“Having started a business at 66 years old, I can report that Wendy’s advice and blueprint – and, particularly, the detailed manner in which she dispenses those throughout [her book ‘Wiser: The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50’] – are absolutely spot-on.”
Paul Tasner | Co-Founder & CEO | Pulp Works Inc.| TED Resident
Starting a business, at any age or stage of life, is a big deal. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Starting a business is exciting. Exhilarating. Thrilling. Daunting. Scary. Terrifying. It really is all these things at one time or another, or even all at once. The good news though? One: as a senior entrepreneur (seniorpreneur?!), you are old enough and wise enough to look before you leap, but also old enough and brave enough to know that you have the emotional wherewithal to actually make that leap and make it across to the other side just fine, no matter what may come. Two: You are not alone. So many have gone before you, and the resources you have at your disposal to help you be successful are endless. Step by step guides. Business plan templates. Market research tools. The been-there, done-that, happy-to-share wisdom of others… Exhibit A: the advice, pro tips, and a little bit of hand-holding from the likes of experts like Wendy Mayhew, business owner, entrepreneurship expert, best-selling author, and living proof that there is a world of good people out here rooting for you! Starting with Wendy’s absolute top tip, the most important thing you need to think about when starting your own business: “If you don’t try you will never know. So, try.”
More than this will to try, the key to starting a business is knowing that you are 100% ready. No matter how it goes, what entrepreneurship throws at you, or what obstacles stand in your way, being ready, in spirit, mind and body, will give you the best possible chance at success. Of course, the beauty of starting a business as a senior means that readiness is definitely already in your arsenal! With that as your base, you are now ready to focus on the nuts and bolts of beginning a business. Nuts and bolts which we are going to outline for you here, with our easy-to-understand, basic guide to starting a successful business. (If you thought this was just going to be a cheerleading exercise to help motivate you, you’ll be glad to hear we are here to offer way more than pom-poms and pyramids! We’ve got actual, practical advice, building blocks, and the specific steps you need to take to go along with the rah-rahs!)
So, without further ado we give to you our basic guide to starting a business – whether you are 65 or 25.
1. FINE TUNE YOUR IDEA
It’s likely that the idea came before the decision to start a business. It might be something that you’re passionate about, a hobby turned brilliant business idea; a skill turned potential money-maker; a vision turned viable concern. Whatever your idea though, there must be a practical ‘Why’ attached. What do we mean by that? Think about why you are launching your business, and not in the personal sense. You know why or how you got the idea for your business. The ‘why’ we’re talking about here is the marketplace why: is there a need for your product or service? A gaping hole in the marketplace? Do you think you could do a better, cheaper, faster job of an existing company in your arena or market? Having a practical reason for launching your business in its specific marketplace will serve you much better than pandering to your personal why.
Having established that there is room for your big idea in the marketplace, and value in your product and service that you believe only you can bring, you can now move on to making sure that your business, and your own dedication thereto, ticks the following three boxes:
- Do you truly know and understand your product or service?
- What are the features and benefits?
- Do you understand everything there is to know about your service as it relates to your target audience – how it will be delivered; is the pricing competitive/reasonable; how is it unique – how will it stand out from the crowd?
- Are you truly passionate about the product or service? As Maya Angelou puts it: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
- Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and just TRY?
- Do you truly know and understand your product or service?
Pro tip: These three – the Why, the Wisdom, and the Will to Try – can be considered the foundation of big ideas that go on to become booming businesses.
2. DO YOUR MARKET RESEARCH
Now you have your idea, and the three associated Ws, nailed down, it’s time to conduct market research: can your business really reach your target market, stand out from the crowd, and make money? In other words, is it a truly viable venture?
Conducting thorough market research, related to both other companies in your field as well as your potential customer or target market, can make all the difference between boom or bust. This may include conducting simple surveys – using a free tool like SurveyMonkey or even just a Twitter poll; holding focus groups – you can even just start with a focus group of your friends, family and peers; and researching both your competitors – what they’re doing to get seen and get business, and your customers – what keywords they’re using to search for your product/service on the Internet (i.e., what they’re Googling) via public data. It’s amazing what a few hours spent on Google will yield!
Some ideas to help you get started on your market research:
- Google your business idea, specific to your location if applicable, to find competitors already operating in your market;
- Install Keywords Everywhere (https://keywordseverywhere.com/), a free browser addon that can easily help you discover things like:
- Search volume for keywords related to your business idea – this will validate if your idea is one worth building a business upon;
- Trend charts in for your industry in Google and YouTube (related to your business keywords)
- Monthly estimates traffic and the top 500 keywords that any URL ranks for (this is a great way to see what is working for competitors in your field and figure out how to do better)
- An analysis of any URL to get the list of keywords in the content of the page, and the density of those keywords
Pro tip: Test your idea out with a simple landing page that describes your product or service and that includes a contact form or newsletter signup form. From this you can monitor how many people (a) see your landing page, and (b) are interested enough to sign up for news of your product or service. There are any number of companies offering easy-to-build landing page tools – try Mailchimp landing pages (https://mailchimp.com/features/landing-pages/) on for size, they are simple, easy to use, show you a bunch of easy-to-digest, easy-to-decipher, and easy-to-make-practical-use-of data.
3. PICK YOUR NAME
Naming your business can be fun. But it can also be hard. How so? Picking a name is far more than just choosing something catchy. It comes with a whole host of different considerations and legal ramifications. Things to ask yourself when choosing your business name:
- Is it obvious? (With ‘obvious’ being a good thing in this instance.) Does your name reflect and convey the product or service you offer without need for context or explanation? Or will it confuse potential customers?
- Is it appropriate? Quick test: go onto Instagram.com and perform a hashtag test: type into the Instagram search bar #myproposedbusinessname and see what pops up. You’d be amazed at the images some seemingly innocent hashtags can produce!
- Is it easy to pronounce, spell, and remember?
- Is it unique and distinctive?
- Is it already in use by some other business? (This one is important as it can have legal ramifications.)
- Is the domain name available? You want your business name, or at least a keyword related to your business, to be reflected in your website URL, so before deciding on a name make sure you can find a .com that suits. This is easily done using a tool like https://www.domain.com/. Check if your business name is available from a legal perspective, as well as if the domain name etc., are available. WhoIs (https://who.is/) is another great resource to help you here.
- Is the matching username for various social media sites available? For example, is the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram handle for @myproposedbusinessname free?
Found the perfect name with all elements available and ready to use? Go ahead and register your name, your domain name, and any other handles or usernames you’d like to use before somebody else nabs them!
Pro tip: Test it with your friends, family, neighbours, business owners. Get feedback from people you trust, and people who might conceivably use your product or service. Don’t be scared of constructive criticism, and don’t get hurt and confused if you find your chosen names find no love. If at first you don’t succeed, just try, and try again!
4. REVIEW LEGAL REQUIREMENTS AND SMALL BUSINESS TAX REQUIREMENTS
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on where your strengths lie!), starting a business isn’t all big ideas, vision and enthusiasm. There are taxes to be filed. Forms to be filled out. Legal government requirements to be met. For all the nitty gritty details, be sure to check out Wendy Mayhew’s chapter on legal requirements in her book Wiser: The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50’: Chapter 5 (pg. 55). (https://wise-seniorsinbusiness.com/wiserguide/)
You must decide what type of business you plan to be – a corporation (federal or provincial/territorial), sole proprietorship or partnership, or cooperative; register your business; apply for permits or licenses where applicable.
Boring, but necessary.
Within Canada, you can figure all this out, and find out what needs to be done for your specific business idea, within your specific region, by exploring their ‘Starting a Business’ website: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/business/start.html
Pro tip: Ultimately, it is up to you to determine which type of entity is best for your current needs and future business goals but our best advice? Don’t try to make this decision alone! Speak to a business or legal advisor.
5. ASSESS YOUR FINANCES
Starting any business comes with some costs. And whether you’ve saved up for this very day and have a sizable nest egg to get you up and running, or plan on seeking financing, in whatever form, you should always start from a place of proper financial planning.
Before you dive in, it’s important to always put finances first.
- What are your startup costs?
- Do you have enough money put away to support yourself until your business starts making a profit?
- How much money will you need to break even and, eventually, become profitable? Perform a break-even analysis using this simple formula:
Fixed Costs / (Average Price – Variable Costs) = Break-Even Point
- What are my running costs/expenses?
- What will I charge for my product/service, keeping the above in mind?
Armed with this information you can now head to the bank, alternative small business lender, or even go the crowdfunding route, to see what your options are.
Pro tip: Budgeting not your thing? Does talking about money stress you out at the best of times? Get help! A financial advisor can set you up for success from the get go. And, for goodness’ sake: hire an accountant! You really need to talk to an accountant to start with, and then hand it over to someone at the end of the year. You can do your own, and online, etc., but you really need a professional on this one!
6. WRITE YOUR BUSINESS PLAN
The business plan. Sounds so formal, and forbidding, doesn’t it? It really doesn’t need to be. In fact, it can be as simple as a one-page plan, handwritten even, which contains the following information:
- WHY – The ‘Why’ of your business: what is the need it fills, the problem it solves, the key ingredient it offers to improve your customers’ lives?
- WHAT – Your one-sentence elevator pitch: what does your business do?
- WHO – Target market / potential customer base: who will pay money for your product or service?
- SWOT – Analysis: what are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats to your business?
- WHERE – Marketing plan: how/where do you plan to promote your business?
- BUDGET – Financial plan: what are your business costs; how will you make money to pay for the business in the beginning; how will your business make money?
A well-thought out business plan, no matter how long or short, can help you see a future for your business – where it’s going, how it will get there – as well as provide you with a relatively painless exit strategy should you need one.
When you are ready to go to the bank ask them for their template to see what they need. Don’t waste your time doing a long and involved business plan until you’re further down the road.
Pro tip: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel! There are any number of business plan templates and blueprints out there, which have proven to be effective time and time again, just ready and waiting to help you. Don’t be too proud to use them. The most common of these business plans are the Lean Model Canvas and the Business Model Canvas – easy-to-use templates for both of which exist in Wiser: The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50 by Wendy Mayhew.
7. BRAND YOURSELF LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT (IT DOES!)
Just like with your website, this is not a case of ‘build it and they will come’. You need to build your business and brand, believe in your business and brand, and then you need to market it like your life depends on it.
A very important note here: THIS is not the place to skimp or save money by doing it yourself! Make sure you set some startup budget aside to work with a branding company to design your logo and your brand identity. This will play a crucial role in how professional you and your company look, and is the foundation of your website, which will take it’s look, feel, and professionalism from your brand identity. Spend money here to make money down the road.
Branding, professionally done branding, is also key to getting you noticed and taken seriously by your potential customers. The only way to turn your big idea into a booming business is to actually get customers through the proverbial front door. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible to advertise your business affordably (and often for free), and measure the return on investment with every single cent you spend. Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora… All these are avenues you can explore for both free and paid options to get eyes on your business and brand.
And then there’s that SEO word again… Search Engine Optimization truly is one of the best ways to get traffic to your website, paying customers to your cart, email subscribers eager and willing to hear what you have to say, and leads interested in paying for what you are selling.
Pro tip: If you do only one marketing exercise for your brand, make it the optimization of your Google My Business profile. If Google knows where and who you are, the world knows where and who you are.
8. CREATE YOUR WEBSITE
Now, more than ever, an online presence is an absolute must for any sort of success in business. Even beyond a locked down world where COVID-19 is no longer a threat keeping everyone at home and online, the Internet will be the most important place you do business, regardless of what it is you offer. With this in mind, a professional, beautiful and, most importantly, easy-to-use website is where you will first meet your customer, and then retain their interest and business.
This virtual business card or storefront for your business means you can reach your customers anywhere, any time. There is real power in that. This is also where your professionally done branding exercise comes into play. A beautifully done brand identity, logo, and website design will help you look like you mean business and engender trust in both you and your business from the first time potential customers lay eyes on you. If you don’t look professional, how can you expect customers to believe you are professional?
The best part? Building a brilliant website no longer requires the expertise, and budget-breaking bill, of a graphic designer or coding expert. That being said, there are people who have made a career out of doing website design and building for a reason, and we do recommend you have a website whizz in the wings who you can rely on to help with your site, even if you do choose the DIY route using a trusted resource like WordPress (https://wordpress.com/). This again plays into the notion and importance of professional branding: if your website doesn’t look professional, your company doesn’t look professional.
Of course, there’s far more to bringing your target market to your website, and business, than just creating said website. You’re going to want to learn how to play nice with Google by using SEO to get your business and website noticed by the Internet giants, which translates to them offering you up to people searching for your product or service on said Internet. You can learn more about the basics of SEO here. (https://www.1stonthelist.ca/blog/seo-for-beginners-9-seo-tips-for-2020/) Or, again, don’t be too proud to ask somebody else to do it for you: if age gives us anything it’s the self-awareness to know when we need help and the savviness to accept it!
Pro tip: By all means look at your competitors’ websites but don’t get hung up on doing what they are doing, or trying to be actively different to them. Do your own thing: build a site that would please you if you were the customer. Is it aesthetically pleasing? Is it easy to use? Can you find what you’re looking for in no more than one or two clicks? Would you visit it again? These are your litmus tests. Trust yourself.
9. CONSIDER BUSINESS INSURANCE
No matter what type of business venture you’re embarking on it’s NEVER a bad idea to invest in business insurance.
Yes, we agree, insurance does always seem like a waste of money. Until it isn’t. Expensive data breaches and cyber hacks, property damage, theft, flood, fire, a dissatisfied employee or customer and the associated costly lawsuit. These things can, and trust us, do happen.
Pro tip: For most businesses, insurance coverage is an absolute must for survival. Of course, not all insurance providers are created equal. Do your research, read reviews (BBB, Google reviews, Insureye reviews) of insurance companies you’re thinking of working with. And take those reviews to heart! To misquote Maya Angelou (again): “When (a company) shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It really is important that you work with a trusted insurer – Northbridge Financial Corporation (https://www.nbfc.com/) is one we can get behind – to protect you, your business, and your dream.
10. GET HELP
Finally, remember this: you don’t need to do this alone. You are not alone. So many have gone before you and most remember that lesson learnt early on in life: “Sharing really is caring.” Whether it’s a friend or colleague who’s made the leap before you, a former boss willing to unload their secrets to success, an online forum of entrepreneurs, particularly seniorpreneurs, sharing their stories of success or failure, or a trusted advisor or expert, help is just a click or call away.
Pro tip: For the ultimate guide, and ALL the secrets to making a success of starting a business after the age of 50, look no further than Wendy Mayhew’s book WISER – The Definitive Guide to Starting a Business After the Age of 50.