By Lynne Strang, Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs
If you’re a late bloomer who’s struggled to get traction with your business idea, here’s good news: the selection of companies and individuals providing startup coaching includes a growing number that specialize in helping older entrepreneurs.
One of them is Chicago-based Bizstarters.com, which focuses on fledgling business owners who are age 50 and older. Bizstarters program is virtual – a format that appeals to older entrepreneurs who want schedule flexibility and access to a full-range of support services from the comfort of their homes, says founder Jeff Williams.
Clients participate in weekly planning calls with a coach, who guides them through an eight-module online program that involves the completion of business planning decisions and tasks. The coach provides mentoring and assists with the development of a concept-to-product strategy (all of Bizstarters’ coaches are business owners who are at least 50 years old).
As the strategy progresses, a team of specialists provides services in fourteen key areas that range from logo design to accounting software setup. Once the business launches, clients continue to have monthly calls with their coaches for six months.
It Takes One to Know One
Williams, 67, knows the joys and challenges of being a late-blooming entrepreneur. That’s because he’s one himself.
After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and an MBA from Northwestern University, Williams entered the corporate world. “I worked as a vice president of marketing for several Fortune 500 companies and a small, family-owned company but I never felt comfortable,” he says.
By age 39, he’d had enough. He began searching for a business idea where he could channel his passion for teaching. When a friend needed assistance to buy a franchise, Williams agreed to help. He enjoyed the experience so much that, by the end, he decided to “build a business about starting a business.”
His next step was to create a curriculum, a process he knew nothing about. One day, Williams’ wife, Marianne, flagged an article about an Indiana college professor who had written a business startup curriculum to help unemployed farmers. Thinking it was a shot in the dark, Williams cold-called the professor. The two connected, which led to the professor providing Williams with the foundation he needed to develop and launch his own training course on opening a business.
In 1990, Williams opened the Go Smart Entrepreneurial Center when he was 40 years old. Initially, he marketed his curriculum to colleges with adult education programs. Then the Internet’s commercial use came along – and with it, the capacity for Williams to cast a much wider net. He began publishing a series of digital workbooks and changed the company’s name to Bizstarters.com in 1998.
Another turning point occurred in 2003, when Williams received an invitation to tour what was then Northwestern University’s business incubator. “That’s when the idea of calling our coaching program Virtual Incubator™ came to mind,” he says. “It dawned on me that we were providing all the same services as a physical incubator, but at a distance and with our clients providing their own office space.”
Williams estimates that his Virtual Incubator coaching program has helped more than 600 clients start businesses in publishing, life coaching, health and plant safety consulting and the online sale of vintage musical instruments, to name a few examples. The average age of a Bizstarters client is 57 years old. Sixty percent are male and 40% are female.
Most of the aspiring boomer entrepreneurs who come to Bizstarters want a business that’s derived from a passion, says Williams.
“The first question I ask is, ‘What’s your life plan? Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?’ If someone says, ‘I don’t want to work for three months during the year’ then I say, ‘Well, that’s possible but you have to be honest about the potential effect on your earnings.’”
About a third of Williams’ clients opt for a $750 concept development process to vet the prospective business and create a business model before committing to the full Virtual Incubator program.
“Sometimes You Fail, Then You Succeed”
After more than 25 years of guiding older entrepreneurs, Williams still enjoys helping people transition from the corporate world. He has a good feel for what separates those who make it as business owners from those who don’t.
“Successful entrepreneurs are pretty clear on what problem they can solve,” he says. “They’ve determined that the problem is a major one and can do a good job in describing why their solution is superior.” They also use independent contractors to grow their businesses and tend to stay in an industry they know.
“By the time you get to be 55 to 60, you’ve had challenges in your life – which allows you to put things in context,” says Williams. “Sometimes you fail, then you succeed.”
Note: Williams is hosting an August 4th webinar on starting a business after age 50. Here’s a link to get info and/or register.