Midlife Entrepreneurs Better Prepared Than Younger

One of the most gratifying things I get to do is work with entrepreneurs and business owners to optimize their businesses. In the area where I live, most of the media attention is focused on technology startups usually run by people in their 20s. What I find interesting about the new businesses in our area is that the founders who are willing to rent an office and hire a consultant or take some classes tend to be mid-life entrepreneurs. These older entrepreneurs actually are more prevalent than the younger ones. Dane Spangler, a researcher at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation wrote in a 2009 report, “in every single year from 1996 to 2007, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34.” Also, according to the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report — a survey of a representative sample of the U.S. adult-age population — 15.4 percent of Americans aged 55-64 and 12.8 percent of Americans aged 45-54 run their own business, compared with 0.8 percent of Americans aged 18-24 and 4.9 percent of Americans aged 25-34.midlife entrepreneur

Bureau of Labor Statistics data on both incorporated and unincorporated self-employment show an even more extreme pattern. The rate of self-employment is higher among people in their 60s than even those in their 50s, let alone those in their 20s or 30s. In fact, the bureau’s surveys of American workers reveal that people aged 65 to 69 are self-employed heads of corporations at four times the rate of people aged 25 to 34. 

The Small Business Administration reports in its recently released publication Small Business Economy that, from 2000 to 2011, self-employment among people under 25 dropped 9 percent. Among those aged 25 to 34, it fell 8 percent, and for those between 35 and 44, it declined 24 percent. By contrast, self-employment among those aged 55 to 64 rose 54 percent, while it increased 36 percent among those over 65.

Scott Shane (A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University) shares an interesting observation that, even in high technology, entrepreneurs are much more likely to be over 50 than under 25. Research by Vivek Wadhwa, Richard Freeman and Ben Rissing shows that these older entrepreneurs, while they fly under the media radar, are very prolific and on the rise.

Shane asks (as you might), “Why are baby boomers more likely than their kids to be entrepreneurs?” He goes on to answer his own question:

Researchers have two hypotheses, the second more plausible than the first. The first explanation is a cohort effect: Today’s young people don’t want to run their own businesses as much as their parents did were when they were young. The more plausible explanation is an age effect.

The reason Shane provides for the cohort effect being a weaker argument is a body of research conducted at UCLA within the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP). CIRP points to a trend over the past quarter century whereby college freshmen are less likely to want to be a “business executive,” “accountant,” or “actuary.” Instead, a higher percentage want to own a business now than previously.

So, while more freshmen want to be business owners, fewer people in their early twenties are actually starting businesses. This is where the age affect provides an explanation. Those who prefer this argument would say that the experience gained and savings accumulated over a period of fifteen years or more give one more confidence to start a business later in life. While there are certainly more responsibilities for the stereotypical midlife entrepreneur on the home front, this age group appears to have figured out how to address those responsibilities and still be willing to start businesses at a higher rate than the younger counterparts.

What’s holding you back? Start a business as a second career!


Your Online Content Needs a Strategy

Many of my clients have made the jump into the digital age with their marketing. They know that they need to be involved in social media, but often have never heard of content management. While I do not pretend to be a content expert, I have picked up on some best practices over time and try to apply those to my own firm and the clientele I serve. My email inbox receives regular updates to keep me abreast of what thought leaders have to say about content. Over the weekend, I read about “8 Content Marketing Mistakes to Avoid,” a whitepaper that was very well written. The authors/sources quoted include Heinz Marketing’s Matt Heinz, Marketing Interactions’ Ardath Albee, Babcock & Jenkins’ Carmen Hill, The Funnelholic’s Craig Rosenberg, and The Sales Lion’s Marcus Sheridan. 

Excerpts appear below, followed by my own formatting for emphasis, observation and commentary:

1. Don’t neglect to do the groundwork. Before you start any marketing activity, you have to know why you’re doing it. How does this activity translate to immediate or eventual sales and revenue? (Heinz)

You have to know (to) whom you’re talking, what they need and want to know, and where their interests intersect with yours. (Hill)

2. Don’t focus on yourself—focus on the buyer instead. Think like the end user, not like a business owner. Great content marketing is about education.  To be great at content marketing, the focus has to be about the reader, and not the company/writer. (Sheridan)

Our content needs a lot less “we” and a lot more “you.” (Hill).

3. Don’t pitch your product at every stage. Give the people what they want: interesting content that makes their life better. (Rosenberg)

What are your customer’s issues? What do they need help with, right now? That’s the content that will spread like wildfire for you. (Heinz)

Question words4. Don’t overlook calls to action. Every content asset should have a call to action. Build pathways and tell connected stories that help to build momentum through the pipe. (Albee)

5. Don’t forget that effective content marketing is a two-way street. To really accelerate your audience and impact, you must devote time to responding, commenting, engaging questions and so on. (Heinz)

6. Don’t produce content that lacks substance. Audrey Gray of American Express advised that we put our energy into what we’re making rather than the platform: “Create content that makes you feel smarter, celebrates human artistry, or that has with real-world value.” (Hill)

7. Don’t treat content marketing as an afterthought. Content marketing is a practice that integrates all of your content-driven initiative into a consistent and holistic experience for your target markets. Content marketing is at its best when it’s used to pull everything together so that an experience in one channel makes sense or adds value when the audience switches to another channel. (Albee)

8. Don’t underestimate the power of various formats. Written content may be the core of your content strategy, but don’t forget video. Or podcasts. Or short, embedded slide presentations. Or whatever other formats your audience naturally gravitates toward. (Heinz) 

Marketers will benefit tremendously by embracing the Rule of 5. Take one topic and develop 5 different angles to approach it, creating 5 different formats of content. (Albee)

Sound advice from some stellar content curators and marketers. Incorporate these principles into your own business environment. Become engaging, relevant, and indispensable. Doing so will build a loyal following that can be turned into either revenues or referrals that produce revenues. At the very least, your brand gains equity for your efforts and that is no small feat!


Harness or Release the Intrapreneur Troublemaker?

Recently, the World Economic Forum convened in Davos for its annual meeting. What, one may ask, does such a high brow event have to do with intrapreneurship and innovation in business? Actually, one of the panel discussions at the Forum was on social intrapreneurship. The definition that was being used seemed to focus on the social implications of the issue as it relates to those change makers who offer creative solutions and drive growth. Gib Bulloch, the Executive Director for the Accenture Development Partnership, writing for the Huffington Post last week, noted that there exists no job title for the social intrapreneur. Admittedly, he argued, no one leaves college or university to become one and the  role lacks a clearly defined job description. Companies that embrace the power of these intrapraneurs to think differently and innovate, Bulloch said, have significant opportunities to leverage their passion and benefit the business.

Bulloch recalls Vodafone’s M-PESA mobile banking business as a prime example of the benefit of empowering intrapreneurs:

The idea of using mobile phones as bank accounts for the un-banked in Kenya was not born in the corporate boardroom. It was the brain child of a middle manager in the marketing department, Nick Hughes, who came up with the concept and brought it to the attention of those who could advance its development, both inside and outside the company. Seven years into the program, a thriving M-PESA business now delivers socio-economic benefits for Kenya and business benefits for Vodafone.

Therein lies the key to social intrapreneurship. It is not a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. It is a business growth initiative that tears down barriers and embraces the passionate ideals and innovation of the millennial generation now flooding into the workplace. It is a concept that captures the zeitgeist of young people who care less about making a fortune on Wall Street and more about making a difference on Main Street.Intrapreneurman

For organizations that aspire to leverage the rare win-win of business benefit with social good in 2013, four key takeaways have emerged as guideposts for developing an effective social intrapreneurship program:

• The role of leadership is key: In the early stages of an innovation program, leadership must provide the air cover required to protect bottom-up ideas. As the best ideas mature, they must be promoted within the organization and embraced from the top down.

• Harness the troublemaker: Social intrapreneurs are at their core different from their peers. They march to a different drum beat and their passions fuel both their personal and work lives. Having a culture that both nurtures the change maker’s innovative spirit but also harnesses the troublemaker’s enthusiasm and energy to break molds and achieve where others have come up short will return significant rewards.

• Realize the retention value: For the social intrapreneur, making a difference is often equal to making money. For organizations that embrace the value of providing “bottom up” channels for creative business solutions that provide social good, the long term benefits for retaining your best innovators cannot be understated. Simply put, for the millennial generation, making a difference matters.

• Base decisions on the Business Case: Even for the most passionate social intrapreneurs, the numbers still matter. Innovations that pull on the heart strings as opposed to the levers of business value are unlikely to be sustainable or scalable in the long run

How do you see these guidelines at play inside your own organization? Is top leadership committed to openly supporting new ideas? Are those who see the world differently perceived as liabilities or assets? What are you doing to keep these change agents engaged and motivated? Does your group operate on emotional or sound business foundations? Harness the power of the intrapreneur!


A Matrix of Insights Into Innovation

Have you ever listened to a “friend of a friend of a friend” story and wondered why the storyteller was recounting something? Surely, you thought, there must be something substantial lost in translation–kinda like the old “telephone game” in which you are in a circle with others, share a statement with someone to your left, who does likewise around the circle only to have a totally different statement return to you. Well, I hope this blog post is nothing like that! However, I would like to share a book review by a friend of mine, Jeffrey Phillips. (Do the math–I have not read the book, do not know the author or his content except vicariously, but I do know Jeffrey and respect his commentary on a number of matters.)

Phillips is a prolific writer, speaker, and practitioner of innovation. As often happens with people who have created a following, he has been asked on numerous occasions to review books written by others having to do with his favorite professional subject–innovation. A couple weeks ago, he wrote a review of Creative Strategy, A Guide for Innovation, written by William Duggan, describing the book as follows: “a step-by-step guide to help individuals and organizations put Strategic Intuition to work for their own innovations.” It is to be noted that Duggan previously wrote Strategic Intuition. Innovation, as defined by Duggan, encompasses products, business models, entrepreneurship, and social enterprises. Phillips finds the book to be “a real conundrum, very specific in recommending (a) three step process (detailed below) and refuting or denigrating many innovation and creativity techniques, while at the same time the book can be annoyingly vague or indeterminate.” So, let me save you the experience of reading the entire book and just hone in on the three step process: rapid appraisal, the “what-works” scan and creative combinations. To quote Phillips:

Rapid appraisal is about breaking the problem into “chunks” or more discrete elements, often known as decomposition.  This simply makes a larger problem an association of smaller problems or challenges.  The What Works scan entails looking across industries, geography and time to see if anyone, anywhere has created a solution to any of the smaller “chunks”.  If so, can we adopt or modify the solution elsewhere to the problem at hand?  The third stepcreative combinations, asks us to look for creative solutions across what Duggan calls the Insight Matrix.  The Insight Matrix is a simple X-Y chart:  problem “chunks” down the vertical axis, potential solutions on the horizontal axis and interesting combinations at the intersections.

While Duggan may be the first to design his “Insight Matrix”, none of these tools will be new to innovators.  The concept of breaking challenges into smaller components (known as decomposition) is well-known to innovators and one that many innovation methodologies practice.  It is often easier to break a challenge or need into smaller components and build a solution up, rather than address the entire challenge at once.  

Creativity wordleLikewise, what Duggan calls the “what-works” scan is not new either.  There is an entire school of thought within innovation that argues that every problem has already been solved, it is simply our job to discover how and where the solution exists.  Bio-mimicry, for example, stipulates that nature has already solved many problems that we encounter, and we can learn from, adapt and adopt those solutions.  

Finally, Duggan’s creative combination approach simply suggests that we adopt the “best” solution for each chuck from the best alternative solution from the what-works scan, and create a total solution by putting these discrete solutions back together.  Again, nothing new here.  Good innovators know that most good ideas happen at the intersection of new technologies and markets. 

In the final analysis, the Insight Matrix is the best thought of the book–probably worth checking out, even if many other concepts take longer to develop and may not be innovative themselves.



Why Your Company Struggles to Innovate


Jeffrey Phillips, a friend of mine in Raleigh, North Carolina is a savvy adviser to companies on the topic of innovation. In a blog post today at Innovation Excellence, Phillips shares his top recommendations to companies who want to differentiate themselves from the competition. Excerpts from the blog post are cited below to provide a framework for you to consider with regards to your own situation. {Commentary in brackets represent my thoughts/contribution.)

The strange concept to me is that many executives want more innovation, but they don’t understand the investments, or perhaps recoil from the costs. Many mid and senior level managers want to do more innovation, for growth in their own careers, more differentiation of products and services, and simply to expand their horizons. But they don’t have any indications that if they do more innovation that the innovations will be favorably received. So two groups, that talk frequently to each other, have deep desires for more innovation, and both are waiting for the others to make the first move.

When everyone wants something and yet no one feels free to act, it makes sense to unpack the barriers and explore them.Innovate on Purpose

First Barrier – Immediate Results

While executives want innovation, to help differentiate the company or grow new revenues and profits, they also don’t want to risk distraction from existing revenues and quarterly promises. Potential revenue or differentiation is just never as interesting as near term results. To counteract this issue, we need to establish priorities and re-balance investments and commitments, or reduce the stated demand for innovation. 

{What are the priorities at your company? Are investments and commitments aligned with the need to make an impression in the short-term, or do they need to be matched with innovation initiatives?}

Second Barrier – Clear Goals

3M’s stated goal of driving 30% of revenues from products released in the last 3 years is a good example. It’s clearly stated, measurable and stakes out an important need for a continual stream of new products. Yes, it can be jockeyed, by claiming that an existing product is a “new product” because it has new features. But which argument would you rather have?  The debate about how “new” a substantial portion of your portfolio is, or why you are losing market share?

{Innovation can only be understood to be successful when “success” is well-defined and embraced by all.}

Third barrier – Time and Resource

After years of lean, Six Sigma, right sizing, downsizing and outsourcing, most people are working more than ever, and don’t have much slack time to take on innovation projects, especially when those projects may require new tools or new ways of thinking. If we can’t turn a project quickly with minimal risk and minimal investment, we probably won’t do it at all. 

{What will your “ask” be to upper management to allocate necessary time and resources? Do you have data that supports innovation as a good return on investment? How much time do you think should be invested on innovation on a pro rata basis?}

Fourth barrier – Internal Focus

If your firm can’t afford the internal resources and people necessary to innovate and sustain quarterly results, you can find incremental services for innovation from third parties, whether this is “open” innovation or something you choose to outsource. I’d argue that you should outsource the management and extension of existing products and services and in-source innovation of new products and services, because that’s where the growth lies.

{Too many companies have dysfunctional research and development teams that get bogged down in “skunk works” and function in a silo-like environment. By creating and pursuing horizontal work processes–whether they are interdepartmental or involving external strategic alliances, your organization can overcome the navel gazing so typical in larger, bureaucratic companies.}