Starting a business after 50 – here’s how I did it
Why would you leave a secure job at the age of 56 and strike out on your own? Marian Mouttet answers both the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of starting a business after 50.
At the end of 2010 I was 56 years old. I’d just completed 12 years’ service with the company I started out with as a Creditors’ reconciliation officer, before progressing through the ranks to become Administration and IT Manager. The latter was a role I’d held for five years and I hugely enjoyed the variety, responsibility and challenges it offered.
Unfortunately, once a year, at increase/bonus time, I would get a little disturbed that my Manager’s pay and perks did not quite match up with the other Managers despite the additional projects I’d taken on and succeeded at. Each year I’d comfort myself that I really enjoyed both the variety of my job and the team I got to work with. Then I’d quickly settle back into my comfort zone. I had every intention of staying with them until I retired – hopefully at 60 – as I did not envision working full-time after that.
Planting the seed
In January 2011, my daughter Kelly, (yes, Editor of this site – she harassed me into writing this article!) got frustrated at my annual grumbling and showed me a possible alternative path. She thought that, with some training in Social Media, I should be able to start my own business as a Virtual Assistant.
I investigated the many websites offering help and advice on the industry and realised that – yes, I could probably do this. Furthermore, the skills and experience I had in Australia were already enough. Virtual Assistants offer a wide variety of services and I didn’t necessarily need to be a Social Media expert.
I tucked it away as a great idea to consider for the future. Work was challenging and interesting with two big projects coming to fruition. Over the next two months, however, a few more things came up that annoyed and depressed me. I started thinking more about the Virtual Assistant Industry and wondered why I was waiting for the future.
The deciding factors
I went from ‘considering’ the idea to ‘going for it’ in very short time. After discussing the idea with my husband and confirming his full support, I handed in my notice in March 2011. There were many factors that allowed me to make this somewhat precipitous decision:
- I did not want to work full-time as an employee past 60. I could, however, envision working for myself past that age, gradually cutting my hours to suit my lifestyle.
- I figured 56 was probably a better time to start a new venture rather than waiting until retirement. This would give me time to build the business and arrive at my 60s with it as a going concern.
- I had a variety of skills to offer small businesses owners who did not have enough work for, or could not afford, full-time staff.
- Our household finances were sufficiently organised that we could take a chance on me.
- I knew that if things did not work out, my main field of expertise – Accounts – would enable me to ‘temp’ until either my business improved or I got another job.
What kind of safety net did I have?
As previously mentioned, our household finances were well-organised. We had minimal mortgage payments which I could reduce as we were paying more than we had to. We were also no longer funding five children and, although we lived comfortably and did not scrimp on entertainment, we weren’t extravagant either. I knew exactly what we needed to continue living with no real impact on our lifestyle.
Additionally, I would be entitled to three months’ full salary in Long Service Leave when I resigned. I knew I could stretch this to cover four months of household expenses if I had to.
In my head, this gave me four months to get my new business to replace my salary.
While I was working out my period of notice, I also worked to ensure my business would be ready to go from the first day I was self-employed. This involved:
There are a great many Virtual Assistant organisations and businesses who offer step-by-step advice on what you need legally to start up, basic must-haves, how to get leads, how to set up your website and so on. I started sourcing the basic requisites as per their advice.
- A business name – I loved the name ‘Virtual Ant’ and could picture a logo with a female ant carrying the world on her back and the tag line We will carry your load for you. In the end my kids convinced me that it was a very cute idea, but I should project a more serious and reliable image. After tossing things around for a while, Blue Sky Admin was born.
- A business name meant I could – register for my ABN, organise a logo, business card and website. By the time I left work I had business cards to hand out.
- Join a networking group – while sourcing the printer for my new home office, I described my impending business venture to the supplier and gave him my card. I mentioned how one of the main pieces of advice was to get out and join a networking group. Lo and behold, he was a member of a group that met once a week. He introduced me via email to the group. I had to join LinkedIn to become a member of the group and receive their notifications. Tick, tick – two organisations joined as per advice before I had even started.
Business planning and marketing
I was only able to do this side of things once I’d worked out my notice period (there are only so many hours in the day!)
- One of the online organisations I referred to and joined (A Clayton’s Secretary) offered a course in How to Become a VA which I quickly elected to do. Although my research had given me a good idea of what was needed, working through the course ensured I’d not forgotten anything, (business plan, hardware and software requirements, office equipment, insurance needs, documents such as first contact and agreements, local by-laws for operating from home, how to set your rates, marketing strategies and more). If there is no course specific to the industry you’re entering, I know Flying Solo offers one that steps any new small business owner through setting up and growing their business.
- Part of the course I did involved creating a business plan. Having worked on my previous company’s complicated business plan, I thought, ‘Oh no, I can’t believe I have to do this.’ But, it was a course requirement and I forced myself to do it. There are any number of templates available on the web. I sourced a simple one and edited it for my business. As I came up with answers and plans for each category, I can’t stress how important and how helpful I found this exercise to be for my business. Many small businesses think they do not need it, but I found it clarified in my mind what my business was about, the ethos, the services I would provide, how I would provide them, how I would price them, how I envisaged the business would grow, the various steps I would take to market my services, what I could offer as an advantage to my clients, my strengths and weaknesses and more.
What I did in the first three months to find clients
1. Thanks to the course and the business plan I developed a marketing strategy which included: have a website; attend networking meetings; email a flyer to all my contacts; and join at least two VA online organisations for leads. Some strategies worked and some did not, but I tried them all.
2. I joined two local networking groups. I got one of my first clients through this group and they’re still with me today.
3. Before going out on my own, I had an existing private client I’d done Award Submission documents for. I contacted them and let them know of my new status and they became my first business client. They provided me with a certain level of income for the first two months and, once a year thereafter, I could be assured of producing their award submissions.
4. Another piece of advice I’d received was to volunteer to work for a non-profit organisation for free. Being a member of a social club, I offered to produce and publish their monthly newsletter for free. Not only did I get to demonstrate my desktop publishing skills to a whole group of families with many business connections, I also utilised the free member advertisement to advertise my business. I got one of my main on-going clients through this medium. I also called a previous co-worker who was working for a non-profit charity organisation and offered to help them out for free. At the time he already had a firm providing admin and accounts work, but said he would keep me in mind. A couple months later that organisation became my first client with consistent monthly earnings. (I never actually had to work for them for free. But they did get a good discount!)
5. I told everyone I knew personally about my new business and described what I offered. This led to meeting a friend for coffee one day. (I could now do such things because I was my own boss!) She asked me how I was going and if I needed any new clients because she knew a new start-up looking for administrative help. That contact became my third on-going and biggest client. My advice, tell everyone what you do, you never know when they might know someone who needs you.
6. At first I was nervous and took anything which came my way. One such job was cold calling. I quickly realised this was not for me – rates too low and not my thing at all – so I resigned from that job. My advice, do not settle for jobs you do not want to do and rates that undervalue your services. Eventually I could pick and choose to only do the kind of work that fitted my niche and interests.
When did I manage to achieve the income levels I was looking for?
I started my business on 14 April 2011. Five months later, I’d achieved the regular weekly income I required.
Since then I’ve always maintained 4-5 clients who I provide regular administrative and accounts services to. That equates to at least five billable hours per day and has provided me with a predictable source of income. Those clients are the mainstay of my business. As you can see, you don’t need many ongoing clients to create a regular income. In addition, I have other clients that are seasonal and increase my income levels when they have work. (So much so, at times they also up my stress and overload levels.)
What are my best tips for those who are over 50 and contemplating starting their own business?
Very briefly, you should:
- Have a clear idea of what you want or need to achieve, income-wise.
- Ensure your services/products are viable and priced to meet the target income. (As an example: a service provider who expects to have at least four weeks off a year, and cover maybe one week of being sick needs to take their target annual income and divide by 47 weeks. That is how much you should plan to sell per week to cover the time you do not work. For an hourly charge, divide the weekly target by the number of hours you plan to work for your hourly income. If the hourly charge to the client comes out unreasonably high, then you will have to plan to work more weeks, or more hours per week to achieve a realistic charge.)
- Understand any laws and requirement regarding your business sector.
- Develop a marketing plan, pay attention to the great advice out there and follow it. Some strategies work and some don’t but at least try them so you know what works.
- Have a business plan as it is both a management tool and operational plan. It will give a strong indication of whether the proposed business is viable and whether all bases have been covered.
- After start-up, maintain an up to date accounts system that provides monthly reports on how the business is going, compare results to the budget, take note of what is happening and what plans may be required to achieve better results. Without monthly reports on profit, cash flow etc. you do not have any idea of actual performance, despite how much cash may be coming into your account.
What are the benefits of starting a business after 50?
Recently, I’ve resigned from a few clients in order to reduce my workload to approximately three days a week. Other retirement planning income streams have made this possible.
I now have the time to be available for my children and grandchildren, play as much golf as I want (and my husband can stand) along with other personal pursuits.
This is the value of running your own business.
If, like me, you work to cover your lifestyle rather than advance a career, you can work as much as your financial needs require and still have time for a personal life. Most importantly, you will never be forced into retirement and need to figure out what you will do afterwards.
Did you start your business after 50? Or are you thinking about starting a business after 50? Share your thoughts on the benefits and the challenges in the comments below.