Harry Sanders

“What’s it like managing a team of people older than you?”

A simple question, and a very common one for me, that I find so interesting.

There is such a strange notion of age in the world, many people assume based on the sheer number of day’s someone has been on this earth that they are either too young to be doing something or the inverse, too old to be doing something.

I began working at the early age of 14. My first day at an agency I rocked up in a baggy suit when everyone else was wearing casual clothes (yikes), but I immediately got stuck into project work and training the team on what I did and still do now, SEO. 

[A very slightly better fitting suit I had at 16 to paint the picture for you]

My first day was daunting, with plenty of sideways glares, reluctance and even awkwardness. Getting people to act on information that I was giving, perpetuated by the fact that a lot of them had kids at home older than me, the guy that was supposed to be guiding them.

But it didn’t take long at all, in fact just a few days to start earning their respect. How? By being good at what you do, and having a strong passion for it. A person’s age is often an indicator of how much experience they have, and before you can see that experience it’s a great starting point.

When they started seeing my work and results however, the whole mindset shifted, and from that day forward they listened to me when it came to SEO. You might be thinking “Did they respect your advice overall?” and the answer is probably not. Who cares? I was an SEO expert, even back then I had lots of experience, spending every waking hour learning and honing my craft, and when I say every hour I mean it (imagine how much free time you had at 14). But if I were to give you advice on marriage, on fashion, or on anything outside of my speciality I would be talking out my ass (still would be), so there was no need to respect my advice on such topics.

Fast forward from there where I became a team leader at 16 and was managing people at another company. Not once did I have a problem there, purely through respect of my SEO abilities because it was an SEO job, and I was constantly striving to fill any knowledge gaps, keep tabs on emerging techniques, and running my own tests. Could I have done it in any other industry? No. Not unless I was an expert in those areas as well.

As you might have garnered, I am a big advocate for people sharing experiences, not advice. The difference is that experience is something you have gone through personally, outcomes you have been able to see and live with. Advice is extrapolation, guesswork, based on what you have been told, or perhaps best case scenario is based on experiences you have gone through, so why not simply share the experiences and let them draw their own conclusions (advice) from it? This isn’t a new theory, it’s something called “gestalt psychology” and if you have the time, I would recommend reading more about it. It’s one of the core principles that major business groups like EO runoff.

So coming to the present day, I am the youngest person in the company by a good margin, with most falling in the age range of their late 20’s to early 50’s. So what’s it like?

I honestly don’t even think about it. The only differences between now and then is that these are my people, my team, and I have picked up a new skill, a skill in business with experience to back it up. It’s never brought up, I don’t feel like I am treated differently, nor do I treat others differently. I almost forget about it altogether until someone asks me this question (not that I am offended or anything). I asked Lawrence about it when writing this to get his views and to which he responded by laughing at it, saying that he forgets I’m not his age and then proceeded to laugh again. Lawrence is only 30 himself but this brief interaction shows how often it comes up at StudioHawk.

In closing, I just make sure that when I am talking to my team (or anyone) that I am either talking about SEO or business practices in general, both of which I can share experiences from, and both of which you are going to care much more about the said experience than my age.

Harry Sanders
Harry Sanders is the founder and director of StudioHawk, the largest dedicated SEO agency in Australia, as well as the founder of Hawk Academy, an SEO training platform created to help solve the problem around education in digital. Starting from (very) humble beginnings, on his journey Harry has been featured in Forbes, named B&T’s Entrepreneur of the year, M&M Global Millenial of the year, winner of the Australian Business award for Marketing Innovation, and sits as a board member of AWIA (Australian Web Industry Association), all at the ripe old age of 22.

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