At first glance, the entrepreneurial landscape may seem crowded with young people who have barely completed puberty before kicking off their first big business venture. There's a stereotypical idea of what it means to be an entrepreneur, and it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking you're past the ideal age to start. But it's more than possible to generate a wildly successful business at any age, and as a woman entrepreneur who started her business at 42, I have a few tips for women eager to follow in my footsteps.
1. Take Inspiration From Success Stories
While we may read a great deal about the college-aged innovators who are developing the next big thing, the fact is that a great many first-time business founders are in their 40s and 50s. I started my business in my 40s and always felt that my years of professional and life experience were an asset in my entrepreneurial journey. To help inspire me, I've always been partial to seeking out the stories of real-life entrepreneurs in their mid to later years. And there are plenty to seek out. According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation that surveyed 652 US-born CEOs and heads of product development, "The average and median age of U.S.-born tech founders was 39 when they started their companies. Twice as many were older than 50 as were younger than 25." Interestingly, the founders of McDonald's, Coca Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken were all over 50 when they started their businesses.
2. Silence Your Inner Critic
Self-doubt and self-criticism plague far too many women, and we're often the ones to invite these destructive thoughts right into our own heads and hearts. We may believe on a subconscious level that we're not good enough, not smart enough, not capable enough. When I was in the early days of starting pH-D Feminine Health, I was bombarded with negative thoughts of self-doubt. They cropped up again and again, despite my natural tendency toward optimism. Building a business can be a frightening prospect, and fear feeds the inner critic. Learning to silence this negative voice starts with acknowledging it, and recognizing the voice when it happens. Give the voice a name, maybe even a personality. Differentiate that destructive voice as totally separate from the person you really are, and the person you want to be. Over time, you'll find that you take your inner critic less seriously and give it less power over your thoughts and decisions.
3. Adopt A Fearless Mantra
You may have a business idea but feel overwhelmed at where to begin. And you may wonder what will happen if things go wrong, or if the business fails entirely. The fact is, starting a business comes with a certain degree of risk. Some business concepts involve a great deal — as when you're borrowing money or establishing a brick and mortar shop — and some involve just the risk of time, effort, and emotional investment. Risk can't be avoided, but it can be approached with the right attitude. I found it was very helpful to have a simple mantra I could repeat to myself in times of worry, stress, or fear. I simply told myself that "everything is going to be okay." After all, I could always go back to another office job if my business failed — no harm done. Even a great loss of time, money, and resources can be managed and accepted. Life would move on, and it made me feel better to repeat to myself that no matter what I'd be okay. Consider adopting a mantra that brings you a sense of peace in times of turmoil.
4. Build From Known Strengths
One of the many benefits of accumulating decades of professional experience before starting up is that you know yourself very, very well — professionally and personally. You understand your professional and personal strengths, and those traits and characteristics can serve as a launching pad to make your business into the best version of itself. You may know that you work better individually or that you're particularly adept at securing new clients but not so skilled with managing the bookkeeping. This is the beauty of life experience — you are now an expert in you. And you can use that expertise to custom-fit your business to highlight your strengths, work around your weaknesses, and fit your individual preferences.
5. Speak Out About Your Journey
One of the greatest joys of my entrepreneurial journey has been inspiring and motivating other women to seek out their own dreams, learn from my experiences and take their own risks – professionally and personally. I love talking to people — especially young women — about the challenges and opportunities of starting up and of the business world in general. I've had amazing "lightbulb moment" conversations with younger colleagues and then watched them move forward with a greater sense of purpose and gumption on their own journeys. And I see this as an obligation of leadership and entrepreneurship — paving the way for our fellows and sharing the wisdom we've earned. The very best contribution you could make to the world, as an entrepreneur in your 40s, 50s, or beyond, is to speak out about your journey. Speak about your self-doubt, your failures, your triumphs, and your lessons learned. The more open and honest we are with each other about later-in-life entrepreneurship, the more we'll make the dream seem possible and achievable, and subsequently we'll see many more women taking the leap.
WRITTEN BYDeeannah Seymour