The most recent recession has pushed many people into self-employment and a significant social group that have led the way in this field are the over fifties. So why is this age group choosing self-employment, why are they likely to succeed and if you are one of the growing number in this group, what essential aspects to running your own business should you consider? Carlo Pandian of TUG explores the issue.

People in their fifties started their working lives as the concept of ‘job for life’ began to crumble. Those who have worked from the 1970s onwards will have seen this process develop throughout their career. Many will have started their first jobs believing that this was a relationship that would last a lifetime, but then the 1980s happened. Since then, the majority of fifty-plus workers have moved from one company to the other and along the way will have picked up a number of crucial skills. Flexibility, adaptability, resilience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis are among these skills, and are vital skills when it comes to running a business.

Age and experience before reckless behaviour

Youth is wasted on the young, as we all well know. By the time we reach our forties and fifties we are generally confident in our skills. Life experience is no substitute for youthful enthusiasm or entrepreneurial spirit. By our fifties we often know our own abilities and skills and, very importantly, our limitations. Self-employed people need to be ‘Jacks of all trades’, and not knowing your own limitations are a common reason for failure as a self-employee. This point cannot be over emphasised enough when it comes to running your own business and it is almost certainly one reason why older entrepreneurs experience higher levels of success, compared to those starting out earlier.

Risk management skills

Many young business people delight in the fact that they are self-starting go-getters who enjoy life on the edge - whatever all that means. By our forties and fifties we’ve already worked out that humans are all self-starters, there’s no external combustion engine option. We also understand that life on the edge can lead to fatal falls into the nearest ravine. This is not to say that running a business doesn’t involve risks, but more mature business people tend to have a positive attitude to risk taking – in that they will assess risks in advance and make balanced judgements. Younger entrepreneurs may be tempted to take one big, fatal, risk; older ones tend to take smaller, carefully managed risks.

Dependency issues

There’s another key aspect to the approach to risk that business people in their fifties take. In most cases children have either left home, or have been clearly pointed in the direction of the door. Mortgages are diminishing and savings are more stable. Generally fifty-something is a time of relative financial stability, security and freedom. It can be a very different experience to starting a business when your family is young and your mortgage is likewise. Risk, for this age group, can often be backed up by with significant safety blanket.

Extensive networks

Networking is one of those buzzwords that turned up in the 1980s and refuses to go away. Today networking includes those terrifying, alien types of networking known as “Facebook” and “Twitter” – more about technology later. Networking is, of course, crucial. It’s the oldest, free type of marketing out there. The majority of people in their fifties have a network of friends, relatives, colleagues, past employers and business contacts that would make many a business directory green with envy. Armed with all these contacts – potential clients and suppliers – many older entrepreneurs will have all they need to hit the ground running and receive recommendations and orders before they’ve even set up.

Old canines and new tricks

There’s a saying about new tricks and old canines and there’s a lot of truth in it. The reason for this being that old canines already know the best tried and tested tricks, which they can translate to new uses. This comes back to experience, but it’s also related to the type of business you choose to run. If you’ve spent your working life as an accountant it may not be “Plan A” to set up as a bespoke crochet service. Naturally your choice of business will be dictated by experience and interests, but the important point here is that you’ll have years of experience in the area you choose. It may be that you decided to begin a business based on a life-long hobby but the same principles apply. Compared to start-ups run by younger entrepreneurs you’ll have the one thing that money cannot buy – knowledge of your industry and what does and doesn’t work in the field.

Techno-phobic reactions

Technology plays a crucial role in many businesses today and you might think that the ‘freshers’ have the edge here. To some extent this is true, however most people in their fifties will have worked with computers for a large part of their working lives. They have also seen how rapidly technology changes and have learned, even if reluctantly, to embrace and adapt to these changes quickly. When you started out your working life with access to a typing pool and ended it with only a Blackberry, you know just how much things can change. You’ve also successfully survived and adapted to changes that the new kids on the block cannot imagine, even in their worst nightmares. It’s a skill you should never under rate.

Controlling the future

Whatever age you are, starting up a business can be the biggest challenge you have ever undertaken. Some people in their fifties will face a specific challenge. If you have worked for an employer or many employers you may feel that you are not up to the challenges of running things for yourself. The reality is that you’ve spent most of your working life seeing how it’s done! Many people do face the necessity of working longer before they are able to retire and this can be a depressing prospect. By becoming self-employed you have the opportunity to shape your own future and to control it in a way that may not have been possible as an employee. It is a challenge, it is hard work and it can be difficult. 

However, success in working for yourself is probably the most satisfying way to make a living. The chances are that at fifty you have all the experience and qualities that are needed to make a lasting success of whatever business you choose to run.