Women who start businesses mid-life do so for a variety of reasons:
pursuing a lifelong dream;
supplementing income with either a full-time or side business;
creating a job after a layoff, retirement or other life change; or
having more time and resources to devote to a passion project, particularly when their children are older.
“There is no deadline for success or fulfillment, just as there is no one path everyone needs to follow,” says the introduction to Forbes’ 50 Over 50 list of outstanding women entrepreneurs, creators and leaders.
In Good Company
In the five years before the pandemic, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21%. By 2019, nearly half of all U.S. businesses were fully or jointly owned by women (2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report). Only 4.6% of American businesses were woman-owned in 1972.
Middle-aged women can go into business with confidence. “Successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged, not young,” write Pierre Azoulay and J. Daniel Kim in Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship. “All evidence points to founders being especially successful when starting businesses in middle age or beyond.”
Calm under pressure, years of experience, strong support systems and people skills are strengths of entrepreneurs 50 and older (AARP Small Business Resource Center for the 50+).
“Your age is an asset, not a handicap,” says Sharon Morgan Tahaney, a former Ms. Arkansas Senior America who owns Spa on Main in El Dorado. “The wisdom you’ve gained over the years will provide a strong foundation upon which to grow people and ultimately revenue.”
‘Don’t Be Afraid’
With 30 years of experience in jewelry, Shannon Branstetter decided in 2020 she wanted to start her own business. The pandemic delayed her plans, but she opened her store, Shannon’s Jewelers of Hot Springs, in September at age 49.
“The best advice I can give: Don’t be afraid, work hard, be thankful and celebrate the little things,” she says. “Ask questions. It’s OK!”
“The goals I’ve set for myself and my business are changing daily and weekly,” she adds. “The response from the community has been incredible, with so many new clients and referrals.”
Though confident in her industry knowledge, Branstetter was less certain about the startup process. While planning and launching her business, she relied on her consultant from the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center. The ASBTDC provides no-cost, confidential services to Arkansas entrepreneurs.
Here are some tips from the center for prospective business owners:
1. Know your customer.
The basis of any business should be the customer. Who will buy what you’re selling? How will what you offer be different from what is already available locally or online? Confirm demand before proceeding with your business idea.
Make sure you can clearly define why customers will value your product or service more than your competitors’.
2. Consider a loan.
Budget for your startup expenses, then determine if you need to seek a loan for all or a portion of the cost.
Commercial lending can be intimidating, especially for first-time business borrowers. However, the loan path is less risky for mid-life entrepreneurs than raiding your retirement savings and often less expensive than credit card interest.
If you’ve never sought business financing, you’re not alone. According to the 2021 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, 42% of women “have never applied for a business loan or line of credit.” Male business owners are twice as likely to borrow and to borrow more.
Securing a loan on the front end is better than trying to avoid debt but running short of money mid-project, when you may not be able to borrow.
ASBTDC can answer questions about loans and other funding sources.
3. Pick your path.
Not interested in building a company from the ground up? You can take another path to business ownership, such as opening a franchise or acquiring an established business.
Tahaney, a retired executive, purchased the Spa on Main in her hometown in 2020 after consulting with the Southern Arkansas University ASBTDC.
“The pace of a small town, after living the past 35 years in Dallas and Orlando, intrigued me. I was ready for peace and freedom to do my own thing,” she says. “When I saw that Spa on Main was being sold, I began to imagine applying all I’d learned in business leadership to a place that brought comfort, health and renewal to people — including myself! So I went about doing my due diligence and discovered this was a resilient and consistent small business that would allow me to apply business management and leadership while serving this community in a meaningful way.”
Gwen Green is the marketing and communications manager for the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Email her at email@example.com.