The mature (50+) first-time Entrepreneur
A few years ago, I remember reading some government stats showing that the fastest growing group of new business owners/entrepreneurs over the next 4/5 years would be those aged 50+. However, when these stats were published, no-one could have predicted the impact a global pandemic would have on employment levels, job losses and business closures particular for those ‘more mature' age group.
As a former recruitment business owner, I have always been aware that Ageism (discrimination towards older employees), was a real ‘thing’. Unfortunately, ageism has increasingly become part and parcel of our business landscape, making it really difficult for people 50+ to find meaningful employment even in the best of times.
As a separate issue, I would just like to say how much of a shame this is – not to disparage the ‘bright young things’ in today's workforce, talented as they are – but the wisdom that comes with age and experience needs to be harnessed not overlooked, utilised not discarded, if we are to have a strong and vibrant economy
Now in this post-Covid climate, it is likely there will be considerably less meaningful employment opportunities for all, at least for a while with the greatest impact being on school leavers with no experience as well as those skilled and experienced 50+ group. Being unemployed and of mature age takes on a whole new meaning at times of high unemployment!
So what options are available to those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves unemployed and facing difficulties in securing new employment? As previously mentioned, mature entrepreneurs already represented the fastest growing sector of entrepreneurship in Australia (pre-Covid) and self-employment is becoming a more attractive and viable option for older people wishing to be their own boss.
So perhaps now is the time to support and encourage small business ownership, entrepreneurship, freelancing, consultancies or whatever form of micro-enterprise appeals to those ready, willing and able to find work.
I’ve had the privilege of mentoring many people who have been successful in doing ‘their own thing‘, but I always start by asking:
“I understand you you need an income but perhaps you don’t necessarily need a boss – Is this you?”
I’ve walked in the shoes of the 50+ first-time entrepreneur so I know how daunting it can be. I like to think I can offer inspiration, encouragement, connections and some real practical tools to those ready to start a business through direct one-on-one contact and my platform – Engine Room Hub.
Does it matter ‘WHAT' sets you on the entrepreneurial road?
No not really. Certainly not in terms of being able to build a successful business, because that’s open to all of us if we put the hard work in but there's no doubt sometimes your WHY can be both a confidence-booster or a confidence-kicker. It’s up to you to determine which it will be as you move forward.
I started my first business at 50, my second at 60 and my third at … well, you can do the maths! But, whilst I love to encourage and nurture this new-found entrepreneurship in the 50+ age group and the work/life freedom that can come from it, I believe it is really important to honestly assess and acknowledge what is driving you to do your ‘own thing‘!
I believe there is a true entrepreneurial spirit lying deep within many of us which can lie dormant for many years. We tell ourselves “perhaps one day” and finally we can’t suppress it any longer, or our circumstances alter and we set out on the journey.
However, when we are facing long term unemployment, as many are post-Covid, the sad truth is that embarking on self-employment is not always a matter of choice but one of necessity. But I want to strongly make this point – starting a business shouldn't be seen as any less valid or rational choice simply because it has been borne out of necessity.
Whether it is your own ‘entrepreneurial spirit' that is driving you OR you're making a ‘pragmatic' choice to deal with the lack of employment opportunities coming your way, a great business can be yours if you're willing to put in the hard yards, seek and take good advice and keep learning.
What type of business is for me?
Although this may sound basic, to answer this question, you should evaluate your passions and skills. Doing something that you can see yourself being passionate about for the next few years or something you would do even if you weren’t being paid to do it might be the ideal business idea or ‘niche’.
However, having a passion for a particular niche isn't enough (it would be great if it were!). As you attempt to grow your business you will see how critically important it will become to ensure that there's a need for your product or service. It’s a mistake to put all your energy and resources into a business, service or product that no-one wants to buy. Research is king!
Another critical issue when deciding what your business should be is to ensure it is a business that works for you. Make sure it fits the lifestyle you want to create for yourself and your family so you can reap the rewards that come from great customer service, happy clients/customers and happy YOU!
Unique Challenges for the over 50+ Entrepreneur
Becoming an entrepreneur at a later stage in your life can be daunting and stressful but also extremely rewarding and life-changing. A recent British study suggests that
“Businesses started by people in their 50s are much more likely to survive than those on the other side of the half-century mark”
Done well, there is a quantifiable level of freedom in running your own business and being your own boss – but there is a certain kind of ‘crazy' inside those of us that do!
One of these unique challenges is a state of newly found isolation. No matter what age, starting a business for the first time can be lonely. We can feel isolated and can suffer from an increasing sense of overwhelm.
As a mature entrepreneur, it is likely your previous work life would have been as a part of a team, where decisions were discussed jointly and projects managed through regular meetings with fellow employees, sharing ideas and trouble-shooting to find solutions.
This is not so for the sole-trader or micro-business owner!
When you start a new venture you very quickly realise you are ‘it’. You are a team of one, likely to be working from home, at least at the outset of your business venture. Your skills and expertise haven’t gone away but the opportunity to bounce ideas off others often has and this can make you second-guess every decision you make.
This loneliness and isolation can leave some people paralysed in terms of being able to make quick decisions, to be responsive to customers’ needs and this will surely impact their business. This is where being part of a network or community of like-minded people that you can talk to and get support from is priceless.
My 1st Learning Curve – At 50 years of age, I started my first business in the very competitive recruitment industry which was both challenging and exciting. Throughout my previous working life, I had been part of the corporate scene where everything comes to you ready for you to do your thing, all the tools at your disposal.
So imagine my shock when I discovered my newly purchased laptop didn't come loaded with software Duh! I distinctly remember my embarrassment when I had to rush back to Officeworks and ask them to install some ‘stuff' onto my laptop so I could begin to create a database of customers in excel.
The drive back to my serviced office was like a ‘wake-up’ call and had me wondering what the hell I had done and questioning whether I was really up to this ‘running a business' gig.
Many mistakes and many achievements later, my 10-year recruitment business was hugely successful, providing me with some of the most rewarding aspects of my working life, not the least of all being able to offer employment and training within my business to others.
Small Business ToolKit
Check out my free Small Business ToolKit – a 38-page resource for those thinking of starting a business OR those who have recently started a business and need to know more. This ToolKit will take you through 4 stages of business:
- So Let's Get Started
- Marketing & Branding for your Business
- Knowing & Managing your Numbers
- Setting up your Business for the Long Term
This download also includes a BONUS – 8 Tips on Working From Home
Just because you’re supposed to be older and wiser – doesn’t mean you should be afraid to seek advice.
I have been fortunate to have great people, wise people come into my life at certain times. Friends or colleagues who took on an advisory role usually over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. They became the people I trusted to share my vision with, bounce my ideas off and I don’t know where I would be without them. They know who they are!
So, for those thinking of taking the plunge or those who have already taken the plunge, now that you are a team of ’1’, look out for the wise people you already have in your life, someone that you respect and just go ahead and ask if he/she would be willing to take on the role of Mentor.
If the people or person hasn’t come into your life just yet, hang on in there because this will happen and don't get hung up about the age of a Mentor. My business partners, former and current, are younger me and I am as happy to take their advice as they are mine.
My passion now is to give back and I do this through Engine Room Hub. I like to think I will continue to be of help to the many aspiring entrepreneurs I meet along the way.
If you're Perth based and would like to catch up for a coffee to discuss your business idea give me a call on 0403 343 300 or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not Perth-based we can always make ourselves a cup of coffee at home and catch up over ZOOM.