Step Eight of the ten-step Maturepreneurial series How to Start a Business After 40 is to launch your business! But what exactly does that mean?
Time to launch your business
You’ve done all the prep work.
In some form or fashion, with analytics or intuition, you’ve examined your skill sets and your interests, you’ve assessed your experience, you’ve observed the market, you’ve identified a need, you’ve created a picture of your customer, you’ve created your plan, and maybe you’ve identified one or two people who have successfully done what you’re about to do and who can give you advice and support.
Maybe you haven’t taken all of these steps. Or maybe you haven’t taken them all in that order. Life should be so linear! But so far, so good. You’re ready to launch your business.
In some ways, this could be the most terrifying step in your entrepreneurial journey! After all, what if no one comes? What if your worst fears are realized? What about the simple ‘unknown’?
In some ways, the launch could also turn out to be anti-climactic. You’ve been steadily busy if not frenzied with preparations for weeks or months. Now D-day is here and your activity slows down for a bit. Is that all there is? Or is this the calm before the storm?
Whatever happens, this just might turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done! But what, exactly, does it look like?
What follows are just four of the ways that some of our Maturepreneurial podcast guests launched, discovered, or slowly founded their businesses amidst the changing circumstances of their careers, their personal ambitions, and the demands of daily living.
The Cold Turkey Approach
Douglas Burdett decided to quit his job in order to start his own business. After leaving the military, for a while he enjoyed an exciting and fulfilling career in New York City advertising. But when he moved to Virginia to start a family, he became dissatisfied with his new job. It took him a few years to come to the decision, but once he did, he never looked back.
“I remember now that, after I left, I set up a space in my study of my house to get started and I just remember how much better I felt! I suddenly didn’t have that income, but boy, did my mental health improve. It was just like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”
It took Doug a couple of weeks to get his first client. After that, he found new business in unexpected but welcome referrals from his subcontractors, by answering RFPs, and by earning repeat business from his existing clients as their own businesses grew. He says it was a “steady climb.”
Chuck Gumbert was forced to take the cold turkey route when he was laid off from his job at 55. It was in the process of updating his resume online that he recognized he was building a website. That’s when he also realized he had all the tools he needed to go into business for himself.
Chuck says he thought the phone would start ringing once he launched. When that didn’t happen, he had to confront and overcome a reluctance to market himself. But he also says that he wishes he had opened his own business ten years sooner. In the back of his mind, he had wanted to run his own business and do his own thing, but he wasn’t ready to take the risk. He wasn’t ready to give up the comfort of a steady paycheck and bonuses. Many times, he had to ask himself:
“‘Boy, do I really want to step away from this and take that big, big risky step?’ That’s the biggest thing. Having the audacity, as [General] Patton would say, to take the step and go do it.”
Kevin Craine was also forced to go cold turkey when he was suddenly laid off at age 45 with a young family to support.
Kevin had earned his MBA with a thesis on designing a document strategy. At the peak of his corporate career he was working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield as director of a three-state operation that had responsibility for all the documents that went out of the enterprise. On the side, he had also started writing articles for industry trade magazines in his field. This turned out to be fortuitous because after he was laid off his extracurricular work and the relationships that went with it helped him weather the transition.
Facing the challenge of finding work in his field at his age and at the salary he had achieved, Kevin decided instead to start his own business. He went back to the people whose publication he was writing for, told them he was available for freelance work and from those contacts, created his initial client base, which grew over time as he refined and expanded his services.
The Accidental Launch
One of Jon Butt’s more recent business launches was almost an accident. His original idea was to build e-commerce sites for people he knew from his fire extinguisher business. They needed websites to sell their products online. Jon created a fully working e-commerce site as a prototype he intended to sell them. But before the site was finished, before it even had a payment system configured, it started selling products. Sales took off quickly and snowballed. All these years later, that e-commerce business is still thriving. Jon never sold the model!
It was Christy Haussler’s original intention to hire the services her business ended up providing. Why? Because she hosting a podcast of her own five times a week while working a full time job and commuting two hours a day. She needed help!
She went looking for a company to which she could outsource production but she couldn’t find one that would provide the entire spectrum of services she needed. Services she did find were offered piecemeal and not very affordably. She put her retirement savings into hiring a handful of specialists, then went to other podcasters and offered a range of services for one, affordable fixed price per month to offset her costs.
Voilà! Team Podcast was born to satisfy the very niche its founder was in.
“So basically I was just sort of scaling and sharing the cost of these people and it just grew and grew and grew and now here we’re at 9 people and myself and it’s a full-time endeavor for me.”
The Transition Out
Johannah Barton took three months to transition out of her corporate job into her own business, which started as a passion project. Looking to put her experience into a larger context, she sent a survey to over 100 women worldwide and learned that 85% of the respondents took six months to one year to transition out of their part time or full time work into their own business. This reassured her that she was on the right track.
When she first started to pull the business together, she worked evenings and weekends. She also set herself small tasks to perform that would move the business forward without overwhelming and discouraging her. From these incremental steps, which she expanded over time, she built her business.
“The amazing thing is, once you start, suddenly all these doors open for you and, all this information, and you realize that you’re not alone. You realize that there are lots of other people out there doing similar things; all these resources.”
Margaret Blood was running two very different non-profit organizations with the common thread of helping children. She had founded Strategies for Children in 2001 to address the need for high quality early education and care for children in the state of Massachusetts, particularly children of single parents or whose parents both worked outside of the home. On a trip to Guatemala in 2003, she fell in love with the “land of trees” and the people who lived there. Eventually, in 2007, she founded her second non-profit, Mil Milagros, initially as a breakfast program for poor children in schools.
Over time, it became clear that Mil Milagros would not fulfill its potential unless Margaret devoted herself to running the organization full time. After leading both nonprofits for five years, Margaret decided to make the leap to Mil Milagros. That meant a significant cut in salary and benefits. She was okay with that, as long as she could pay off her mortgage. She took six months to do so and then left Strategies for Children to run Mil Milagros full time. Today she lives in Guatemala six months of each year and in Boston the other six months, all the while leading Mil Milagros’s important community-building work.
The Slow-Burn Liftoff
Lyn Slater says, “I had no plan.” But she did know that she wanted to launch a website. Specifically, she wanted to create a blog that offered an intelligent and thoughtful approach to fashion for mature women who were physically fit, culturally engaged, oftentimes living in cities. She thought about it and researched her options for a full year. And, she admits, she procrastinated. “I had that little bit of fear about taking that risk.”
The launch itself arrived unexpectedly. But when it did, Lyn was fully prepared to seize the moment.
After a year of procrastinating despite being urged by friends, students, teachers, and colleagues to launch the blog, one day Lyn was waiting on Lincoln Center plaza to meet a friend for lunch. A troupe of fashion photographers also happened to be on the plaza and they began to photograph her. Tourists, following the lead of the photographers and thinking she was a model or celebrity, also began to photograph her. Lyn, who was wearing Yohji Yamamoto and sporting a rare Chanel bag, went along with the attention, strutting her stuff and having her picture taken. She was also approached and interviewed by a young Japanese reporter for a fashion magazine in Japan.
“When my friend arrived there was a huge crowd around me, as if I was some ‘fashion icon’. And it was all so accidental, that that’s how I got the name and that’s how I got my little push over the edge, and I started my blog that week. … Actually, the next day.”
Maggie Huffman knew when she was done with her corporate job and “engineered” a graceful exit. She had always been successful, often in unlikely roles and industries for women, so she was confident in her ability to succeed after corporate life. But she took her time to find her way into her next phase of work and her new phase as a maturepreneur. She says she “goofed off” for a while, playing her life on Google. Any and everything she was interested in, she investigated. She obtained a second masters degree. She achieved certification as a health coach and pursued other certifications as well.
In that process, her new line of work emerged, she recognized it, and she aligned herself with where it was leading her.
“I very often feel that the most successful thing I did was work with my very first client, who said, ‘You changed my life.’ You changed my life! How could there be better success than that? That was so meaningful to me because it changed my mindset from being a coach who’s starting a business and figuring out how to support myself and make money to a coach who’s in service; to doing what I know makes a difference and letting that be my career.”
Today, Maggie still does part-time consulting for the corporate world while she follows her passion for helping people as an author and life/career coach.
Every Launch Unique
Yes, every business launch is unique. Should we be surprised? No. Clearly, the common theme to taking any of the ten steps to becoming an entrepreneur after 40 is the incredible diversity of approaches, methods, and means to executing all of them. Successfully. Launching the business in this Step Eight is no different. Whether a launch is something you’ve taken time and pains to plan and implement strategically, whether it’s a serendipitous development that hindsight shows followed a larger purpose, or whether it’s something different altogether doesn’t seem to matter. Business success comes through time and the steady application of attention, energy, and action. Your launch is just the starting line or what looks like a starting line once you’ve begun your journey.
This post doesn’t cover every way there is to launch a business. It can’t, of course. But I’ve illustrated some of the approaches we’ve seen, based on the experiences of our Maturepreneurial guests. In the next post, we’ll look at how maturepreneurs find balance in their businesses after they’ve launched, whether that’s by correcting course as they execute and learn from experience, by identifying and filling knowledge or activity gaps, or by pivoting to a new direction, market, or strategy in the face of new information.
Until then, dream big, aim high, and enjoy the ride!
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.