A cartoon caught my eye this week – a picture of the Vatican captioned, “And what did you say you were giving up for lent?” The reference was, of course, to the poor old pope who caused such a furore by deciding to hang up his papal shoes at the ripe age of 85, the first to do so since 1495.
I have also read Shané Schutte’s article telling us that, according to the Viking Small Business Barometer, one in ten SME owners are expecting to close shop this year. All of them feel totally disenchanted by the government’s lack of support and the most bitter are male business owners between the age of 45 and 54.
It’s an interesting contrast to the hugely successful figures on entrepreneurship within start-ups for the over 50s. This group is growing rapidly and has proven time and time again to have greater success rates than their equivalent in other age groups. On the whole, the same group receives a little more support, sine the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise spotted their potential back in 1999, and formed Prime,
Many in this group had entrepreneurship thrust upon them, as they were facing redundancy and realised the exceptionally slim likelihood of ever finding other work. With their mind set, however, they have turned negatives into positives, and most see it as an opportunity to take control – an opportunity to work around the lifestyle they want. With a little help, they are turning disaster into success.
So, why at roughly the same and relatively early age (well, compared to the pope), are existing business owners complaining about lack of help and planning to throw in the towel?
There is, of course, the recession and the fact that it is extremely rough out there. Orders are hard to come by. Invoices go unpaid – sometimes forever if your customer goes bust. But then, start-ups have all these problems too. Indeed, they have no repeat business to cruise on.
Health has to be one factor
Our chances of illness increase with age and this can be exceptionally hard for the small business owner. How often do hard earned gains go out of the window because the owner has been unavoidably ill? The chances are that people do not start up business amidst a session of serious illness.
Mid-life crisis has to be another factor
It dawns on the majority of us around 50 that perhaps we won’t be around forever. It’s far easier to deal with this situation in a positive manner, by, for example, starting something entirely fresh other than viewing ahead the same old fights of survival of which there seems no end. No one wants the prospect of looking back on a lifetime of dreams unfulfilled due to the business always coming first.
During the last two or three years, the room of gloom for the small business owner is a place I have visited all too regularly. Primary causes for this visitation have inevitably been staff issues, especially complex with the burden of red tape, government and union interference, and the constant realisation that, as a business owner employing others, it appears you have less rights than anyone else. When things go bad, you cannot just go out and get another job; you cannot walk away from problems. Powerlessness is the diametric opposite of the empowered start-ups – interference and red tape are a package custom made for crushing the life out of the naturally free spirited entrepreneur.
Businesses with owners of the 50 plus age group are often bought out by venture capitalists, quick to see the opportunity of the despairing owner. Certainly, I was approached by more than one in my depths of despair. It seems a wonderful way out.
There is another way to look at it
If someone else is so keen to get their paws on your business while you walk away with nothing, there is clearly something of value there. What it undoubtedly needs is a breath of fresh air, strength and positive thinking, which is very hard to muster when you have been flattened by endless problems.
However, if you can stand back, and like the start-ups a) envisage a total re-forming and b) a total re-branding of your tired old business to be the business you dream of, it will enable you to live the life you dream of. You will then have the mentality of the start-up combined with the business experience of a lifetime.
This is what I have spent the last six months doing, and I can honestly say that I have more confidence in my business’ future than I have had for years, despite everything. Sure, there are rough times ahead, but we are also in a land of opportunity. We are back and better than ever. I hope that the other business owners who, according to Viking, are at the point of chucking in the towel also get their mojo back and go on until they reach 85 and say enough is enough. It’s time we all got positive. A bit of Dunkirk spirit, if you please!
Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.
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