In recent years, there have been a number of media reports proclaiming that by age 50, or even age 45, people in the U.S. are considered “unemployable”. The designation refers to the fact that people in this age range (and older) who are out of work or trying to change jobs may not be able to find employment in their profession, find employment that pays anything close to supporting a lifestyle expected in middle age by someone with their qualifications, or in some cases, even find employment of any kind whatsoever; and for workers in this age group who are successful at finding desirable employment, it often takes longer for them to secure a new job than it takes younger employees. This is largely due to the perception that the age 45 or 50+ demographic is out of touch with current technology and consumer trends combined with the massive size of the younger workforce coming up behind them. This situation can be quite scary for people who are supposed to be in their peak earning years and are wanting or needing to change jobs. Entrepreneurship is an option to traditional employment for people who are finding desirable employment elusive in middle age, providing the potential to be both financially and personally rewarding.
Older entrepreneurs – and I use the term “older” loosely here – have important strengths that they can bring to bear in starting their own businesses. They have expertise and experience and have learned important lessons from their successes and failures. They know their personal and professional strengths and so know what responsibilities they can take on. They know their shortcomings and so know where they need to gather a support team; and they have an established network of connections to help them get started. Moreover, they know what they want in terms of work-life balance/integration and they are highly motivated to make it work. Entrepreneurship can provide meaningful and realistic opportunities for someone who has these these things going for him or her.
Whatever the reason for going into entrepreneurship in midlife – whether it is dearth of desirable employment prospects or the need for greater fulfillment, keys for success include going with one’s strengths, choosing a business (products/services) that is marketable, and choosing a business model that is manageable, enjoyable, and that poses minimal risks for loss of life savings. Consulting and professional services that can be offered on a full or part-time basis without much investment are often attractive options, but they are certainly not the only ones. With people living for longer than at any time in the past, and so needing to work for longer owing to both financial and personal considerations, for many people, starting a career in small business ownership in midlife may be just what they need.
At the WU America’s SBDC Kansas, we offer classes and advising on topics to help entrepreneurs start, manage and succeed in small business.
Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
America’s SBDC Kansas