How Older Entrepreneurs Can Tackle the Challenges of Starting New Businesses
While there’s no age limit to entrepreneurial success, it’s younger entrepreneurs who often get more attention in the news. Every day I get an email or two from PR firms asking me to write stories about a client, often a company run by a young founder. However, older entrepreneurs are building incredible startups too.
In fact, according to a 2019 “State of Small Business” survey by Guidant Financial and LendingClub, 57 percent of small business owners surveyed were over the age of 50, a small increase over 2018. 25 percent ranged between the ages of 40 to 49.
Older entrepreneurs may have distinct advantages over the younger ones, thanks to larger, more established networks, access to human and financial capital, and years of business knowledge and experience.
Despite these advantages, there are other aspects of starting or running a business that may be more challenging for those planning to pursue entrepreneurship later in life. Here are a few tips for older entrepreneurs.
Devote energy to finding resources and outsourcing.
Keeping up with rapid advancements in technology isn’t easy. Even the most savvy older entrepreneur may not be equipped to expand their technical skill set. As a 44 year-old who runs my own small writing business, I often find I lack understanding about what technology can benefit me. If resources are lean, it’s a struggle to decide what technology to invest in and how to incorporate it.
Adding specific talent to the team helps. I brought in a twenty-something to help me with my email newsletters and marketing. It’s an area where I lacked skills and confidence. Now I can focus on applying my strengths to other aspects of the business.
Older entrepreneurs should cultivate advisor relationships.
The older we get, the more challenging it may be to understand new generations of potential customers. It’s important to look for advisors who can bring you up to speed on younger generations. Hiring a millennial or Gen Z expert can help provide data insights and intelligence.
An older entrepreneur in his 50’s who I worked with conducted a focus group filled with younger folks. It helped him get a better idea of how to meet their needs.
Don’t get stuck in the past.
“The older we get, the more stuck in our ways we become.” That’s when you have to remember another sage saying: “Change or die.”
Don’t lose track of the entrepreneurial spirit that made you curious, innovative, and open to new things. Something I’ve done that helps me get more in touch with why I work, or simply feel more accepting of change, is to go on a retreat. This gives me a “reset” that helps me return to work more refreshed and with more purpose.
If you’re still not sure if you should consider changing business processes, just remember what happened to Toys ‘R Us, Kmart, and other retail giants that were slow to change. Adaptability is a key entrepreneurial trait, and it can help you take your business to the next level.
Know your limitations but don’t let them define you.
Age is definitely just a number. With a balanced lifestyle and healthy regimen, 40 has become the new 30. Of course eventually, limitations catch up to all of us as we age. Your physical health, family obligations and energy levels all play a factor in your day-to-day work.
Be aware of the changes you’re facing and continue doing what you can to combat aging. In my case, I notice signs that I need to slow down or spend fewer hours working before getting tired. Instead of growing frustrated, I try to consider embracing more efficient ways to schedule my time or different ways of eating that don’t slow me down in the afternoons. Explore possible changes to your lifestyle that may help you similarly.
Think about your exit strategy.
Many business owners find that transferring or selling their business is a huge pain point. Considering an exit strategy for your business may be difficult at any age. However, it’s often necessary. At some point you will want — or need — to move on to the next stage in your life. For an older entrepreneur, this exit strategy may take on a completely different process than for a young entrepreneur.
Consider when you want to retire, if a colleague or family member can take over, or whether you should sell the business. Set up meetings with a business advisor, financial specialist, tax professional, your team or other stakeholders. Then, create formal exit strategy plans and prepare all necessary paperwork.
Leverage special resources for older entrepreneurs.
Consider some available resources to guide your business success. For example, the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship (GIEE) provides research, advisory services, an incubator and other resources. Wise is another senior-focused entrepreneur organization designed to support older founders and other business people.