One of the best decisions I ever made was to declare my freedom from my full-time job as a columnist for a national newspaper and start my own business as a freelancer. That was my personal independence day, and I’ve never looked back. Since then, I’ve also become an author of numerous books, a frequent public speaker and an expert on jobs for people over 50.
So my question for women over 50 as the Fourth of July nears: Is it time for you to declare your independence and start a business?
For many women I have met and counseled, launching a business at midlife is often an inner pursuit to find meaning and to give back to society. That’s tremendously rewarding. What’s more, becoming an entrepreneur after 50 is not as risky as you may think (or needn't be) and the psychic and financial payoffs can be well worth it. Plus, launching a business is one answer to both the gender pay gap and the lack of advancement many women feel in today’s workplace, as I wrote in this New York Times article.
After 50 can be a great time in life for women to launch. “Research shows that women's confidence at work increases with age while at the same time, their family responsibilities — especially related to childbearing and rearing — decrease. This makes entrepreneurship over 50 a great idea and a possibility,” says Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University and a senior editor on the EIX Editorial Board of the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.
Another compelling reason to consider it: “With their greater work experience and confidence, such women are more likely to see opportunities for a new business — customers whose needs are not being filled and gaps in product categories,” Eddleston notes. “In turn, their work experience often gives them the networks to successfully launch a business at this career stage. They also often have the financial resources to support a new business.”
You don’t have to go it alone and needn’t be afraid to seek help, though.
“Many universities offer entrepreneurship assistance for alumni, several offer programs and workshops specifically geared towards women and there are many local organizations — often government-supported or nonprofit — whose goal is to help women start and manage their own businesses,” Eddleston says.
I suggest you tap into the site of the U.S. Small Business Adminstration (SBA), SBA.gov, as well as Score.org, a nonprofit that provides small business assistance. Both are top resources for local seminars and other types of help for newbies. The SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership assists women entrepreneurs through programs coordinated by SBA district offices, including business training, advice on snagging federal contracts and tips on getting access to credit and capital. It oversees Women’s Business Centers (WBCs), a national network of over 100 educational centers.
“Do not assume that these organizations are only for high-growth businesses; many have programs for all types of businesses,” Eddleston says.
I agree with all of Eddleston’s suggestions and would like to offer eight more of my own:
1. Be clear-eyed about your prospects. Don’t expect to make a substantial profit straightaway. Be content knowing that the reward, at least initially, will come from doing something you love, following a dream and being your own boss. I call this intangible income, and it’s tax-free.
2. Take it slow. Your skill set and experience offer the basis to starting your venture, but it will take time to lay the groundwork for a successful launch. You’ll need to do your research to be assured there’s truly a demand for your prospective service or product in the marketplace. Consider, too, which new skills you might need in order to get your business up and running. To learn them, volunteer or moonlight, if possible. Also, ask other small business owners in your field how they got started and dealt with challenges.
3. Don’t wreck your hobby. Be aware of the distinction between a hobby that’s a remedy to your frenzied working world and a pursuit that’s really something you can relish round the clock. I love horses, for example, but a business teaching horseback riding would be a recipe for disaster for me. Horses are my escape valve and that’s the way I like it.
4. Consider hiring a career coach or a life coach. Personally, I’ve found that an unbiased outsider can help keep me motivated and focused on the next steps to take to keep my business viable. This kind of advice and accountability can be invaluable when you’re planning and launching your business.
5. Assemble a support team. Confiding in a spouse or partner, a mentor, a friend, a sibling or even your adult child can keep you balanced and help you steadily navigate the uncharted landscape of founding a business.
6. Get a firm grip on your finances. Many first-time entrepreneurs overvalue their initial income and undervalue their startup costs. Do you have enough socked away to support a few years with lower income (or none at all) if you will plow net income back into the business to keep it growing?
7. Be ready for obstacles. If you’ve laid the proper groundwork, you’ll get through the bumpy bits. Having your support team to lean on will help.
8. Create the proper mind-set. This is something Sanyin Siang, author of the excellent new book, The Launch Book, recently told me when I interviewed her for my Next Avenue blog. The best approach is to begin with a vision of where you want to go, tape a picture on your office wall of what it might look like or set it as your computer’s screen saver, and journal about your goals.
Get things stirring with small steps and before you know it, you’ll be able to jubilantly declare your independence.