The Rise of the Grey Entrepreneurs

Businessman on park bench using tablet

New business owners are often portrayed as young, dynamic, tech-savvy people, running hot new start-ups. However, long life expectancy, later retirement ages and smaller pension pots mean an older generation of workers are feeling the need to launch their own businesses.

The retired solicitor

Among them is Paul Murray, who worked as a solicitor until he was in his early 60’s. He was looking forward to a peaceful retirement when he received some unwelcome news. An assessment of his pension provision showed he had far less money than he had previously been led to believe.

Meanwhile, he was enjoying his employment less and less and wanted to retire. ‘I worked for a large firm and had previously felt I was a respected older colleague. But the ethos was changing and I felt there was no longer the respect for the older, mature and experienced colleagues,’ he says. ‘They were making my life more difficult. Soon, more and more of my generation were leaving, one after the other.’

Value of experience

Murray left his job and spent a few months over the Christmas period deciding on what to do. In early 2013, aged 63, he started his first business.

He cashed in his pension pot and used it as seed money to start up and live off. Paul Murray HR, an employment advisory law firm, was created and its founder entered a sharp learning curve, picking up new online skills. ‘I taught myself how to create a website and saved £2,000-2,500, which was what I was quoted by a web developer. I learned about desktop publishing and created my own stationery. I also learned about SEO and online marketing. I enjoyed working on the business,’ he says.

Murray gave himself six months to prove the business could work. Three years later, the business is still going strong. He’s pleased with his decision and believes his experience gives him an advantage over many of his younger competitors. ‘A lot of advisors just give clients a textbook reply, whereas I tell people what I think,’ he explains. ‘People like my direct approach and the fact that I’ll talk to them about other things than law.’

The former call centre worker

Having experience in the workplace can be advantageous to entrepreneurs, although they often need to learn new skills.

Tracey Marshall had worked in call centres for most of her adult life, but then, aged 50, she was informed that she was to be made redundant. Thankfully, she was given a year’s notice. She decided to take her long-term needlecraft hobby and turn it into a business.

Marshall set up Thread Squirrel, producing bespoke embroidered goods and selling them online via her website as well as networks such as Etsy and ‘I knew I was being made redundant and wanted something which wasn’t working in a call centre, which is what I had done in the past. I did a course where I learned to use an embroidery machine,’ she relates.

Capitalise on old skills

However, years in a call centre meant she knew how to talk to customers, including how to sell and how to handle problems. She says this has been a key part of her business’s growth. ‘I know how important customer service is and that, if you get something wrong, it’s not the end of the world. It’s all about how you put it right – that’s extremely important,’ she advises.

Thread Squirrel now does a brisk trade and sells in the region of 2,000 items per year. Marshall says online trading is not easy, but the key is knowing you should defer to someone else. ‘Photographs have been a struggle for me,’ she says. ‘I know how to take photographs but I just can’t do it, so I employ a professional photographer. You have to be good at everything when you run your own business, but if you’re not then you have to get someone else to do it.’

[Summary/G+ intro: Financial necessity means pensioners and older workers are starting up businesses after a life of full-time employment]

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