Second chance entrepreneurs: Six steps for surviving mid-life career changeRini Dutta
I started my consulting business a few years ago. It was a mid-life career change.
At my last assignment I headed marketing for a big brand with a talented team and lots of agency partners. On becoming an entrepreneur, I was suddenly alone, with no subordinates, no brand name or even an office to call my own. I was both the chairman and the tele-caller. Honestly, it was traumatic.
There were times when I doubted my capabilities, the wisdom of leaving a plum corporate job and the sanity of my new, hard-won clients. But, no matter how bad it was, I was never alone. There were many people like me in my ecosystem. People who I call ‘Second Chance Entrepreneurs’.
So who are these second chance entrepreneurs? Most of them are professionals in the corporate world who were doing quite well in their jobs but then something happened. My informal research indicates different catalysts: a mean boss, turning 40, company downsizing, having kids (especially for women), inter city spouse transfer and stress-induced health issues.
While most of the above are external factors, almost all ‘second-chancers’ I know spoke of factors like boredom and frustration with doing the same thing year after year. All of them wanted to do something more; create value and make a difference. Perhaps utilise a special skill they had, or leverage their years of experience in a particular sector. Interestingly, several people also spoke of their lives whizzing past while all they did was make presentations for various meetings.
So, in my view, a second-chancer is born when an external catalyst acts as a trigger, and is supported by inner voices that clamour for change.
Will they succeed? The chances are 50-50, but how do you survive the first two years? Here are a few things that I have seen work for my second-chancer friends.
Set aside ego
For many of us who are middle aged it is difficult to swallow our pride and ask perfect strangers for business or funding. So while being confident is great, be mindful of one’s ego and avoid personality clashes with younger folk. Be open to learning from juniors.
Understand the customer’s latent needs
A good understanding of the customer is imperative. Lots of one-on-one interaction with the end user helps in understanding both explicit and implicit needs. I try and do three or four cold calls per month with people who don’t know me at all. It keeps me grounded and I get stuff to talk about at other meetings.
Differentiate or die
Why your brand? This is a common enough refrain and one that cannot be muddled through. Identifying and building on real and true differentiators, both rational and emotional, is critical. Remember: a relevant differentiator helps the customer choose you over competition.
Grow a thick skin
Being an entrepreneur is tough. Clients sometimes don’t pay. Cold calling can be soul-shrivelling. Even former colleagues ignore phone calls, and parents keep suggesting you get back to well-paying jobs. Try to ignore unpleasant people who don’t respect you, and develop a philosophical attitude. In short, become thick-skinned. Find another entrepreneur buddy who is on the similar boat. It helps to vent to someone who understands the situation.
Focus on building a sustainable, profitable business
There are lots of people who dream about a valuation lottery, but the expereinced generation must use their skills and experience to build empires, just like they did for large MNCs.
Be kind to yourself
There are times when I make silly mistakes and feel depressed. And perhaps when one is older, we become more judgemental. Be kind to yourself, as that is critical. Only positive energy can keep you going. It sure is tough to walk on the path of entrepreneurship.
Lastly, I’d like to say that a long time ago, I read that when a person spends 10,000 hours doing something, he becomes proficient at it. So, my dear second-chance entrepreneurs, just hang in there. We have done good stuff for our employers; it is now time to do great work for ourselves!
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