By Mike Southon, FT Columnist

I often find myself in schools and universities encouraging young people towards self-employment or establishing scalable businesses. However, it could be argued that entreneurship is better suited to older people, as they often have a more mature sense of purpose, having had time to develop real business skills while building a good personal network.

The challenge in mentoring entrepreneurs is always around building their confidence. For the young, it is showing that they do have the basic skills and right attitude for the task. For older people, who may have spent their whole working lives as an employee, it is all about encouraging them to take the bold step to offer their expertise in the open market.

While there is an understandable focus on the next generation of entrepreneurs, just as important is the provision of the support for those over 50 by PRIME, the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise.

Chief executive Nick Bunting and his team are focused on ensuring that our ageing population continues to be engaged with the UK’s economy, via self-employment, starting a business or being involved in social enterprise.

He explained to me that the labour market is contracting, especially in the public sector, resulting in a significant growth in the numbers of over-50s having to re-invent themselves after an often very sudden and unexpected redundancy.

Much of PRIME’s support is in rebuilding the confidence of these people, to show that they do have worth and marketable skills. This is especially needed in the north of England, which shows the lowest levels of economic activity with the highest reliance in the public sector for employment.

But it is not a completely pessimistic picture. A recent survey by Barclays revealed that new businesses started by the over-50s showed the lowest failure rates and now account for almost a quarter of their new businesses, with 95% of these older entrepreneurs happy with their decision.

The most popular choices for starting a business were construction, accommodation and foodservice, retail and recreation. This paints a very agreeable picture of a new generation of mature and reliable builders, shopkeepers and entertainers.

PRIME offers free information, workshops and business networking events, referring people to accredited advisers for free business advice. In some parts of the country they also offer free mentoring. Their web site has useful and relevant business information, practical ideas and a wide range of successful case studies.

These include Elizabeth Newman, who developed an aromatherapy shampoo for dogs, Tony Storer, a former construction worker who started his own hardware store and Phil Butler, who used his 30 years’ experience to develop his own business, an outsourced sales and marketing service for other small and medium sized enterprises.

Garry Stevens started his photographic business months after being made redundant, but suggests that it is possible to get a business underway whilst still in regular employment.

Now that I am in my late fifties, I often wonder how my life might have turned out differently had I found the right corporate job in my twenties and stuck to the task. Perhaps I might now be finding myself unexpectedly on the job market, suddenly suffering from a lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

As a mentor, I would advise people in this situation to get out and network among their former customers and colleagues, people they have met along the way and also liked. These people could potentially become your first customers or refer you to others.

My other piece of advice would be to engage with other people just like yourself, who made the big step into self-employment and now have a whole new sense of purpose. You could even use the Prime network.

PRIME can be found at www.prime.org.uk

Originally published in The Financial Times: www.ft.com Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker- www.mikesouthon.com

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.


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