I decided to combine Steps Three and Four of the Ten Steps to Starting a Business After 40 series because, unless you’re seeking a business to purchase, as an entrepreneur, your search for a new business to launch will be biased and filtered by the knowledge of what you’re good at. In other words, your search for a need will be directed and tempered by the expectation of whether or not you can fulfill it.
Is There Only One Right Way?
One thing I’ve come to appreciate in reviewing our podcast episodes and writing this blog series on Maturepreneurial’s ten steps to starting a business after 40 is how diverse people’s approaches to founding and running their businesses are. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am. My temperament is a hybrid of relationship-driven and results-driven but I’m results-driven enough to expect that some methods must be more reliable or fool-proof than others and that, as a new entrepreneur, one’s success is dependent upon learning what that method is and then “working it” until it yields its touted results.
This, of course, makes me the perfect mark for peddlers of every kind of approach available for sales, marketing, communications, and business development. If you ever go online I’m sure you’ve noticed how many there are. So much so that I’ve said before and I’ll say again how lucky I am that Elaine blazed a trail I could follow. All I’ve had to do is show up and shore up her vision and her business decisions and now I, too, have a couple of businesses to which I can contribute my unique talents and skills. In many ways, Elaine makes life a lot simpler than I do; I who have a tendency to over think, over analyze, and over compensate when it comes to making professional decisions and taking subsequent action.
My expectation that some methods are the “true” methods also makes me susceptible to the Imposter Syndrome. It encourages thoughts such as, “What do I know? What gives me the right to think I can succeed by my own method and not someone else’s; someone’s whose already been tested and proven? How can I expect to succeed without being an expert?!” and others.
If you listen to Michael E. Gerber and read his book, The E Myth Revisited, you will believe that truly, there is only one method and it is Michael E. Gerber’s. And while I have enormous respect for and faith in Gerber’s experience and methods, when I listen to the Maturepreneural podcast guests, I hear people succeeding in many different ways.
Below are a few examples.
Michaela Jedinak, Joy of Clothes
Michaela Jedinak started working in the fashion industry without a formal education or formal training in fashion. She worked her way up through the ranks and, having lived and/or worked in Germany, Prague, the U.S., Milan and London, she developed a keen fashion sense and esthetic. Her travels and experiences also gave her the perfect vantage point from which to observe the trends. Particularly as she advanced in her own career, she noticed that senior business women were a neglected segment. Most fashion catered to the young, which Michaela found ironic since, for one thing, young people have less discretionary money to spend on their clothes.
As well, stores were full of clothing that most women would wear almost anywhere except to the office; clothing for travel, for holiday, for parties, for evening, etc. But for senior business women, both in rank and in age, the stakes for making an impression are high. There is tremendous value in feeling confident in the clothing that you’re wearing and in being able to conduct business as professionally as possible; i.e., without attending to how your clothing looks or how it feels on your body when the cut or the fit is problematic, as often happens.
Michaela says, “When you dress for work, it’s all about wearing clothing that, it’s professional, it’s appropriate, it’s comfortable, it’s building to your body strengths. It’s a very important matter.”
In Michaela’s case, she was already doing something she loved and was good at. From that place, she recognized an unmet need for good clothing for senior women business leaders and she set out to fill that need. Her way of filling it was very much her own because she decided to pursue a made-to-order business model that would cater more successfully to the individual woman’s body shape and body strengths, both of which Michaela recognizes and highly values. Her fashions are not made to measure, which would have been too great a burden to deliver profitably. Rather, she designs dresses almost as templates that flatter particular body types and she manufactures them in an abundance of sizes, colors, and fabrics from which her buyers then choose based upon their preferences and their objectives. She also provides advice and guidance on finding and wearing appropriate clothing.
Michaela identified a need during the course of many years of work in her industry and from her personal experience, so that by the time she was ready to go out on her own, her skills, her interests, and her passion aligned with the need she wanted to fill. Today she has a successful fashion house, online store, and her website, michaelajedinak.com, to fulfill her entrepreneurial endeavors.
Bruce Langford, Mindfulness Mode Podcast
Bruce Langford pursued his passion in school. He loved and studied music. When he graduated from college he taught music in elementary school. His focus began to shift though when, as a teacher, Bruce felt the bureaucracy of education starting to overcome his enthusiasm for teaching. He also began to observe students being bullied and the negative effects it was having on them. One boy in particular, who was targeting for having a mild speech impediment, became the impetus for Bruce to launch a new venture. He began to design and create events to present at school assemblies that made students more aware of bullying behaviors and their consequences.
Like Michaela, Bruce’s natural inclination and previous professional pursuits, exposed him to an environment in which an unmet need presented itself. Also like Michaela, Bruce recognized – not a business opportunity at first – but a need he could fulfill in accordance with his values and his skills sets. Bruce became Benny DL the DJ, host of fictional ATFM radio, who broadcasted anti-bullying messages and songs from his “radio program,” and then, during program breaks, held interactive sessions with his assembly audience of students to reinforce his messages, to answer questions, and to engage the students. Bruce used his musical background to compose and perform his own music, but successfully cultivating his acting abilities was a revelation.
Students loved Bruce’s entertaining and uplifting events and responded very enthusiastically to his anti-bullying messages. Bruce customized his shows, sometimes four in one day, based on grade level, with different messages for kindergarteners to third graders; fourth, fifth, and sixth graders; and seventh and eighth graders. Over the course of several years, some students enjoyed the benefit of seeing Benny DL’s programs evolve with them through the grades, which had a powerful influence on their perspectives.
Bruce Langford offers an excellent example of a business evolving and changing over time. I urge you to listen to his episode if you haven’t because his journey is so multidimensional. Bruce went from being a full time music teacher, to being a part time teacher and a part time event creator and producer, to being a full time event creator, performer and videographer, to becoming a blogger, a national bullying expert, and today Bruce is a podcaster.
His story is an amazing study in how one man and his businesses have adapted and evolved over a period of years in response to the synergy between changing environments, changing markets, and his own internal development.
Chuck Gumbert, The Turnaround Specialist
Chuck Gumbert’s assessment of his market opportunity was also an evolution. In his case, the recognition came to him as a result of positioning himself for what he expected would be his next phase of employment. After having been laid off at 55, too young to retire and still carrying significant financial obligations, Chuck updated his resume and began to interview. Not happy with his results or progress, Chuck decided to create a presentation that would better showcase his accomplishments and value.
But it wasn’t until he decided that his presentation would look good on a website and set out to create one that it finally struck him: what he had – all of the turnaround and business experience – was really the foundation for a business. The Tomcat Group was born when Chuck said to himself, “It really makes sense to go out and help other business leaders, other business owners to take their performance from where it is to where it could be.”
Chuck started his career after college in the Navy where, as he says, “They were kind enough to give me the keys to an F-14.” When he got out, he went into business and eventually, through working with different companies, he worked his way up to a senior sales position. When he switched to operations at that company, Chuck began to develop a taste for how to fix troubled businesses. He also learned a great deal about the leadership necessary to effect lasting change. He performed many turnarounds for a number of companies in the aviation industry until he was laid off in 2008.
In Chuck’s case, the Tomcat Group became the natural extension of his previous working experiences. In the process of repositioning himself after being laid off, he recognized the opportunity to pursue business on his own terms.
The Road to Find Out
What we can learn from many of the Maturepreneurial podcast episodes is that finding the intersection between what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and a product or service you could provide to fill a need you recognize in your market, in adjacent markets, or in performance categories where you can apply your skill sets more broadly, is not an exact science. Yes, there are those who set out to create something from scratch with a vision and a plan or who purchase a turnkey business they feel confident they can run. For them, the process seems simpler and more straightforward.
For many people, though, the path to their own business evolves organically and incrementally out of the work they do and the expertise they develop in their professional careers, whether or not those careers are grounded in the foundation of their educations. They don’t necessarily start out wanting to be entrepreneurs, but after years of employment, when the opportunity presents itself, they seize and make the most of it.
There is no one way, no right way, and some might argue, no sure way to success. I personally find this encouraging because it leaves so much room for each of us to achieve our goals on our own terms, not by fulfilling someone else’s.
But whatever the “way” is for each of us, to paraphrase the immortal Cat Stevens, aka Yusuf Islam, “We’re on the road to find out.”
Photos sourced from Unsplash.com.