When written in Chinese the word “crisis” is composed of two characters – one represents danger and the other represents opportunity. (John F. Kennedy, 12 April 1959)
Following recent publication of my survey findings on entrepreneurship in later life, I was preparing to share with you exciting plans for a mini conference at the end of the year dedicated to celebrating entrepreneurship, as an option for older age. The very challenging few weeks has shown the vulnerability of our age group to the coronavirus pandemic! Therefore, for the time being, plans for this unique event are on hold.
However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be mulling over our future options.
Time to reflect
You may have been thinking for some time about ways of supplementing retirement income, or just wanting to implement a long-standing ambition to run your own business. You may be looking for new challenges in life and see a good business opportunity.
The findings from my research show that the motivations and aspirations of women in later life are different to those of their male counterparts. We possess a wealth of experience and skills, which we feel are being underutilised. But with different levels of experience, we have to overcome different personal development challenges . We have great reserves of resilience and perseverance to draw upon when difficulties arise. We see setting up in business as a positive step but still somehow regard this option as “not for me”. We lack both confidence in our own abilities to run a business and we are concerned about being perceived by family, friends and wider society as deviating from the gender stereotypes society has assigned to us in later life. These are our biggest barriers.
With my grandchildren at home during the Easter holidays, to help my daughter, who now runs our family business, I would normally be taking them out for daytrips, but social distancing, will prevent me from doing this. I am sure many of you will be in the same situation. Having, therefore, the space and time to think, this is the perfect time for you to reflect on how to earn additional income or how to realise a long-held dream to be your own boss. You will probably never again have as much time as now to think about the future!
What are the key issues for you to consider when mulling over the option of becoming an entrepreneur?
1. Do you already have an idea you would like to implement? Do you see an opportunity in the market?
2. What are the values you would like to bring to your business?
3. What sort of business model would you like to adopt? Would you prefer to work more on an associate and partnership basis? Our business model has always been based on a small core staff managing a network of quality assured suppliers. Skills and experience of many years could be applied to maximising your communication and relationship building skills. I was recently told by a psychologist that women form deeper relationship than men who have a lot of acquaintances but shallow relationships! What are benefits of this model? Focus on people management and team building.
4. Where would you base your business? Keep initial costs and investments low/ run your business from home?
5. Do you have any funds to invent in the business? Would you be able to borrow from family and friends/ approach bank for bank loan/ use credit card?
6. Do you know where to go for help and advice to create a business plan/budget/cash flow? Chambers of Commerce/ bank/accountant/ other organisations. You will need to find good people to help and support you: business specialists, investors, mentors etc. but most importantly we learn from each other.
7. What skills and experience can you bring to the business? What skills do you still need? Conduct a skills audit.
8. Are you reasonably fit and healthy?
9. Can you rely on support from spouse/partner/ friends?
10. How up to date are your IT skills? Do you use social media on a regular basis?
11. What time constraints do you normally have?
12. What are your main concerns about running your own business?
Be true to yourself
Although seizing an opportunity doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll attain your desired result, you can optimise your chances when an opportunity does come your way. But you will never be totally prepared. So, don’t think you need to know everything before you take the plunge. Most importantly, try and put a lid on those critical voices inside. The voices that say: “I can’t do it” and “You’re ridiculous to even try.” Finally believe it is possible. Sometime the greatest fear we have is fear of success, not fear of failure. We are our own worst enemies!
If you are genuine and authentic about building trust and relationships, you will succeed and become a powerful resource for others. Have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes your doing it special or different from others. Finally put up a fight and believe in what you are doing. Don’t allow doubts and fears to drag you down. You have to let something else guide you. Your scared, fearful self isn’t the only you.
What I have also found is that I have been most content with myself when I have been intensely focused on something that has been almost too hard or too scary to do! From my own experience, I know that the first step is always difficult to make. There are always easier tasks to do. Spend just 15 minutes a day, to begin with, thinking about some of the issues I have listed below. Then start writing your action plan. I use the Tasks section in Outlook to generate my list of actions.
A few words about my own background
Entrepreneurs do not fit into generic moulds and I am no exception! My master’s thesis (would you believe it) was on 17/18th century church pulpits in Central Europe – not exactly the recipe for a budding entrepreneur! I am founder and now chair of COMTEC, a hi-tech language services provider to industry.
My abiding focus and interest has been the interface between business activity and public policy. I was active for many years in the Chamber of Commerce movement. As the first female President of the British Chambers of Commerce, pushed for support for female entrepreneurship and was instrumental in setting up the Women’s Enterprise Task Force. I have had experience of all aspects of business lifecycle i.e. start-up, buying and selling several businesses, buying back a business, setting up a new business and failing, raising finance from banks and other sources, managing a large network of suppliers, designing and implementing quality standards, establishing competitive advantage in a mature industry and latterly establishing a family business now run by my daughter, with my son-in-law employed as technical director.
Please now watch this space for a series of videos in which I will address the issues I raised above. In my first video I will present the survey findings: Female Entrepreneurship in later life: The next chapter. Meanwhile if you would like to contact me with any feedback please get in touch via our website link. You may also like to listen to a recording of a recent interview on entrepreneurship in later life for BBC Coventry and Warwickshire. My co-interviewee was Alison Orr, who at the age of 58 set up a business supporting the Voluntary and Community Sector.