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How to Overcome Age and Wealth Differences in Social Prospecting

“Birds of a feather flock together.”  This old proverb implies we are most comfortable socializing with people of similar age and social status.  You are a young(ish) accountant.  The type of people who can potentially lead you to business or advance your career are often far older or 100 times richer than you.  Why will they want to know you?  (We aren’t talking about 40 year age differences between dating partners.  That’s creepy.)

Family — Blood is thicker than water.  Keep it in the family.  Cultures on other continents often identify themselves by tribal connections.  You got in by either birth or marriage.  Age and wealth are secondary.  You are one of us.

What does this mean for me?  Push business and you come across as desperate.  Just be sure everyone knows what you do and how you help people.

Another major common denominator —  You attended the same university.  You belong to the same local religious community or even country club.  There’s an exclusivity factor binding people together.  An older alumnus will want to help a younger one advance their career.  Relative levels of wealth don’t enter the picture.

What does this mean for me?  Taking advantage of your alumni connection is obvious. The local alumni luncheon club is a good place to start. You don’t need to run the place, just get involved and raise your visibility. 

Shared experiences — For example, the Federal Government’s list of Certified Government Contractors can be sorted on several social criteria including veteran-owned business.  Vets may prefer doing business with other vets because of the shared military service connection.  You’ve seen the USAA ads on TV highlighting the respect they give former service members.  Vets assume other vets will have an understanding of structure and discipline.  Respect stands over age and wealth.

What does this mean for me?  If you don’t have military experience, probably not much.  But it could be an opportunity to raise your professional profile if you belong to a diverse cultural community.  Major cities have chambers of commerce for different cultural backgrounds.

Business opportunities — An older, successful business owner will include young people (and not just relations) in their circle of friends and acquaintances.  They made their money in the consumer sector with a keen understanding of how people buy and process information.  They establish ties with the younger generation to understand their buying habits.  They also want to understand the communications channels they use and how they make buying decisions.  Seniors buy on brand reputation.  Baby Boomers rely on personal referrals.  Millennials often prefer online reviews.  Richard Branson is 66 years old.  He has 9.4 million followers on LinkedIn.  They aren’t all his age.

What does this mean for me? You probably belong to several business or professional groups along with large cultural organizations that hold events.  After attending a few get-togethers you have a pretty good idea who the “older but lively” folks are.  Get to know them.  They are probably influencers too.

Consider the context — If you lived in a nursing home in Florida, surrounded by people of the same age you would understand why these places are considered “Waiting Rooms for Death.”  Taking a step back, if you are older and all your friends are the same age, it’s easy to develop a “We are keeping our heads above water” or “Our best days are behind us” mentality.  You probably know plenty of cynical people.  When they include younger people in their social group, they pick up on their enthusiasm and vitality.

What does this mean for me? You don’t really need to do much.  The motivated folks will seek you out.

Mentoring —  As people get older, some wonder about their legacy.  What am I leaving behind?  Who have I helped?  A retired CPA might meet the son of a friend with a burning desire to start a firm or business.  They step into the role of mentor and guide.  They have connections that can turn into summer jobs or internships.

What does this mean for me? This might be a bonanza.  An older person you admire may have a reputation for helping others climb the career ladder.  Get on their radar screen.

People who have earned their way to wealth and success understand the need to constantly keep learning.  Insecure people erect barriers around themselves.  Confident ones cast a wide net.

Do you have a story about a good business or social connection that transcends the barriers of age or wealth? Share it below.

Image: iStock/monkeybusinessimages