Not too long ago, most 50-somethings would have considered themselves close to retirement age. They’d be well established in their career and happy to see out the remaining years of their working life before clocking off for the last time.
Not any more.
Many are starting their own small business, often after redundancy, when getting a new full-time job close to retirement age can be difficult, because of age discrimination.
Some in the 50s age group start a business to boost their retirement funds. Others to make money in retirement because their pension and savings aren’t enough to live on. Being able to access a pension enables older entrepreneurs often called “olderpreneurs” and “maturepreneurs” to fund their new business.
Older entrepreneurs are looking for a change
Some older people start businesses because they grow bored and want to change direction or fancy a new career at 50.
There’s a certain thrill of being your own boss, relishing in fresh challenges and starting the kind of business and doing something that brings excitement and satisfaction in ways your life.
Many baby-boomers are choosing self-employment (the over-50s run about 40% of the UK’s self-employed businesses), helping to fuel what has been described as the “grey business boom” (the over-50s are reported to now own a tenth of UK small firms).
As reported by The Times, Barclays research found that businesses run by people aged over 55 increased by more than 63% from 2006 to 2016, while the number of enterprises run by 25 to 34 year olds grew by just 23%.
So, why do people start a business in their 50s and what advice do they offer?
Jane Warren saw the light and started her own business at 51
Jane Warren is the owner of The Lampshade Loft, Surrey-based maker and online seller of handmade original lampshades.
She started her business in 2010, aged 51, launching her website three years later. “I’d been a marketing director of a book publishing company, following other marketing roles in the charity, voluntary and financial sectors,” she remembers.
As a woman over 50, she had no plans to start a business.
“In 2007, I was working a four-day week. So, on my day off I started a college course, just for one term initially, purely to learn how to make roman blinds for my house. I ended up staying for two years, achieving an advanced City & Guilds certificate in soft furnishings. Lampshade making was one of the modules – I was hooked,” she confesses.
Friends were soon asking Jane to make lampshades for them, which she did in tandem with her day job for a few years.
“I soon realised how much I loved the making process; being hands-on in that way was much more appealing than sitting in an office in front of a computer all day.” Combining both roles enabled Jane to test the viability of making shades for a living.
After launching her business, at first, Jane admits to feeling slightly isolated, after years of working in busy office environments. “So, I started teaching lampshade making, which meant I was soon meeting new people, some of whom have since become good friends. You must get out and about and find ways to overcome feelings of isolation that you can get when running your own business from home.” she recommends.
Over-50s experience and wisdom
Jane does not accept that starting a business in her 50s created any obstacles.
“My age inspires others, I think; I teach people and have customers of all ages – my age is irrelevant. I also keep abreast of new trends; whatever your age, you must keep your knowledge up to date.
“Starting my own business in my 50s gave me greater flexibility. It meant I could escape the rat race and do what I really wanted to do. Realising that the path ahead was shorter when I turned 50 made me realise that ‘now’ is the time to do the things you really want to do. Running my own business has also made me more confident.”
So, what advice does Jane offer to others considering becoming small business owners in their midlife?
“Believe in yourself and have confidence in your abilities. Over your working life you will have collected relevant skills and knowledge. Test your business idea thoroughly before you launch; enough people must want to buy what you’re offering at the price you plan to charge. Find ways to set yourself apart from your competitors. And, get up to speed on technology and using social media. That’s how I get lots of my work,” she smiles.
Ann Whorrall sought a new challenge
With her 50th birthday little more than a year away, Ann Whorrall set up Olivia May, a high-end womenswear boutique, in 2013. Items such as clothing, footwear and accessories from a range of unique international designers are available online and through her shop in Oxford and showroom in Cheshire.
“I’d been a teacher, then a schools inspector,” she remembers, “but I was looking for a new challenge.”
“Some colleagues might have thought moving from a stable job in education into fashion retail was a mad thing to do, but I believed in myself and so did my family. Fashion had long been one of my passions and running my own business felt very natural to me,” Ann says.
From the start, Ann was aware that other people’s livelihoods also depended on her business succeeding.
“You take on that responsibility when you employ others. I’m not sure I’d have been as aware of that if I’d have started my business in my 20s. You must make it work – others rely on it,” she emphasises.
Ann doesn’t believe that starting up later in her life has had any detrimental effect. “It benefitted the business – I had lots of transferrable skills and experience of dealing with people, which is key in business. Being in your 50s is no reason not to start your own business.
“However old you are, you must have a genuine passion for your business, because you’ll probably end up working longer and harder. If you’re just looking for another job, forget it. As well as a good business idea, it takes energy, determination and commitment, but these come naturally when you love what you do.”
What is the survival rate of businesses started by people 50+?
So, if you do start a business in your 50s, will it survive?
Research suggests it’s more likely to survive than a business started by younger people.
As reported by the Forum of Private Businesses, an Age UK survey found that more than 70% of businesses started by people in their 50s survive for at least five years, compared to just 28% of those started by younger entrepreneurs.
And, according to research by the Cranfield School of Management, businesses run by owner-managers aged over 50 increase their revenues three-and-a-half times faster than younger owners. They also create jobs more than seven times faster than the UK economic average.
Being in your 50s might actually be the perfect time to finally start your own business. So – what are you waiting for?