17 November 2018

How to start a business at 50

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It’s never too late to turn a passion or hobby into a successful start-up. Data from recent years turns the stereotype of the young entrepreneur on its head. The number of businesses run by people aged over 55 has jumped 63 per cent over the past decade, Barclays Business Bank found in recent research. And the trend is here to stay, according to Liz Earle, the 54-year-old beauty entrepreneur whose eponymous skincare brand is now owned by Boots. She says: “I’m not surprised to see so many budding entrepreneurs of my generation. It’s great to see them taking the plunge in later life.”

Here are five tips for would-be start-up founders.

1. Your time is your own

“You have fewer commitments later in life, which is a great thing when starting a business,” says Nimisha Raja, 54, founder of fruit crisp firm, Nim’s Crisps, which are now stocked in supermarkets nationwide. “I had my daughter when I was 36, which meant that she was a teenager when I started my company. She didn’t need me around quite as much, so I could spend long hours in the factory perfecting my recipes.”

2. Delegate

“When I was a young man, I used to struggle to delegate,” says Martin Port, a serial entrepreneur who started his most recent business, BigChange, five years ago, aged 50. “Now, I’m older, wiser and have more experience, so I feel more comfortable delegating. I have a managing director these days and I’ve built a very experienced and capable team around me.” It’s important to understand your energy levels and try not to overreach yourself, he advises. “I used to survive on four hours sleep and now I need five.”

3. Draw on life’s lessons

Before founding Nim’s Crisps, Raja ran a coffee shop. She would experiment with new brands and products and started noticing that customers would often try something once, but it was only when she sold out of a product for the fourth time that she knew it was a genuine hit. "When I created my air-dried fruit crisps, I made sure they sold out four times in the shop before I decided to turn it into a business,” she reveals. “Everything you learn in your life is useful for running your business," she adds. "As a parent, I learnt negotiation skills and diplomacy. I am a single mother, so I’m great at time management and working under pressure. It’s easy to forget how many skills we pick up along the way.”

4. Lifestyle or growth business?

When starting your business, it’s important to decide up front whether this will be a lifestyle business that earns a decent income or whether you want to take risks and build a growth company with big ambitions. Port explains: “I knew when I started BigChange that this would be a growth business, where I would take risks and invest a lot of my own money. But it helps if you know this from the beginning. That way, you can envision where you want it to go and prepare for the stresses of taking the growth route.”

5. Believe in yourself

Creating a new business is never easy, according to Port and Raja, but both believe it’s the best thing they’ve done. “Believe in your idea 100 per cent,” says Raja. “You can’t always control how long it takes to build a business and you need that belief to keep you going in the tough times. But starting a business also gives you a new lease of life, especially when you hear customers tell you how much they love it.” Port says: “Just go for it. And only tell your spouse after you’ve done it…”