Silver entrepreneurs in Kent

PUBLISHED: 12:59 23 August 2015 | UPDATED: 12:59 23 August 2015

Caroline Mercer, Delaware Cottage

Caroline Mercer, Delaware Cottage

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Silver entrepreneurs are not only on the rise, the over-50s are outperforming their younger rivals. A quartet from Kent share their stories and secrets to success.

There are currently 4.17 million self-employed workers in the UK, of which 42 per cent (1.75 million) are over 50. That’s up from 38 per cent since 2008.

A combination of factors has contributed to this trend, including enforced redundancy, the abandonment of the statutory retirement age and the demise of final-salary pensions.

Given the traditional image of an entrepreneur as young and upwardly mobile, what’s surprising is that it is actually those of a mature age who are more successful.

Years of experience and expertise means that this group of start-up entrepreneurs outperform their younger rivals, with over 70 per cent lasting more than five years, compared with 28 per cent of those aged between 20 to 35.

Caroline Mercer

Delaware Cottage Delights, Edenbridge

After a career that had largely used her skills as a garden designer, in 2004 Caroline Mercer found herself working for a local charity called CARE (Cottage & Rural Enterprises).

She expalins: “The charity worked with adults with learning difficulties, teaching them not only how to grow and cook fruit and vegetables but also how to make jams and chutneys which were sold at markets, giving them retail experience.”

When CARE was taken over by Home Farm Trust in 2013 the charity was restructured which led to Caroline being made redundant.

Rather than see this as a set-back, Caroline (a former Hadlow College Garden Design student) instead viewed it as an opportunity.

“With the skills I had developed in the creation and selling of jams and chutneys, married to my strong belief that products should be made from local and seasonal produce, I thought that I could start a business of my own.”

Caroline attended a PRIME (Prince’s Trust for Mature Enterprise) Start Your Own Business course and began to formulate her idea.

“Eventually, in April 2013 I set up Delaware Cottage Delights (so-called because I live in one of the cottages at Delaware Farm), a business that sells jams, jellies, gluten-free chutneys, pickles and relishes made with local, seasonal fruit and vegetables.”

Now a regular at several Farmers’ Markets and with her products stocked in a number of farm shops, Caroline is pleased with the progress that Delaware Cottage Delights has made.

“It’s challenging starting a new business but it’s been fun and the business is doing well. It goes to show that age needn’t be an impediment to starting out on your own; you’re never too old.”

Top tips

1 Do your market research

2 Define what your unique selling point is

3 Have a three-year plan

4 Consider how you wish to expand; plan for success

5 Enjoy what you’re doing; you’re going to be doing this for a lot of your time.

Bob Ainsworth

Birling House B&B, Capel

When Bob Ainsworth retired from his career in retail management, he was looking around for something to fill his time.

“At first I thought about doing some freelance consultancy work within the sector that I had retired from, but part of me wanted a fresh challenge,” he says.

Always someone who liked meeting new people and the owner of a decently sized, ‘chocolate-box’ cottage in the countryside outside Tonbridge, Bob was struck by a novel idea.

“I thought about turning my home into a B&B. The layout worked and I knew, having lived in this part of Kent for more than 25 years that people would want to visit. So I set about doing the research and start on the path for my new career as an owner of a B&B.”

After years in retail, Bob already had lots of the skills needed to welcome guests. “I’d run department stores that had large kitchens, I had overseen marketing and I’d hosted and met people from all over the world, so the shift wasn’t as dramatic as it might appear at first.”

Despite this, there were still some parts of the business that Bob had to learn and for this he sought help from outside organisations, such as the local authority and Visit England.

Birling House has thrived since it opened four years ago. “I get plenty of business, I’ve received some wonderful reviews from my guests and had lots of return trade,” Bob says.

But success would be nothing if there wasn’t also enjoyment, and this is one area where Bob is very content. “I’ve never regretted making the decision to open the B&B. I’ve met some great people, learned a lot and enjoy the day-to-day reality of running my own business. So far, it’s been wonderful.”

Top tips

1 If you’re dealing with the public, then make sure your customer service is excellent.

2 Use free sources of help and information, such as that provided by the local authority.

3 Try to exceed expectations. The aim is to place your business beyond your competitors in people’s minds and this is a great way to do this.

4 Gather as much information as you can. Knowledge about your market is essential.

5 Buy the best. Don’t cut corners with what you are supplying.

Janet Morgan

Glitterwitch, Sevenoaks

Following early retirement at 55, Janet Morgan was looking around for some local part-time work to fill her time.

“Quite by accident, I noticed an advert in a craft magazine which was advertising the sale of a mail order beading business. An elderly couple were running it but it had got too much for them and the business needed bringing into the modern age. I’d always had an interest in this area and thought I could give it a go,” she explains.

Around this time, Janet was diagnosed with a debilitating auto-immune disease, which limited ability to live an active and free life.

“Although it was a difficult time, the beading business offered a way for me to still work and to build something positive. So I set about bringing the business into the 21st century.”

Key to this was the gaining of an understanding of social media and the internet. “I wanted this to be an online business, so I got a website and started learning how to use mediums such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

“This was essential if the business was going to work and while I found this a big challenge having never really done anything like it before, I was dedicated and gradually began to appreciate how it all worked.”

Now with the ability to manage her work around her health needs, Janet is enjoying the benefits of self-employment. “Being my own boss means I can truly make my own decisions. If I want to try a new marketing method or launch a new product I can do it without asking anyone’s permission, which is such a great feeling.”

Glitterwitch, as her fledgling business was named, has grown from strength to strength since it was launched.

“I feel like I’ve brought the business into the modern world and done it well. It’s also been something I’ve really enjoyed. It would have been easy in retirement with an illness to have taken things easy but I’ve given myself a challenge and it’s been great.”

Top tips

1 Research, you can’t do enough of this before starting out.

2 Always get a business plan, even if you aren’t borrowing money. They are invaluable.

3 Look ahead for obvious risks and build cover into your business. For example, what happens if you get ill?

4 Set small achievable goals.

5 Always have another topic of conversation ready for family and friends. Don’t become a business bore!

Anne Nelson

Nelson McLean, Tenterden

With a working life that had included long-spells in both the insurance and the legal sector behind her, this Lancashire lass was not content to ease into semi-retirement when it beckoned recently.

“I’d worked with my husband at a Tenterden legal firm for over two decades, first as an archivist and then also partly as a secretary. When Justin decided to semi-retire, I was faced with a choice; what should I do next?”

Although Anne could have followed her husband down a similar path, she decided instead to start a new venture of her own.

“I had lots of experience in the legal sector and wanted to keep working, So, I had the idea, of setting up a conveyancing firm with a local solicitor I knew and liked, Malcolm McLean.”

Part of the driving force behind Anne’s decision to start this new business is a strong belief in the superior service provided by local firms.

“Yes, you can go to a big firm or approach one of these online providers but with us you get the personal touch. We will care more about our clients and I think, because of this, we’ll also do a better job.”

Although it’s not been up and running long, so far Nelson McLean has done well.

“We’ve got great premises, fantastic staff and a list of clients that have been really happy with the service provided.

“I’m so glad I made the decision to do this. I love meeting and dealing with people too much to retire. And when your working day involves looking after the important needs of clients, it really isn’t work at all.”

Top tips

1 Never underestimate the value of paying for professional advice.

2 Ensure that you and your business partner(s) have shared values and work ethics.

3 Never start a business based on solely your own opinion. Talk to as many people as you can and gauge their opinion.

4 Read every contract with every supplier and sign nothing that you do not completely understand.

5 With every significant decision, ensure you understand the worst case scenario.

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