Confessions of an Entrepreneur: My Advice for Entrepreneurs Who are Getting Older
November 10, 2020 | By Mark Zweig
Here’s the reality of it. We all age.
If you own a business, the time flies and someday you will find yourself my age (or older). Things won’t be the same as they were when you started your business at 22 or 25 or 30 or 40.
Odds are, if you are like most people, your energy and enthusiasm for the business and energy level will decrease over time, and your resulting priorities will change as you age.
I don’t want to say you will necessarily run out of steam. There are plenty of people who keep going well into their 80s or beyond. My mom is 100 and my dad lived until he was 96. He was still trying to learn and improve himself and share his knowledge with the world right up until the day he died.
But most people do feel a reduction in their desire to keep going and growing their businesses over time.
That said, here is best advice to those entrepreneurs and small business owners who are getting older:
- Understand that your exit from the business is most likely around the corner.
- Delegate all the tasks you no longer like doing.
- Work to keep your work from getting boring.
- Spend more time with the people you love.
- Keep demonstrating your usefulness and value to the business.
- Keep trying to learn.
That’s coming, whether you want it to or not.
Figure out how best to make that exit. There are many options.
You may be able to sell your business to an external buyer. That typically brings the highest price. Or maybe you want to sell it to a group of employees who may be more likely to keep the thing on the same track you ran it on — but you will have to finance it to them.
Some companies have the option of implementing an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) which can have some tax advantages. Maybe you have a daughter or son who wants to take on the business. And maybe you just want to sell off your assets and slowly wind it down. Or, if you have no plans to get out, you may need life insurance that allows the company to buy back your business from your estate so you don’t create problems for all of your employees and suppliers.
The important thing is you need to actually make a decision and then start implementing a plan around it. My experience is the exit process always takes longer than you think it will (other than death, which never comes when expected), and the sooner you plan for it, the more likely you will be able to go out on your terms.
One of the things that can contribute to business owner burnout is the business owner is often trying to do too much. Every decision runs through him or her (we call this “single person management”), and that can kill you.
Maybe it is time to start learning how to delegate certain aspects of your role to other people in the business. Yes, it will take time to train these people. And they may not be as good at doing something as you are (at first). But given time and adequate instruction, they may actually be better at doing whatever it is than you are.
This could make your life a lot easier and also help keep these good people there at your business because they won’t feel they have to leave in order to grow. Delegation is crucial and more crucial as you get older.
Spice it up! Go buy another business and integrate it with yours. Try some new marketing tactics. Try out something new management-wise. Throw out what’s broken and replace it. Maybe you also need to throw out some things you do that aren’t broken, yet take all your time so you can’t do something else that is more fun and more profitable.
Venture out onto the ice a little bit and do something that will help you not be bored by the work of the business you have been doing for years.
That can mean partners, employees or customers.
When I think back about my career and all of the businesses I owned, worked for or was a part of, the best aspects of those experiences always revolved around the people I worked with. Spend more time with those people — the ones you really care about and get positive energy from. Spend less time with the people you find frustrating or draining. This conscious effort will make you happier doing what you are doing and probably provide other benefits to your business as well — either in terms of more business or better business or happier and more motivated employees because they know you care about them.
Time is the most precious commodity and who you spend it with is a great indicator of the importance of those people to you. That time is the currency of relationships. Nurture the good ones and get out of the bad ones.
This whole process has to be timed perfectly. Your goal, as long as you plan on out-surviving your involvement with your business, is to become completely unnecessary by the time you leave it. But as long as you are still in the business, you have to earn your keep.
That usually means you have to either bring in revenue or help produce whatever it is the business sells. This is crucial for a number of reasons.
First, it will keep you motivated and engaged and more aware of what the business does well and what it doesn’t do so well. Second, it will keep the employees from being demotivated because they see you as a tax or drag on the business that they are depending on to keep being successful enough to provide them with a living.
This second point is far more important than many business owners want to admit. I have seen countless star employees leave because they felt they were working for a lazy owner. Just because you are the owner and you can get away with working less hard than everyone else without getting fired doesn’t mean you should do it.
Go on a quest to learn more about your industry and your competitors and your clients or customers — and don’t forget your own people. Just by the fact that you are reading this article tells me you haven’t given up on learning. But what else can you do that will keep your mind fresh?
Just because you are getting older it doesn’t mean you have to act old. One way to stave that off is to make real efforts to keep educating yourself. I'm sure you know what those efforts should be.
At 62, I could easily look back at my life and all I did, and beat myself up over one of the many things I did wrong. There were plenty of those instances! But the benefit of making mistakes (at least those that don’t kill you) is that every one of them holds an opportunity inside of it if you can slow down long enough to recognize it.
Embrace your age and your battle scars and bruises that you accumulated along the way.
I am glad to be where I am now (mentally and psychologically), and most of the time wouldn’t want to go back even if I could (other than things I did that hurt people which I would prefer to undo!). Getting older isn’t so bad, but if you own a business, the clock is ticking. You can’t keep doing exactly what you are doing now forever, and the finish line may be closer than you think. Make the most of that time and accumulated lessons learned!