Rise of the Seniorpreneur

Joseph Campbell was 52 when he started his world famous tinned soup company. Ferdinand Porsche was 56, when his eponymous sports car roared onto the scene and Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame was 65 when he introduced his secret blend of herbs and spices to the fast-food-loving masses. They may have been selling vastly different products, but each was over 50 when they turned their dreams into multi-million dollar business ventures. Well they’re not the only ones. From large corporations to boutique brands, the aptly dubbed ‘Seniorpreneurs ‘are becoming the success phenomenon of the modern age.

 

Joseph Campbell was 52 when he started his world famous tinned soup company. Ferdinand Porsche was 56, when his eponymous sports car roared onto the scene and Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame was 65 when he introduced his secret blend of herbs and spices to the fast-food-loving masses.  They may have been selling vastly different products, but each was over 50 when they turned their dreams into multi-million dollar business ventures. Well they’re not the only ones. From large corporations to boutique brands, the aptly dubbed ‘Seniorpreneurs ‘are becoming the success phenomenon of the modern age.

In 1996 only 13% of new entrepreneurs were aged 55 – 64. By 2013, that figure had risen to 23%. And research by Swinburne University of Technology has found that today, baby boomers have a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity – and success – than their millennial counterparts aged 20 – 34. When you consider the reasons, it’s not all that surprising. Boomers are becoming an increasingly powerful demographic, living longer and better than any generation before them. They tend to have more freedom, less responsibility and thanks to a combination of accrued experience and solid networks, they have more money to invest and the time to truly focus.

This is something retirement author Jill Weeks has seen first hand, time and time again. Whilst travelling around Australia with her husband Owen, researching for their first book, Where To Retire In Australia, she met hundreds of inspiring retirees who had combined passion with innovation and launched new ventures. Jill and Owen were so impressed by the people they met that their second book, Retire Bizzi is a compilation of the stories of 101 of these ‘seniorpreneurs’.

“There are so many people over 50 doing amazing things,” says Jill. “One lady we met up near Mudgee, had a treechange from Sydney and now she has this terrific business selling all sorts of things from shoe bags to ironing board covers – she’s sold thousands around the world. Another guy up in Ballina decided to establish an employment agency for baby boomers, called Silver Temps. It doesn't matter how old you are, people don't have a use-by date. As my husband says, age only matters if you’re a bottle of wine or a lump of cheese. We’ve met people who have bought wineries, bed and breakfasts – all sorts of wonderful things.”

It’s true, we’re living longer than ever – and we’re working longer as a result. But in an interesting knock on effect, science has found that working longer has a significant impact on our longevity. A US study of 7000 people aged 20 – 75 found that having a sense of purpose not only contributes to healthy ageing, but also helps you to live longer.  “Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose,” says lead researcher Patrick Hill of Carleton University in Canada. “There are a lot of reasons to believe that being purposeful might help protect older adults more so than younger ones,” says Hill. “For instance, adults might need a sense of direction more, after they have left the workplace and lost that source for organising their daily events.”

Weeks has found that while many individuals emerge from retirement out of necessity, the common denominator in starting something new – be it finding employment, building a business, or making money from your hobbies – is passion. And age is a bonus when it comes to success.

“[Retirees] have experience, wisdom and training. They’re fortunate to know what they like and they’re very good at adapting to change,” says Weeks. “In the past, they might have had a lot more pressure; they would have had to endeavour to keep the food on the table, their children educated and the rent or mortgage paid as well as had pressure from work, whereas now, they’re in charge of their own destinies.

“I know one couple that has launched an outback helpers scheme, so if you’re a grey nomad you can contact them and get work experience – or even paid work in the outback. Another man I know started a 'Locum Business Service' with his wife, which means he looks after other people’s businesses while they were away – opening mail, checking on staff, help with the banking – anything and everything. They became so busy that he actually had to turn down work after a while. His age – as well as his experience, trustworthiness and dedication – definitely worked in his favour.”

According to a projection by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of people in Australia aged 65 and over is expected to more than double, from 3.2 million in 2012 to 6.8 million by 2040. So the boom of successful senior entrepreneurs is only going to get bigger. It’s already an extremely influential demographic; one of the most liberated, independent and innovative generations ever seen. According to an Australian study, baby boomers hold more than 40% of the nation’s wealth – and delayed retirement means they have a higher earning capacity – and more disposable income. It’s truly a time of both personal and financial freedom.

So what should you do if you’re thinking of joining the ever-growing ranks of successful seniorpreneurs? Weeks has some useful advice. “Establish an ‘ideas bank’ and write down all the possibilities. Work out what your passions are and your skills and see how you can marry them. Decide whether you just want a hobby or a business. Of course there are implications that go with that, so you should talk to your financial planner too,” she says. “Do your research and speak to as many people as possible. Get your advice from a number of different sources, cultivate your networks so you’re not limited to one group and surround yourself with people who encourage you.”

You can also take advantage of the various Business Enterprise Centres (becaustralia.org.au) around the country, where you can go for guidance and mentoring, to help your fledgling business reach its full potential. The aim, says Weeks, is to be able to start a business that can be profitable, without risking your retirement income.

When you think about it, it’s truly a win-win situation – making money doing something you love. There’s a reason so many over-50s are not only more successful, but happier than ever. They’re living the dream – and embracing the spirit of the famous Confucius quote that says, ‘Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’