Becoming a Solopreneur after Age 40: 4 Truths & a Lie
If you're thinking about making the jump, here's what to actually consider
Changing course professionally can be difficult — and it can feel downright scary to do it after age 40. You may think you’re giving up on everything you’ve worked so hard to earn up to this point in your life. After all, starting over is risky, at best.
But making a fresh start as a solopreneur can be a risk worth taking, especially if you’re feeling stuck, need more freedom to enjoy your family, or simply made the wrong decision for yourself when you started your career all those years ago.
And you won’t be alone. By one U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projection, there will be 10.3 million self-employed workers by 2026, a 7.9% growth rate that’s faster than the overall projected employment growth rate.
In many ways, age 40 is the perfect time to shift gears, because you’ve seen enough and accumulated enough experience to have a good idea of how to do it yourself. Yet, you’ve got enough time in front of you to make a go of something brand new.
If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, here are four truths and one lie to keep in mind.
Truth No. 1: You must love what you do.
Chris Gardner, the stockbroker portrayed by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, advised that the secret to success was to “find something you love to do so much you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”
If you don’t love what you do, you won’t be motivated to keep doing it — or to do it well. You may even lose interest before you get your new venture off the ground. Of course, you’ve got to decide what you love enough to do everyday before you can make a profitable business out of it. So, how do you figure that out?
Start by doing a little brainstorming. Do you already love your job and just want to work for yourself? Great! If you’re looking for a change of pace, take a look at your hobbies. Think back to the courses you loved in school, and ask your family and friends what they think you should do.
When it comes to solopreneurship, the possibilities are truly endless. You can make your living doing anything from niche accounting to professional organizing to personal training. Once you have a short list, consider internships, apprenticeships, and job shadowing to get a more in-depth look at the opportunities that may have piqued your interest.
While doing what you love isn’t a guarantee of success, it’s a good first step. According to a 2019 survey, 96% of Americans who work for themselves reported having no desire to return to a “regular job,” and 70% said they had a better work-life balance. More than half (55%) said they had less stress and (54%) were healthier.
Truth No. 2: Your personal finances matter.
If you’re trying to get enough capital to start your own business, there are several ways to go about it. You can look for an “angel investor” to provide you with seed money, typically in exchange for an ownership stake. Google and Yahoo were among the companies that took this approach.
You can try crowdfunding through platforms like Indiegogo, GoFundMe, Kickstarter, and Patreon. Investors often receive a gift in return for their investment (like a first-edition autographed copy of a book from an author, for example).
That said, you’re likely going to end up investing some of your own money too. That’s why it’s so important to take an in-depth look at your personal finances before you say goodbye to your regular paycheck. You should also consider the following inevitabilities:
- Understand what kinds of insurance you need. Depending on the kind of business you run, you’ll need a variety of different types of coverage. You’ll want general and professional liability policies for sure. If you employ others, you’ll need workers’ compensation.
- Since you’re no longer working for someone else, you’ll need to provide your own health insurance.
- Chances are, you’ll need to pay quarterly taxes.
- You won’t be able to rely on an employer’s 401(k), and you’ll still need to put money away for your retirement.
- Credit will be more important than ever, especially if you’re applying for business loans. Building good credit by making payments on time, paying down debt, and keeping balances low can save you more than $11,000 a year in interest and fees alone.
Truth No. 3: Time is your most valuable resource.
Just as you budget your money, you must budget your time. Contrary to popular belief, solopreneurs don’t have to be “on the clock” 24-7. Set aside time for yourself so that you can relax and enjoy other things in life you value — and avoid burnout.
You don’t have to do it on your own, either. Time management apps are available that can help you track your time and see where you’re wasting it. A good time-management system will allow you to track what you’re doing in real time as well as in blocks, then aggregate the data in daily, weekly, or monthly chunks.
You should also put some thought into your schedule. Some people work better at night; others work better in the morning. It all depends on your metabolism and preferences. The good thing about working for yourself is that, to a certain extent, you can tailor your schedule to fit the times when you’re most productive.
And remember: How you spend your “down” time is part of the process, too. Learn what best rejuvenates you, and do that. Whether it’s yoga, some time at the gym, meditation, exploring nature, or journaling, do what makes you feel fresh and motivated.
Truth No. 4: Success looks different for everyone.
Having the freedom to work for yourself means having the freedom to pursue your own creative ideas. You no longer have to do things just the way everyone else does, which would only get you lost in the crowd. Innovation is an important element of success, and creating your own distinctive brand will make you stand out.
Just as your business will look and feel different than others, so will your success. That’s why it’s important to set goals that make sense to you, rather than following the crowd. In other words, comparing yourself to Mark Zuckerberg if you’re developing an online platform or Stephen King if you’re writing a book may do more harm than good.
Instead of comparing yourself to successful people, learn from them. Read their biographies, research their methods, and try them out. Then get creative, and adapt their approaches to your own needs and goals. Think of yourself as a chef in the kitchen. Recipes are great, but sometimes it’s the unexpected flourishes and new ingredients that make a dish delicious.
One Big Lie: ‘Solo’ means alone.
Just because you’re in business for yourself doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. That’s why ‘solopreneur’ is really a misnomer. There are more resources out there than ever for entrepreneurs, starting with your fellow small business owners.
Gone is the mindset of scarcity, the idea that there aren’t enough clients or revenue to go around. These days, business owners are supporting one another and sincerely celebrating their collective success. From joint venture opportunities to mentorships, your fellow solopreneurs can be your biggest asset.
Your state’s small business development center can help, too, and SCORE offers a network of more than 10,000 expert volunteers in 300 chapters across the country. Its website focuses on topics ranging from funding options available through the SBA to support for women and Black entrepreneurs. For example, there are a number of different small business grants for minorities specifically.
The U.S. Small Business Administration also has a number of free resources available. Check out the website for ideas on how to plan, launch, manage, and grow your business. You can find out about everything from how to calculate startup costs to what licenses you may need (and how to apply for them).
Being a solopreneur can offer you the kind of freedom and creativity you can’t get in a traditional job, working for someone else. Reinventing at 40 isn’t easy, but it can be extremely rewarding.
Jessica Larson is a serial solopreneur whose goals are simple: to support her family while still actually spending time with them, to act as an entrepreneurial role model for her two daughters, and to share what she’s learned through The Solopreneur Journal.