Following on from our post on the myths about starting a business later in life, we meet someone who successfully started a business at 57. Bob White explains how he got to where he is today and provides some tips for those considering starting a business post-50.
In 2008, 57-year-old Bob White started a new business as a domestic energy assessor. Bob had spent 30 years in finance and leasing as sales manager, business development manager and managing director. With the recession, the market declined and Bob found himself made redundant three times in three years.
He said: “I didn’t want to rely on others for my employment, and I didn’t want to be made to retire while I was still fit for work. Self employment was a way to take control.”
Bob’s business – IDEAL (Independent Domestic Energy Assessors for your Location) – provides EPCs (Energy Performance Certificates) for the Greater West Midlands area. IDEAL serves local estate and letting agents, housing associations, local authorities, private landlords and solicitor and conveyancing agents, as well as assisting private individuals who wish to get certificates or advice before making home improvements.
Before settling on the final one, Bob researched several business ideas, including franchising a travel agency and finding cost reductions for businesses. Bob chose energy assessment because start-up costs were cheaper and he believed he had a good chance of finding work.
Bob found attending events such as PRIME’s self-employment workshop helpful. The event included discussions on where to go for local support, the basics about starting up, and a networking session.
Bob commented: “It was good meeting like-minded people – finding out where they went wrong, and where they went right. We heard one couple talk about their curtain business and it was interesting hearing about how they did their marketing.”
Bob spent £4,000 on a Diploma in Energy Assessment over six months and had to talk a lot of friends and family into offering their house up for a practice survey.
After passing his Diploma, Bob became accredited with the National Home Energy Rating scheme (NHER). The accreditation proves that IDEAL meets quality control standards, and allows him to trade legally.
Bob’s main marketing tool is his website. Bob said: “I wanted a professional website to give me a presence. I spent about £1,000 and got the website, leaflets, letterheads, compliment slips, business cards, and logo included in a package.”
Bob decided against newspaper advertising after realising it was expensive and not used by others in the industry. Instead, he got the word around by knocking on doors and introducing himself.
He explains: “I went to estate agents and letting agents and gave them a business card and flyer. Whether they were interested or not, they all asked for a price.”
Bob’s tip is: “Never quote a price. Say: ‘Can I come and see you?’ That way, you can understand what the client needs, explain how you will deliver it, and negotiate a good price.”
Age is no barrier
Bob claims that age does not need to hinder, but can instead, be used as a sales tool. Bob is convinced that he got his first deal with a letting agent by emphasising his years of experience and assuring his client that he would be respectful and professional.
He says one of the main advantages to running his own business at 60 is that he has access to capital which he can draw on in case of lean times.
Three years after starting IDEAL, Bob is looking for ways to expand. One idea is to become a sales agent for renewable energy products, such as wind turbines and solar panels.
He said: “The changing climate means that these products are already being recommended by the government. It is only a matter of time before they are compulsory.”
Inspired by Bob’s story? You can find more case studies of over-50s who’ve gone into business on the Prime website. We’d love to hear your story too.