Apr 062014
 
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Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs

What Boomer Businesses Have Going for Them

By Lynne Strang

John Olson was 40 years old when he founded Graystone Industries, a Georgia-based pond and fountain supplies business. Today, Olson’s company is among the leaders in its industry. But what if he had started it ten years earlier?

“It would not have been successful,” he says. “I could not have run a company as a younger man.”

Olson isn’t the only 40-and-older business owner who feels this way. Between 2011 and 2013, I interviewed dozens of late-blooming entrepreneurs to write a book about the success principles they used to start and operate their businesses. Most said they could not have started a business in their 20s or 30s — or if they had, it wouldn’t have turned out as well.

That revelation is noteworthy for those who dream of owning a business but wonder if they’re “too old.” If you count yourself in this group, you can stop wondering. For some people, a later start may increase the odds for entrepreneurial success because it allows time to develop certain characteristics and assets. Among them:

A bigger and better network. In entrepreneurship, the “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” adage matters. The longer you’re around, the more people you know – and the more likely it is that you’ll have the connections needed to open doors, obtain technical advice, market products or services and find the right help.

A stronger financial position. A later start can provide an opportunity for entrepreneurs to accumulate personal savings — the most significant source of funding for startups, found a 2009 survey of entrepreneurial company founders funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. And while banks usually don’t lend to a first-time entrepreneur, an older one may have a chance. That’s because he or she has had time to build financial assets, establish a credit history and cultivate relationships with lenders.  

A commitment to customer service. Many 40-and-older entrepreneurs are passionate about great service for customers because they’ve been one for so long. They understand the frustrations of long waits, unanswered phones, unreliable quality and indifferent salespeople. As entrepreneurs, they tend to be patient when resolving service issues and practice the Golden Rule. This wins customers’ loyalty and keeps them returning for more.   

More resilience. Older entrepreneurs have lived through peaks and valleys – an inevitable part of starting and operating a company. For younger business owners who haven’t endured as many life events, lean times and dips in business may cause more angst. When you’ve weathered a lot of storms, you know the sun will emerge again eventually.

A grip on reality. People who start businesses after age 40 tend to be more practical about timelines, resources and expectations, which helps them set attainable goals. Among those who concur with this idea is Ken Yancey of SCORE, a nonprofit that provides free support for aspiring and new business owners. At a recent Senate hearing, Yancey pointed out that “encore entrepreneurs” have sensible financial expectations and are “realistic in their scope and projections.” 

Self-knowledge. Older entrepreneurs know who they are and what matters to them. With this self-awareness, they can build profitable businesses that also reflect their core values and provide personal gratification. Julie Savitt, owner of Chicago-based AMS Earth Movers, is a prime example. “It took the first 40 years of experiences to identify the strengths and weaknesses that define who I am today,” she said.

Not every boomer who wants to start a business is cut out for it, of course. If you haven’t followed through on your entrepreneurial idea, it’s critical to evaluate why. Inaction may indicate habitual procrastination, a lack of commitment or motivation, poor time management skills, inadequate resources or an inability to focus. Each of these could doom a company before it gets off the ground.

On the other hand, an unborn business could be the result of a timing issue. For a variety of reasons, such as young children who needed full-time care or a spouse’s demanding career, the earlier years may not have been conducive for a startup. In addition, student loans, car payments and/or other typical bills for younger families may have required a steady income and made it difficult to set aside seed money. The passage of time can remove or ease these obstacles, clearing the way for a successful business undertaking.

The bottom line? If you possess the drive – as well as a viable business idea and sound financial footing – an ideal time to act is when you have gray hair. The second half of life brings wisdom and other benefits that weren’t available earlier. By applying this life experience to your business, you just might take it to another level

Lynne Strang is a writer and communications consultant based in Northern Virginia. She is the author of “Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.” Her email address is lbstrang@gmail.com..

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