Question Time with Mentor John – Senior Entrepreneurs

Question Time with Mentor John – Senior Entrepreneurs

Question Time with Mentor John – Senior Entrepreneurs

When Dr Mahathir became President of Malaysia for the second time, at the ripe age of 92 years, he demonstrated it is possible to continue working productively, as we enter our twilight years. Rather than picking up bridge or knitting, some seniors are choosing to start a company. Starting a business is hard enough for young entrepreneurs, with the advantages of unbridled enthusiasm and everlasting energy. For senior entrepreneurs, it is even more challenging. Mentor John shares his advice.

After retirement, I decided to start up a company. I’m constantly competing against 20 to 30-year olds, who have faster reflexes and a hunger to prove themselves. How do I create a competitive edge for myself?

The young are too fast and sometimes too impatient to help their clients – including the older among them – understand what is happening. Your advantages are that you have learnt to understand people better, you are willing to spend more time with them, and you can interest them in what they want to accomplish. Moreover, you can be a friend. That way your work will be practical both technologically and socially. You will genuinely be ‘giving back’ to both young and old. Well done.

Dr Mahathir is a good example of this. He ran a campaign, competing against candidates much younger and sometimes physically fitter than him. In addition to leveraging upon his legacy and brand name, he also listened to the people in terms of what they wanted and what they were tired of. And he was victorious.

Sometimes, work can be for yourself, where you don’t have to compete against anyone. I had a client who came to us at 90 with the question “What should I do with the rest of my life?” At 98, he told me that the project we had helped him discover as his purpose for the remainder of his life had kept him going for eight years, through various personal and medical traumas and was still occupying his time. A few weeks later, he shut down his computer, retired to bed and died after a peaceful week of coming to terms with his life. As happy a departure as I have ever seen.

I am in my late 50s and was recently made redundant. Rather than go through job interviews, I plan to do freelance work. However, I’ve never done any marketing activities before. How do I get the word out? What other entrepreneurial skills do I need to pick up?

First, ask yourself how well you sell. If your answer is “not very well” you must address this first. We all have to sell – ideas, points of view, actions we want others to take. Get yourself onto a sales course. It can be on the internet or better still face-to-face with a coach. This will teach you how to approach people and give you confidence to do so. Second, list your network of contacts. You have more than you think. Don’t rule out anyone – business comes from the strangest contacts. You may need the help of someone who writes well to turn what you have to say into a simple promotional piece. How you will use this will depend on the business you starting.

Whatever your business is, try to sell the idea, for money, to a few people you know. They are the hardest sales tasks you will have and working with them will teach you a lot about how to convince others that you have something worth paying for. Chances are that, unless you have experience of selling, you need some continuing mentoring and coaching for a while. Try to get the very best. It is the cheapest in the long run. If there is one thing I would have liked to have learnt earlier in life, it is to sell. It is a priceless asset whatever your job or lifestyle.

Is it a good idea to start a business with my adult children as my co-founders? I have the experience, networks and ability to financially back the company, while they have the energy and passion. While it sounds good on paper, I’m concerned over how this may affect the family dynamics.

We choose our friends; our family is a given. Family relationships are often a source of conflict. Working with children or spouses means that there is an additional potential cause of conflict. But it can be done and I have seen many father / son relationships that work well.

To get it right, you must obey the rules of all business partnerships – have an agreement that you thrash out in as much detail as you can at the outset. Say who will be responsible for what. Describe the financial decisions each can make without reference to the other. If the answer is ‘none’, forget the idea of working with an offspring. Once you have an agreement, review it at least every three months to start with. Later you can review it once a year. Agreements are dynamic not static. Keep your agreement refreshed and you will have the best possible chance of success. And never forget that your children are your children first and workmates only second.