Taking The Leap – Becoming Self-Employed After 50

Google ‘starting a business after 50’ and a stream of results come up, and for good reason.  As we are living longer, healthier lives, the idea of retiring at 65 and spending the next 30 years doing nothing more exciting than watching TV and tending to the garden is not as attractive as it once was.

‘Olderpreneurs’ (a dubious name that will quickly go the way of ‘Mumpreneurs’) made up a fifth of Britain’s new business owners in 2017. That same year, Barclays’ Bank reported a 67% increase in women over 55 opening business accounts in the past 10 years, and for those aged 65 or over, the number is up 132%.

Alongside a wealth of experience and contacts, entrepreneurs over 50 have another major advantage – financial firepower.  By liquidating equity in their property, collecting tidy redundancy payments, or cashing in their pensions, those entering the third age can afford to launch a start-up, purchase a franchise, or build-up a freelance consultancy practice without needing to sacrifice their lifestyle to any great extent.

An anti-ageing culture

Why, when between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%, are we so obsessed with youth? As one author recently quipped at a book launch; “ageing is seen as almost an act of negligence”.  And there is no denying that women are subject to more pressure than men to hang on to their youth.  In the classic 1972 article entitled The Double Standard of Aging, Susan Sontag argued the social convention that age enhances a man’s status but devalues a woman’s is an instrument of oppression.  Over 40 years’ later, discrimination still exists, but the gap between how it affects the sexes has narrowed.  But rather than everyone collectively embracing ageing, for which death is the only cure, both sexes are expected to stay youthful looking, uber-healthy, and fit.  Failure to do so is seen as the fault of the individual, rather than a natural process of advancing years.

Is age discrimination forcing over 50s to go it alone?

The difficulty experienced by older people in finding employment is well documented.  The results of a report from the Women and Equalities Committee found age discrimination remains “rife” in the workplace.  Ben Willmott the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) head of public policy, told the committee that managers often held “biases and myths” against older workers, including the idea that they were “waiting to retire” and would not work as hard, or were unwilling to pick up new skills.   Older workers also stated they were disproportionately likely to be selected for redundancy.  A piece in the Financial Times by Lucy Kellaway entitled, In search of the missing office minority – the over 50s attracted almost 200 comments, most of which highlighted sad experiences of City workers or professionals either being made redundant or desperately trying to keep heads below the parapet so they would be overlooked when the next inevitable restructuring project was announced.  One commentator to Ms Kellaway’s article stated:

“I was made redundant from a City firm four years ago in the wake of the crisis at age 54. It soon became clear that my chances of getting a similar job were close to zero, so I went down the self-employed route by buying a small engineering company. The past four years have been a rollercoaster, mostly great fun, and I have learned a lot — though not made much money. I was lucky to have the funds to do this. The moral of the story for high earners in their 30s and 40s is to save like mad while you can.”

Tips for becoming self-employed after 50

If you have decided to take the leap into self-employment, here are some tips to ensure your risk pays off.

  • Decide what you want to do– this is an important step often forgotten in the panic to create an income. If you have loathed every second of your profession over the past 35 years or so, launching a start-up in the same sector may not be the best idea.  Take a good look at your skill set and talk to a professional advisor about what your options could be.  For example, if you are a Solicitor by trade who hated the law but loved the business development side of running a practice, perhaps consider a digital marketing consultancy.
  • Don’t expect a cushy life – the reality of self-employment is that you will never work harder than you do for yourself. But the upside is, every hour you spend on your business translates to money in your pocket, rather than someone else’s (HMRC excluded).  You are free to execute your ideas, refuse to attend meetings that are a waste of time (and all meetings are a waste of time unless someone is writing you a cheque), and take on work that interests you.  Life may not be easier, but you will be in control.
  • Seek advice on financing your venture– there are multiple ways over 50scan seek to raise capital to launch their start-up, from pension-led funding to government start-up loans.
  • Invest time in a business plan – your business plan is your road-map on the rocky trail of self-employment. It is not something that should be dashed off in a week.  Research potential competitors, write up a marketing strategy and set realistic financial targets for the next three to five years.
  • Don’t be in a rush to employ others – speak to anyone who runs their own business, and they will confirm that stress increases with every employee you hire. Make sure you are fully prepared to take on the responsibility of an employee before making the commitment. If you have previously worked for large corporates, you would have benefited from the luxury of an in-house human resource department to deal with any staffing issues.  It can come as a shock to suddenly be faced with sorting out employee problems, on top of doing all the marketing, finances, and dealing with the day-to-day running of the business. Think carefully about whether your current and future turnover and business structure can truly support an employee.
  • Enjoy yourself – self-employment provides endless opportunities for personal growth, meeting new and positive people, and learning new skills. Add to this the chance of a flexible lifestyle and the joy of doing something you love.  If you have spent three or more decades dealing with office politics, horrendous work hours, and crushing stress, being your own boss can provide you with a sense of happiness and contentment unlike any other.  Don’t take it for granted.

Final words

Redundancy may cause people to examine their life and ask, ‘is this it?’.  If you find yourself in this position, and are thinking about starting your own venture, remember, you are not alone, not too old, and are in a prime position to succeed.

All that is required is to take a deep breath and leap….

BDBF are employment law specialists that can provide confidential advice on exiting the workplace, and the employment law aspects of starting a new business, or growing an existing business, Call us confidentially on 020 3828 0350.