Men in Black. Connect with Karolina through her website, www.karolina.mdgubiel.com, or LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/karolinadubiel). To collaborate, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.