17 March 2021|Latest Posts, Launching a business, Psychology
When you think about it, every day you take the corporate wage is a day you work for someone else’s interest, not your own. You could be investing your brainpower and energy in your baby, with the potential to be paid back tenfold. If you have a good business idea, surely it makes sense to invest in it?
But as many globally successful female founders show us, it can take a while to land your ideal role. The good news is that you can start your entrepreneurial journey at any age, and those who come to it later actually stand a good chance of success:
You know your business
Those years working for other people have built up your industry knowledge and product expertise. You can figure out the things that cause you and your customers pain and make the job hard – and create a business designed to fix them.
To reduce the up-front hurdle, a low-cost, limited scale solution that you take to a few people can help test the water. Importantly, it can get you in front of people talking about the issues you want a voice on, in a low-risk way for both you and your clients.
Age equals credibility
The workplace is notoriously ageist, but as an entrepreneur you can turn it to your advantage to reset your mindset and focus on the positives of being older. Not the least of which is the credibility that comes with experience
A specific benefit of a longer career is that as an older entrepreneur you have a lot of experience of different places, companies and events, so you can more easily find a point of commonality with the person you are talking to. A personal connection is a great way in, so maybe you went to the same conference ten years ago? The longer you have been in business, the easier it is to find these connections.
Use your resources
Many older entrepreneurs can leverage their contacts network, and if you are setting up in a ‘nearby’ professional field then many of your contacts could probably help you.
However, it’s important to try and figure out how people can help out without it being about money: an introduction perhaps, or maybe capability in their business. You can often find other entrepreneurs will assist as long as you’re willing to return the favour. Most people work on the basis of what comes around goes around.
Regarding finance, generally you should avoid giving away any kind of equity stake in the early stages. You don’t know what the value of your business is this early in its lifecycle and you will probably regret it later.
The main reason to bring in long-term partners is to access something you can’t find anywhere else and is intrinsic to growing your business. Instead, outsourcing can be your best friend, particularly in the early stage. If it works, you can bring that function into the business later, and if it’s a disaster you don’t lose anything.
Use your skills
Older entrepreneurs often have negotiation experience, having learned the value of money, so will know how to get best value, when to negotiate and when to walk away at those vital early days of getting a business off the ground.
Someone who has worked in a company for a long time also has good workplace social skills; listening skills, a mindset of collaboration and a positive attitude to advice from others are characteristic of an older entrepreneur. Some younger entrepreneurs, on the other hand, think they are right about everything from the off. A risky assumption.
Setting up a small business has many pitfalls, so it’s great to go into it with a willingness to listen and take advice that your younger self might not have done.
Don’t leave it too late
Factor into your plans that it will probably take at least six or seven years – probably ten – to get a business really going. If you are looking to set up a business that will fund your retirement in your mid-60s, you need to think about starting it in your mid-50s.
Starting a new company is a lot about having the mental appetite, but the 50s is the new 40s: you’re still energetic, healthy and full of new ideas. Those who get booted out of big corporates often find the last few years in the business are miserable and they get side-lined. So, don’t leave deflated; instead leave on your own terms, when you are still feeling good about yourself.
And remember, in your own business your age is irrelevant. You won’t face the frustration of less experienced people getting promoted just because they fit the target management profile.
Get the right tools – and the right people
Some aspects of going solo are like a cold shower. For us “oldies” it can be a steep learning curve to get on board with all the software tools out there that make the task more efficient. Not to mention the sheer amount of time you spend at your computer.
The entrepreneur’s essential role is co-ordination and there’s some fantastic software to help manage a live project such as Slack and Monday.com. Especially now, with everyone WFH, it’s important to get everyone connected to you and your team at a click of your button.
Equally, sales and marketing have gone digital. You have to work out how to navigate this strange world of views, clicks and conversions, whatever your business. My solution: hire a whiz kid to do this for you, but don’t neglect it. No marketing, no business. That’s the simple truth.
Also, see how much time you’re spending on low-value admin and think about the things that only you can do and what are the things other people can do for you. A virtual (or real) PA can help to police you and assist with things that take up your valuable time. Good ones will help design their own role – to make sure you do the things only you can do.
And finally, your sudden loss of status can be strange. No one phones you anymore and you’re not (yet) of much interest to sales people. Now you have to win friends and influence people from your personality alone, not your corporate job title. But at least such friends are ‘real’ – they respond to you and not your business card.
For me, running my own business was the start of many genuine new personal friendships as well as finding the freedom and reward that working for someone else never would.
About the Author
Roger Jackson is the founder of Sensecheck.com and the CEO of Shopper Intelligence, an international specialist market research firm. He had a corporate career in sales and marketing with Unilever, United Biscuits and Kraft Foods before going independent. Sensecheck is a new community of B2B business people providing arms-length objective feedback for each other’s marketing ideas – to help avoid marketing mistakes and waste in SMEs. He lives in Horsham and has three adult children, a love of rugby and good malt whisky.