Telltale Designs owner Maree Machin is celebrating being in the black after the first year of her entrepreneurial business.
Telltale Designs owner Maree Machin is celebrating being in the black after the first year of her entrepreneurial business.

Lessons to learn on way to successful entrepreneurship

WHICHEVER title you want to use - silverpreneur, olderpreneurs, seniorpreneur or just simply entrepreneur - these seniors are growing into an economic force in Australia.

They're the innovators, job seekers and risk takers of the over 50s who want, need, dream of building financially viable businesses whether they are sole operators, or become small or large-scale employers.

La Trobe University Professor of Entrepreneurship, Dr Alex Maritz, said these senior entrepreneurs are essential to the Australian economy. "People are living longer," he said. "Straightaway, what does that say to you? We can work longer, we can be active in business for longer and they want to be." He reports senior entrepreneurs are contributing about $11.9 billion per annum to the Australian economy.

It's a significant phenomenon not only in Australia says Benevolent Society's Older Australians campaign director Marlene Krasovitsky. "It's one we are watching with great interest," said. "The Federal Government are starting to recognise that entrepreneurship is not only about young people; there is a very significant role for older people to play as well."

In January the Federal Government poured dollars into the further development of its Entrepreneurship Facilitators (EF) network across Australia. The funding is for the network of 20 professionals tasked with helping mature-age Australians prepare for self-employment.

Ms Krasovitsky said through her work on EveryAGE Counts project, there is evidence that ageism often happens in the work environment. "It's in that context that we look at a range of initiatives," she said. "Certainly, self-employment or starting up a new business is an attractive option for many older people to continue contributing to the workforce in the economy and to continue to get that sense of meaning and purpose that work brings."

Why start-up?

Becoming an entrepreneur is often driven by necessity, opportunity or passion.

"Traditionally, people think as a retiree they have stopped work," Dr Maritz said. "So, what do they do now?

"They go get themselves a little sideline job to supplement their income. That is true, but that is not your stereotype senior entrepreneur." They are more often serious entrepreneurs with their age irrelevant to their work choice.

Entrepreneurship is often a high-risk environment. It requires a person to be proactive, innovative, opportunity obsessed, willing to draw on their life experiences, learn on the run and use whatever resources there are at hand including their business and friendship networks.

Having enough money to start up a business is one of the biggest hurdles for entrepreneurs.

"Senior entrepreneurs in Australia start 14,000 new businesses each year," Dr Maritz said. Anecdotal evidence suggests about as many close down each year.

A hobby that pays

Maree Machin's Telltale Designs bucks that trend. Her 'cottage' business is one year old next month and still in the black.

The Sunshine Coast home-based business owner has experienced start-up failure before so this time she did her numbers to ensure the business was going to make money.

She got clear in her mind what she wanted to do, how she was going to do it. "I also got my supply chain organised and did doing some market testing," Ms Machin said.

Her success has come from limiting the amount of money she has put into getting the business going, and in using her small business background and personal network to grow the business which upcycles yacht sails made into bags.

"It puts together everything I love; the ocean, upcycling and it feels good, and has a great story," Ms Machin said.

"I am doing something good for the environment; it aligns with the heart and stays in the black," she added.

Her success she said was in starting small and keeping the business tight. "If I grow it I will then need to go into the grant space," Ms Machin added.

Not everyone has the capital like Ms Machin to pursue a new business idea nor the business skills to bring the idea to fruition. However, there are support networks, grant opportunities and organisations such as the government's EF's that are available to seniors to tap into.

WILLING TO WORK: Mr Phil Daly of BuildGrowRun.
WILLING TO WORK: Mr Phil Daly of BuildGrowRun.

Help is at hand

One of the EFs, Phil Daly of BuildGrowRun said there is a huge demand for the EF program.

It's free and open to anyone no matter why they want to set-up a business or whether is it going to be micro, small or medium-sized. "I think a lot of people may have an idea and may have even started the business, but often they don't have all the skills to run the business themselves" Mr Daly said.

"In Australia we have a failure rate up around 75 per cent in businesses in the first three years. Often there isn't sufficient support there for people going into small business. They need assistance in planning and organising things, marketing and having a general vision of what they are trying to achieve by developing their business."

WILLING TO WORK: Members of the Money for Jam seniorpreneur pilot program, all wearing ribbons printed by Sharon Carroll.
WILLING TO WORK: Members of the Money for Jam seniorpreneur pilot program, all wearing ribbons printed by Sharon Carroll.

Micro steps to battle homelessness

Some people, like Sharon Carroll, are pushed into entrepreneurship. She was retrenched from her job, suffered depression as a result and then found herself homeless. Ms Carroll had worked in many places but hadn't acquired any specific work skills.

Throughout this tumultuous period Ms Carroll kept hold of a ribbon printing machine that she had purchased several years before but had been unable to work out how to use properly.

When the Victorian think tank Per Capita offered her the chance to join its Money for Jam program she leapt at it. The program targets empowering older women to earn as they age through microenterprise.

Project lead Myfan Jordan explained through class-based learning and a smartphone app, the pilot program members, all of whom had experienced homelessness, were given training in core business skills and personal growth.

Money for Jam gave Ms Carroll sufficient business skills and confidence for her to unpack the old printing machine and utilise it to create a micro business that is helping her to rebuild her financial base.

"I got so much more out of doing the course than I thought I would," Ms Carroll said. "What has been achieved since the course has been amazing. There haven't been any great sales, but I have got my ribbons out there."

She has started to get orders and is in the process of developing a website. Just as importantly, Ms Carroll has found the confidence to get out among the community talking up her microbusiness, happily handing out her unique business card printed on a ribbon.

"It's been small steps; no leaps and bounds, but it's all been extremely positive and all forward steps," she added.

JC Shin, Adrian Adams and Neil Mackenzie
JC Shin, Adrian Adams and Neil Mackenzie

Passionate about wellbeing

Neil Mackenzie and his colleague Adrian Adams were pulled into their enterprise as a result of Mr Mackenzie discovering there wasn't one single website with information on outdoor activities around Adelaide. It sparked his passion for developing a go-to answer. Mr Adams was the obvious partner.

They received seed funding from the South Australian Government through its 2017 D3 Digital Challenge which was run through the Office of the Ageing.

The outcome was the challenge-winning website which lists parks, outdoor places and events which promote health and wellbeing for older South Australians.

"We wouldn't have done it if there wasn't an opportunity to make money," Mr Mackenzie said.

"The original business model didn't work," Mr Mackenzie added. "The underlying reason is we invested all the funds and time into developing the platform. It was a conscious decision to do that rather than providing a cheap product. We wanted a quality product, but now we have no money to market it. We have got to think of ways to earn money that we can reinvest in telling people this product actually exists."

Is it for you?

"Not all people in their 60s want to go into graceful retirement," Mr Daly said. "I like working in doing what I'm doing. Dealing with entrepreneurs and people in small business; there is a lot of positive energy around that.

"Research indicates that a lot of baby boomers don't want to retire; they actually like being involved in either volunteer or paid employment, or even creating their own business."

"Entrepreneurship isn't for everybody," Dr Maritz concluded. "Going out on your own isn't for everybody. It can be very stressful."

"Entrepreneurs don't fail; their ventures do," Dr Maritz added. "It's not about failing. It's about learning failure."

But for those who need or want to step into the entrepreneurial space Mr Daly recommends they firstly get clear in their mind what type of support they want and what it should look like, and what are their immediate support needs, before contacting a support service.

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