Setting up a business in your 50s, 60s or even 70s can bring a whole set of different challenges, but you will have the benefit of life experience, too. Laurie South, ex-chief executive of the over-50s charity The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME), talks about the obstacles and advantages of setting up a business later in life
We don’t have enough data to measure it, because everyone has ignored it until now. In 2003, PRIME had to ask the Office for National Statistics to collate data on the over-50s especially. It is likely to increase, because there is a decreasing number of young people and more older people in the population. The demographic change in society tends to be phrased as ‘we’ll have lots of people over 85’, but we’ll also have a lot more people over 50 and they still need to earn a living.
Some olderpreneurs simply need the money and can’t get a job. But quite often people have dreams they’ve wanted to fulfill for years, and they’re more confident in their 50s. They want to feel they’ve achieved something, and most say they want to put something back into the community rather than make lots of money.
There’s still a societal attitude that the over 50s should put their slippers on, sit down and shut up – or perhaps be looking after the grandchildren. It can be quite hard to fight against that.
People also always say that the over-50s are risk averse. It’s a very ageist comment without foundation. A 2009 report from NESTA showed that assumption is not true. The over-50s are often more conscious of their health and their mortality. However, if you work, you’re likely to be healthier than somebody who doesn’t.
If you’re an olderpreneur competing with younger people, you need to become secure with that whole idea of enterprise within your own peer group, before you take it to the next stage. Some people will feel fine having to go up against much younger people, but for others it can knock their confidence.
Most enterprise books and websites are full of very young faces, and that sends out the false message that enterprise is just for young people. That clearly isn’t true. To help challenge the myth, Prime’s booklets and guides all have examples of olderpreneurs.
If you’ve spent 30 years of your life working as an employee, it can be daunting to be your own boss. But you’re likely to have done a lot that you can bring to the business. I haven’t met anyone over 50 who hasn’t done something that makes people go ‘wow!’.
People over 50 tend to know how to work with other people and know themselves, and are more ready to say no, which is so important in business.
It’s also likely that an olderpreneur will have more savings to fall back on than someone who is 22, but that’s not always the case. If you do, you have more to lose, too. A 22-year-old can usually go back to their parents if things go wrong. A 50-year-old rarely has that option.
CDFIs [community development finance institutions] often provide funding for olderpreneurs. Some lenders’ agreements actually state ‘we do not lend to people over 50’, because they think such people are getting near to the end of their time, whereas actually they’ve got a third of their life left, in many cases.
In general, older women find it hard to ask for finance because they are from a generation where women took long career breaks to look after children and a lot of confidence gets lost in that time. My advice would be to just go and ask — it’s always worth a try.
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