Baby Boomers setting up businesses for the first time have different priorities to thrusting entrepreneurs in their twenties. But government schemes to help first-time businesses are invariably targeted at youngsters.
It’s an important issue because an epidemic of unemployment among the over-fifties is forcing many in this age group to consider self-employment. Recent Government statistics show there are 398,000 unemployed over-fifties, a figure which has soared by 47,000 in the past three months. Dr Ros Altmann, the director general of Saga, described the rate as a “serious national issue”.
Phil Harland, the co-founder of Boomer Business Builder, a membership club which helps Boomers develop new businesses, says the over-fifties require a different approach to young entrepreneurs.
“They have different motivations from young business owners. At 20, they want to make millions and become the next Richard Branson, whereas at 50 or 60, their ambitions are more restrained. They might want to make £20,000, or £30,000 a year, to fund their lifestyle, or imminent retirement, or buy a place in Spain. They want a business which allows them to live, rather than taking up 80 hours a week. But when they trawl the net looking for help a lot of it is targeted at youngsters and they feel bamboozled by it all,” he said.
Boomer Business Builder, therefore, tailors its approach to the particular needs and expectations of Boomers. The company is run by Boomers, which helps create an empathic relationship with members. Its American model has already helped 4,000 Boomers to set up a business.
“We have to consider where they are at in life,” said Harland. “They have often built careers, then felt stabbed in the back when they were made redundant. Young people are more resilient. They dust themselves off and get on with it. But the Boomer generation often feel badly done by because they’ve been thrown out after being with the same company for 20, or 30, years. This means they need an empathic approach and don’t want to feel that they are going back to school, back to square one,” he said.
Harland said the unemployed Boomers coming to the company’s website had usually tried to find a job for a year, or two, then given up and decided to start a business. First timers can download a free book, which is basically an ideas generator. Then, for a small fee, a second workbook gives more information about launching a business.
Full membership delivers monthly e-learning modules and access to Launch Pad, a three-day boot camp where enterprising Boomers interact with industry experts. Like-minded members can also communicate with each other.
The information is targeted at the needs of Boomers whose background mean they have a lot of experience, but also important blind spots.
“Most come from corporate environments where they have learned a lot of skills and have been through life. This is where information targeted at 20-year-olds misses the mark because it isn’t relevant to Boomers,” Harland said.
“Where the Boomers do need help is in harnessing their skills in running their own businesses. Suddenly, they are not cogs in the wheel, but they are the whole wheel. They’ve got to do everything, which is very daunting. They have to be the HR department, Sales and Marketing and Finance. So it’s a big, big step, which more and more people are having to take,” Harland said.
David W Smith