If you’ve got a shorter runway, you don’t really have the luxury of reinventing.” So says Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice, who teaches a workshop for midlife entrepreneurs. That shorter runway means less time to grow a business and start generating revenue. Cleaver, 55, an entrepreneur herself (Wilson-Taylor Associates is her content strategy and development firm), says that’s why she advises fifty-something entrepreneurs to “repurpose, not reinvent,” citing research that one of the biggest predictors of success for entrepreneurs is their existing knowledge base.
To repurpose successfully, entrepreneurs should sort their business options into two buckets. “Decide if you’re going to frame your entrepreneurial venture based on your technical expertise or your subject matter expertise.” The idea here is that you’ll have more success faster if you find your niche, then hone your business idea to what distinguishes you. “Have a narrowly focused business pitch,” says Cleaver. “If your pitch is ‘I can do everything,’ that won’t work.”
Rely On Your Experience, Then Follow The Trends
Cleaver’s advice is aimed at midlife entrepreneurs who need to get their businesses up and running—and making money—quickly, because they have far less time to do so than someone decades younger. A shorter time horizon also means less room to recover from major mistakes, so reinvention is a riskier proposition. Minimize those risks by marshalling past experience to fast track a new business.
Start by looking at industry trends, which can inform your decisions about the kind of business you want to start, says Diane Eschenbach, 57, a marketing strategist and founder of DE Marketing Consultants in New York City. Eschenbach says the businesses that grow fastest are those that follow trends.
“If you want to grow quickly, look at your skills and what you like to do, and see what’s as close to that as possible that is also trending,” she says. “What’s hot now in your industry or industries related to yours? In the economy? What are people buying now? What trends do you see on the Internet? Thinking that way can open up the door to an option you didn’t even know about.”
Fast Track With a Franchise
Another option for fast-tracking a startup is to enter entrepreneurship through a franchise. The concept, branding, marketing plan and processes are already in place, which makes it easier to get up and running quickly. Jeff Tews, who’d had a long career in the telephone industry, and his wife Susan Rather, now 63 and 54, invested in a franchise seven years ago. The one they chose, BrightStar Care, provides home care and medical staffing. Tews and Rather now have five territories, 500 home-care employees and 32-full time staff.
“One factor in this choice was time, because a franchise gives you a much quicker start than building a company from scratch,” says Tews. “BrightStar has an operating system in place, including scheduling, payments and staffing. Creating all that ourselves would have taken years. It gave me a chance to get started on the real work and begin making money faster.”
Tews and Rather are about to become the first franchisee for BrightStar Senior Living, a facility for those needing memory care and assisted living. It opened in March. When it’s ready to be franchised, Tews and Rather will have the chance to buy it. “For us, from an age perspective, it’ll be a significant amount of debt,” says Tews. “But because it’s a franchise, before we invest the model has be proved. So that limits the risk,” he says.
Kevin and Jean Knobloch also decided a franchise was the best way into entrepreneurship. In 2011, at ages 49 and 53, they decided to become N-Hance Wood Renewal franchisees in Glens Falls, New York, offering wood refinishing services. “We looked at how we could grow a business and generate an income quickly, and a franchise was better than reinventing the wheel,” says Kevin Knobloch.
More Time for Leisure
Building a business quickly can be labor-intensive but being able to get a team in place quickly means that within a few years, midlife business owners can actually step back and enjoy life. Tews and Rather’s income has been higher than they anticipated although building the franchise required a lot of time and energy, especially the first two years. Five years later, they took six weeks off for a biking trip. “We now have a team in place to allow us to do more of that,” he says. Last year they took seven-and-a-half weeks for another cross-country bike ride.
The Knoblochs are also counting on their leisure time to increase. In the three years since they started their first N-Hance franchise, they have expanded to four franchise territories. Jean Knobloch says the couple feels they can continue operating the franchise until about age 70. But as the business grows, they intend to delegate much more work to staff. “I’m very comfortable with that,” says Jean. “It will give us more time for traveling and to be part of our grandchildren’s lives.”