When I was young, the only word that was ever linked to midlife was ‘crisis’.
Generally, it referred to men in their 40s buying a motorbike, using Grecian 2000 and finding a new, younger partner. For women, midlife was about a mysterious menopause that nobody talked about but seemed to be associated with terminal decline.
Fortunately, as the Baby Boomer generation have headed into the second half of their lives, attitudes to ageing have slowly started to change and become more positive. That applies to people in the workplace too. Not only are there more women over 50 in employment than ever before, there are more women at that age becoming entrepreneurs.
The really good news is that older entrepreneurs tend to be more successful than their younger counterparts.
A survey by Age UK, the charity for older people, indicates that more than 70% of businesses started by people in their fifties survive for at least five years. Only 28% of those started by younger people last that long. In the US, 23% of all new entrepreneurs are age 50-65. The average age of the founders of US technology companies is 39, with twice as many over age 50 as under age 25.
There are lots of reasons why older entrepreneurs could be more successful.
Firstly, they have more life and business experience which enables them to solve problems and overcome obstacles. They have bigger networks of connections and are more financially stable. Getting older tends to lead to greater emotional intelligence which helps you to find compromises and resolve conflicts. And then there’s the increase in creativity that comes in later life.
I have believed for some years that just as our brains restructure at puberty, something similar happens in our 50s.
New research in neuroscience supports this. Although our brains start to slowly shrink after age 20, that doesn’t stop us from making new neural connections and continuing to learn. In middle age we start using more regions of the brain when we are problem solving and over time that enables more creative thinking*.
That creativity is boosted as we start to slow down and take more time to think things through. Psychologists call this ‘slow-thinking’. So, if you are over 50 and thinking of starting your own business, don’t let age stop you.
Here are top tips from older women entrepreneurs who I have interviewed:
1. Choose to do something you love
You are going to be living and breathing your new enterprise. You will only stay motivated if it is something you enjoy and that fulfils you.
2. Create a Business Plan
Your plan doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be just one page where you set out clearly what you want to achieve, by when and with what resources. This is your map that guides you forward towards what you want to create. There are plenty of examples and templates online.
3. Seek assistance
You don’t have to do this on your own, in fact it’s not a good idea to try to. You have personal superpowers, capabilities that you have developed that make you great at what you do. Don’t waste your talents trying to do the things you aren’t good at.
4. Define what success means to you
Success for entrepreneurs is rarely limited to money. Money may come as a result of what you do, it is not the reason you do it. Success in entrepreneurship is more likely to be associated with serving others, creativity, fulfilment and satisfying a sense of purpose.
5. Be prepared to take sensible risks
Risk-taking is inherent in entrepreneurship. The risks may relate to finances, timing, strategies, client engagement and trusting partners or teammates. Do your research, seek advice and then go for it.
6. Accept ‘failure’ and keep falling forward
Things don’t always go the way you expect them to. That’s OK. Learn from what happened and the feedback and then take the next step forward. The faster you fail the sooner you will be successful.
7. Notice any beliefs that you that are stopping you from succeeding
Beliefs are those niggling thoughts you have such as ‘You’re too old’ or ‘You can’t learn new technology’ or ‘Nobody wants what you have to offer’. Remember beliefs aren’t real, they are just thoughts. Beliefs can change and that is a good thing, as you will soon discover.
8. Build a supportive network
Surround yourself with people who will inspire and encourage you. You can create your network online and through physical networking events. Who you spend time with is who you become so make sure you spend time with positive people.
9. Look after yourself
It is essential to look after your physical and mental health while you are building your business. Eat well and take regular exercise. Use time management techniques that maintain a work/life business that works well for you.
10. Celebrate your achievements
The small ones as well as the big ones. As an entrepreneur you will often be working by yourself on a vision that only you can see. Keep yourself motivated by celebrating by yourself and with others.
There has never been a better time for you to satisfy your entrepreneurial urge. Use your midlife creative to pursue your life’s purpose and achieve fulfilment.
Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2008
‘Bolder: Making the most of our longer lives’, Honore, Carl 2018, Simon & Schuster