Entrepreneurship in Later Life, Finding Place on the Career Spectrum.

Through many enriching years in the career development/transition field, my advisory and seminar work largely focused on helping those at any age who are exploring the entrepreneurship option, and increasingly over the last eight years, working with those in particular, who are on a journey of entrepreneurship in later life. Not a new phenomenon, this trend has been growing globally, not just in Canada, for quite some time.

It is deliberate, that I keep to that open phrase entrepreneurship in later life, in the sense that not only are there are multiple motivations and pathways to, and forms of entrepreneurial activity here, it is also significant to note that age segmentation in later life stages, is not best-defined by a singular term such as “seniorpreneur”.

As catchy as it is for contemporary marketing purposes, the questioning I have of the use of the term seniorpreneur is that the word senior itself often brings up immediate connotations that define people automatically as being over a certain age. Depending on whose terms of reference you choose to use, or what editorial you want to write – over 65 for example, makes you a senior.

Commonly though, since I first heard the term in 2008, seniorpreneurs have had their starting gate marked as 50 or 55, or more homogeneously, 50-plus. If I had ever called one of my clients at 50 a senior, I would have surely have been laughed at, or told off. Yet we do this in consumer marketing and market research all the time, the “50-plus market”. This is one of the reasons I specifically say “marketing to segments of a 50-plus audience”.

A new entrepreneurship research project in Canada

For study purposes, if we must pick a starting marker for later life versus early life, and it’s 50-plus, then so be it. Thus it is timely and useful now, that given all the coverage around the trend towards entrepreneurship in later life, we should have a Canada-wide research project to help scope and define – what actually is the status of all this?

Announced in July 2017, CERIC – a charitable organization that advances education and research in career counselling and career development – has funded a project led by the Centre for Elder Research at Sheridan College. Titled “A Study on the Status of Senior Entrepreneurship in Canada: Training Implications for Career Counsellors”, the project is now underway as we head into the fall season and the final report is likely to be released in January 2018.

As an avid supporter of the Sheridan Centre, and as a past Board Chair of CERIC, I am pleased that this research is moving forward. It is a passion and privilege of mine to work with clients who are motivated to not only research and develop an idea to meet a need or fill a gap in a chosen market in an independent way, but also because they want to make better, active social use of their time in later life.

Entrepreneurship, not to be over-sensationalized

Observations from my perspective, through the hundreds of client conversations I’ve had over the years; entrepreneurship is for many quite an imposing or daunting proposition. At its comfortable best, the quest for independence and autonomy at work is actualized as “self-employment”. Frequently seen as creating a job for oneself, for example by those in their 60’s who want to bridge these active years, post full time job, it is a means to replace or supplement income because they say, “I can’t afford nor do I desire to retire”.

Of course, there are those in later life who are more likely to describe themselves as a business owner, with the drive and the access to finances to start or buy a business or franchise, with the goal to invest and build a business proposition to eventually replicate and sell. For others it will be a home based, web based  or craft business for supplementary income, for some it will be independent consulting or contracting, or all of the above, at different stages in their later life course.

Some have support systems and the networks and some don’t. Some have a business coach or mentor and some don’t. Sometimes entrepreneurship is over-sensationalized. Sometimes it is an episodic journey. Some will make it successfully past five years and some will hold – in the not so far back of their minds – “that if it doesn’t click within eighteen months tops, plan B is to find another corporate role.” These are merely a few of the things I have heard.

As a bi-product of my work in this area of entrepreneurship in later life, I have developed a profile matrix and several models that align the combination of age & life stage, motivations, types of business ideas, immediate coaching needs and resources, which has been useful in my ability to get to the quick in seminar presentations and strategy conversations. However, where I find most people will need the most support goes well beyond the start-up phase, further up the road in their business cycle.

An opportunity for career services, how entrepreneurial?

Career services in general, in whatever venue provided, have not typically geared programs to treat the subject of entrepreneurship in a robust way. Services have largely targeted the delivery of traditional employment coaching or career counselling, and leave entrepreneurship relegated to a marginal position in house. Perhaps the mandates of career services, driven by the funders, have not considered the trends versus the statistics detailed by segmented age cohorts.

After all, the self-employment rate in Canada has hovered around 15.5 per cent for years, even during economic downturns. Yet if this trend with the 50-plus is all it is reported to be, then maybe it is more a case of career services taking the step to be proactive or at least more responsive to this under-appreciated reality. So one of the things I hope the Sheridan research does is highlight opportunities for providing better support for those who want to explore the entrepreneurial option.

In closing, while we consider all this, we should keep in mind that one of the other trends of so-called seniorpreneurs, is that thousands of business owners – family run enterprises and independent small business owners – who have been in business for years, are at a point in their later life, where they are ready to sell.

As I meet people in my networks, I find that for some established entrepreneurs, there is no legacy or exit plan, and where may be the case, their adult children are not always keen or prepared. Interesting contrast in the entrepreneurial trends story, which I expect will find several more twists and turns within the bigger picture of working in the 21st century global economy.

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