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There are many reasons people think about starting a business. For some, it is the freedom to set your own schedule, or do something you are passionate about. Others are planning ahead and maybe dreaming about their retirement; they realise that work keeps them engaged and they do not want to stop. And, there is another group who realise that perhaps they cannot afford to stop working and are looking for opportunities to continue earning an income as they get older.
For many years, I ran a programme at a large insurance company where we researched how people are preparing for their retirement. Our findings consistently showed that people envision staying active in what we traditionally call retirement. While the single most popular aspirations people held were travelling and spending time with friends and family, one in 10 people aspired to start a business (1). In fact, the view of retirement being a cliff-edge event where you stop working from one day to the next has disappeared; the majority of workers see some form of work in retirement. The reasons workers envision working in retirement were largely positive, with 51% doing so to stay active/keep their brain alert, 34% enjoying their career, and 32% having general anxiety about their retirement income and whether their savings would last (2).
Building on the idea that people are looking for opportunities as they get older, the company I worked for, Aegon, together with the Leyden Academy in the Netherlands, set up the Silver Starters programme. Our objective was to help people age 50 and older answer two important questions: Is being an entrepreneur something for me? And, how do I go about setting up my own business?
The results were amazing and inspiring at the same time. I will always remember the words of our first winner, Han van Doorn, when he accepted his prize: “When you retire, ask yourself the question, what do I want tobecome?”
At 82, Han had found something that gave him purpose and he was not about to slow down. His energy was felt by others in the programme too. When we asked people what they got out of the course, we got some very interesting responses with 85% of the respondents saying they became more active and over two-thirds saying that they gained self-confidence and also are more prepared for the future.
Source: Survey of Silver Starters participants in the Netherlands 2019
The fact that only two-fifths of people following the course told us that they became an entrepreneur may seem like a disappointing result, but it was a result I was very happy with because it showed that people had thought things through.
We often have a rose-coloured view of the future; maybe moving to the Cotswolds and opening up a B&B. The reality is that buying a suitable property may eat into your retirement savings and getting up to make guests a ‘full English’ before their early morning flight may not be as romantic of a concept as you thought. Alongside the financial risks to starting up your business, you may also discover you don’t have the personality to play hardball with your suppliers to maintain the profit margins you need to survive. That’s why being able to honestly answer the first Silver Starters question, “Is entrepreneurship something for me?”, is so important.
The decision to start your own business is a big one. There are tremendous benefits that can come from the sense of purpose and achievement it offers. But the flipside also needs careful consideration, in terms of the amount of time and money you will have to invest to reap the benefits, and if this is worth it.
My takeaway from being involved with the programme for the past few years is that the greatest benefit comes from learning more about yourself and creating a plan for the future. Knowing who you are and what you can contribute gives you tremendous self-confidence and that is something you can use in every aspect of your life, whether that is setting up your business, continuing in the job you are currently in or deciding what retirement will look like for you in the future.
1. Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2019, The New Social Contract: Empowering Individuals in a transitioning world
2. Aegon Retirement Readiness Survey 2020, The New Social Contract: Age-Friendly Employers
Written by Mike Mansfield, a thought leader and programme director in the area of longevity, retirement preparations, and inclusion and diversity