Older workers are facing many hard choices as traditional employment options fade, and health concerns rise. And yet, our knowledge and networks combine to make this a Renaissance age of entrepreneurship. Rick Terrien is a lifelong entrepreneur and author of the book Ageless Startup: Start a Business at Any Age. For people in the second half of life, there has never been a better time to start your own business. The world needs you. Your community needs you. You have the time to make a difference, and you have the experience, resilience, and networks to make the world a better place.
Startups are often associated with the young, but you share that it can be at any age. What are some of the benefits of starting a business later in life?
The benefits of people launching new enterprise later in life are plentiful.
However, these kinds of enterprises are not designed to pay the rent in the short run. They are launched and run at a pace that fits the needs of the entrepreneur at that point in their lives.
Ageless startups are organized to help people contribute their ideas and skills to markets and communities they are passionate about. You get to design an enterprise that represents your values, your goals, and your legacy.
Startups launched by older entrepreneurs can be designed specifically to advance values that the entrepreneur feels best represent their own lives.
Among the leading benefits of older entrepreneurship is greater control over your time. Many older workers want to increase the time they spend with family or on pastimes dear to their hearts, while still generating income. This is not a new phenomenon. There are currently 32 million businesses in the United States. Of those, 25 million are one person enterprises (non-employer businesses). According to the U.S. Census, most of those 25 million non-employer entrepreneurs work on their business less than 40 hours per week.
An additional benefit for later-life startups is financial resiliency. Rather than rely solely on standard, fixed income solutions like Social Security and pensions, many older workers recognize the value of adding additional income streams. They recognize the reality that we are statistically living much longer than when most support systems were designed. Adding multiple new income streams, including entrepreneurship, is not just a good idea, it is financially prudent.
Another major benefit of ageless entrepreneurship is additional community involvement. Communities and markets that people love and respect will be under significant pressure to reinvent themselves. They will need entrepreneurs with deep knowledge and fresh ideas to step up and contribute. This not only helps rebuild communities and markets, it strengthens the personal health and well being of the entrepreneurs. Increased exposure to new ideas and new projects keeps people engaged and healthier, even as the social distancing protocols define new ways for all of us to interact.
You provide a roadmap for success. What steps have you noticed many miss before launch?
People do not start selling early enough. Nobody wants to do sales. However there is great truth in the saying, ‘Nothing happens until somebody sells something.’ People need to create their minimum viable product/service and test it as soon as possible, across as many subsets of their intended markets as possible. While these ‘sales’ may not be traditional financial transactions, you will get an immediate sense about the efficiency of your presentation, the language used for introductions, objections, and closings. If you can’t sell it, it’s not viable. Start early and often.
What is the best way to evaluate or test your idea before you invest too much time, money, and energy into it?
Review your ideas with peers and people who represent your target audience or know your targets. Joining with groups of like minded entrepreneurs can jump start this process. This kind of collaboration among peers can help you scale your new ideas faster, with actionable feedback that comes from professional peers. I am investing my time and efforts to help launch a Center for Ageless Entrepreneurs (www.agelessentrepreneurs.org) to serve as this kind of peer-to-peer testing ground. It is also designed as a marketplace to develop new collaborations and partnerships for older entrepreneurs.
For those who have only worked for someone else, what are some of the things that are particularly surprising?
The hardest thing for people new to entrepreneurship to do is to grant themselves permission to explore the subject. Older workers, especially those in traditional employment, often view entrepreneurs as minor deities with superpower talents. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There are also the questions of entrepreneurship and age which can surprise people. For over 20 years in the U.S., the majority of startups has come from people aged 45 and above. The fastest growing group of entrepreneurs within that cohort are those aged 55 to 64. People are surprised to learn that entrepreneurship is not dominated by 20-something billionaires on magazine covers. Entrepreneurship in the U.S. is led by people in the second half of life.
People also need to recognize that the assets they need to enter the world of entrepreneurship are not defined by huge reserves of cash or access to credit. Ageless entrepreneurs are already rich in knowledge, know-how and networks. These are the key to any successful startup, more so than the ability to raise investment money.
Lastly, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing here. Employers and their older workers can plan a phased retirement together, while retaining access to the value represented by those transitionaing employees. The Center for Ageless Entrepreneurs is developing the subject matter expertise around phased retirements to serve both employers and those employees making this change.
How do you cultivate repeat customers right from the beginning?
Designing business systems from the outset that define a sufficient population of accessible customers is key. Those potential customers need to share the problem you’re solving. Design your model to build trust and transparency, including ways to honor the customer’s needs and goals. In the 21st century economy ahead of us, referrals, testimonials, and word-of-mouth will dominate the sales channel. People need to build these channels into their plans from the beginning.
Any new enterprise needs to be based around solving a specific problem in an efficient way. It isn’t any more complicated than that. Designing and executing systems to meet specific problems is key. Offering that solution in an efficient and professional manner to the widest numbers of potential customers – within your target market – will create repeat customers.
What marketing techniques are important to consider?
Be fully transparent in commerce. Share your mission, values, and goals widely.
Execute. Rinse. Repeat.
Initially, limit the number of people you try to serve. You can fail from success just as easily as through deficiency. Get into commerce as quickly as possible serving the minimum number of people you determine are needed to meet your plans at that stage of development. Make your mistakes among friends and early-adopters. They are your early warning radar.
Hold tight to your mission, values, and goals, but do not cling to your original assumptions about marketing and sales. Be ready to adapt your plan to the variability in the markets you’ve chosen to serve.
I am also a great believer in creating intentional networks. In this model enterprises of all kinds can come together to jointly focus on problems and opportunities together. In this model the leveraged marketing and social media impact of working in an intentional group can greatly exceed what you can do on your own. Look for opportunities to meet and learn from other peer entrepreneurs, and create collaborative marketing and sales programs to lengthen your reach and increase your impact.
Would you share one or two examples of “ageless entrepreneurs”?
Joan Izzo is a great example. Joan is an Illinois native who grew up in a large family. Making her own clothing and repairing clothing shared among siblings was the norm. Joan nurtured this avocation through her professional career, and slowly a theme emerged. People who had collected precious family garments, such as wedding dresses and christening gowns, found that the materials hadn’t survived sufficiently to reuse as originally intended, or styles had changed enough to make an exact reuse impractical.
As Joan neared ‘retirement’, she began a small business to save older, time-worn family heirloom garments, by taking them apart, salvaging the fabrics that could be saved, and repurposing those fabrics into deeply meaningful new items that honored the family’s history and also became new family heirlooms. Joan launched her new business – Heirlooms Again – several years from retirement and slowly built up a devoted following.
Estella Mims Pyfrom served as a classroom educator, guidance counselor, and summer school principal among many other education roles in service to the Palm Beach County (FL) School District.
After more than 50 years she retired to devote her life to helping underachieving and underprivileged children and families, creating Project Aspiration, also know as Estella’s Brilliant Bus.
Estella’s Brilliant Bus mission is to provide a mobile instructional technology and training system that creates opportunities for self-paced educational learning. They employ this educational tool primarily in under-served and under resourced areas with two primary goals: (1) ’empowering’ children and their families with life-long learning skills, and (2) providing access to instructional “learning” technology while partnering with community agencies and educational stakeholders.
For more information, see Ageless Startup: Start a Business at Any Age.
Photo Credit: Garrhet Sampson