9 inspirational stories to help you take a new direction
Starting a business in my 40s wasn’t something I expected to do. But when my 15-year career as a diplomat ended as I turned 40, I needed to consider my options. I’d just moved to the Barossa and was living out of suitcases in a motel. 8 years on, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I’ve learnt along the way.
Sometimes I look at younger people running businesses and I wonder what would have happened if I’d started earlier. But I don’t think I would have. Turning 40 and my kids starting school was the catalyst.
In the first year of my business, I’d tell people I’d already had my big career (as a diplomat). I’d say my business was just a filler until I wrote my first book or retired. But eventually I realised I was just using my age and previous career as an excuse in case I failed.
One day, I realised that my business was doing well. I admitted to myself (and others) that I was serious about my business and I wanted it to do well.
Surrounded by supportive women
When I started writing this blog, I put together a list of all the famous people who achieved big things over 40.
- Vera Wang designed her first wedding dress at 40
- Henry Ford was 45 when he launched the Model T Ford
- Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50
- Ray Kroc bought McDonalds at 52
- Charles Flint launched IBM at 61
- Arianna Huffington founded The Huffington Post at 55
Impressive achievements, but they aren’t the people that inspired me.
I couldn’t have started my business without my copywriting buddies, digital marketing mates and local SA women. So I asked some of them to share their stories. If you’re wondering whether it’s too late to start a business, I hope these stories will inspire you.
Kate Crocker is an Adelaide-based copywriter and one of the first people I met when I started my copywriting adventure. She was a lawyer in private practice when she took a break to have children. On returning to work, she trained legal graduates and realised she had skills in distilling legal information into plain English. Starting her own business allowed Kate to develop her career while balancing her family demands.
For Kate, the best thing about starting a business in her 40s has been having the confidence to know she has the skills and resources to work out how to do the job. But she also knows her limits and the importance of having a supportive community.
“No-one cares how old I am. My skills and reputation matter more than age.”Kate Crocker – Copywriter
It was after lunch with Rebecca Cofrancesco that I took the leap into full-time copywriting. She describes herself as the cliché corporate escape and, like me, she realised she couldn’t spend another 20 years doing the same thing.
Launching a business in her 40s meant Rebecca had the maturity and know-how to get started. But she also struggled with shifting from being the employee to being the product.
“I really struggled with being visible and putting myself out there because I was worried what people would think.”Rebecca Cofrancesco – Marketing Goodness
As a marketing consultant and business writer that loves LinkedIn, she’s now helping other business owners grow their profile.
Turning negatives into positives
Starting a business isn’t always the first choice. For some, like digital and social media marketing strategist Marina Garbuio, the decision to start a business came when she left her relationship.
“I wanted to have control over my finances and make my own decisions.”Marina Garbuio – Motivating Marketing
Despite the initial challenges of ageism and sexism in the digital marketing industry, Marina is now valued for her insights. She’s now financially independent, and loves being a a role model for her young daughter.
For specialist health and medical copywriter Nerissa Bentley, starting a business was something she was pushed into. Her part-time, work-from-home role was made redundant. With 2 small kids at home, a full-time office role (with a long commute) wasn’t an option, so she set up her own business.
Nerissa agrees that the best thing about starting a business in your 40s is the experience from other jobs that you can draw on. And not worrying about what others think gives you the freedom to build a business the way you want.
Like many parents starting a business, the early days of juggling young children and a growing business were tough. But as her kids have grown up, so has her business.
One of the biggest surprises for Nerissa was how many other people she’s met who started their businesses in their 40s.
“There’s a perception that to be a successful business owner, you need to start young and spend decades working and building your business. But that’s not true. If you have the drive, the skills, the right people around you, and work hard, you can build a successful business no matter how old you are.”Nerissa Bentley – The Melbourne Health Writer
Starting out, Construction Copywriter Cathy Camera often wondered if she’d left it too late. She wanted to achieve everything at once, but like Nerissa soon realised that it was her previous work experience and career pivots that equipped her to follow something new. And for anyone thinking that they’re too old to master new technology and social media, Cathy is a great example, embracing reels and videos to grow her profile and business.
“Follow your heart and make it work for you. Everyone’s business models and journeys are different. There’s no one definition of success.”Cathy Camera – Building and Construction Copywriter
After 30 years as a registered nurse and aged-care assessor Coral Wilkinson is helping older Australians and their families navigate the aged-care system.
“I realised that if the system wasn’t going to change, I needed to take a leap of faith (and a deep breath) to start a business to take on that challenge.”Coral Wilkinson – Consultant Registered Nurse, Aged Care Navigator and Advocate
Coral admits that the set-up of a new business has been a challenge, from setting up accounting, payroll and HR systems to learning how to market. Along the way, she’s refined her business model, taking on client feedback.
While building resilience and believing in her worth was a challenge to start, the rewards have been worth it. Not only does Coral have a thriving business, but she’s also written a book to help even more people navigate the aged care system.
Good things come to those who wait
For some, the idea of launching a business at 47 with 7 kids might be daunting. But for Helen Al-Hariri, the goal of having her own business was something she’d considered for many years. Haluna Happy Names creates colourful, personalised items, like mugs, clothing and bag tags. By using English and Arabic, Helen helps give children like hers a greater sense of belonging.
Helen is a great example of building slowly, taking your time and making your business work alongside family commitments. But the upside is having had years of experience, and then enjoying the chance to express her creativity in her designs and learn new skills to grow the business.
“I believe in the purpose of my business, so I’m ok to build it slowly in stages. And I love seeing myself through a new prism, as a creative person.”Helen Al Hariri – Haluna Happy Names
South Australian Superstars
Through my SA Woman membership, I’ve met so many women doing really interesting things. While I’ve never been a fan of the mumpreneur scene, I love that SA Woman supports women of all ages and at all stages of their business journey.
Rose Pappas started Event Gourmet and Florals after providing catering floristry services to friends and friends of friends. As word of mouth grew, she realised she should really start a business. Rose has found social media and being the only person she’s accountable to, a challenge. But with the support of her adult children and husband, she’s been able to a grow a business. Being more financially supportive and having the time to focus on growing her business have been advantages of starting a business in her 40s.
“Seeing how supportive other women in business have been has been a really welcome surprise”.Rose Pappas – Event Gourmet and Florals
Naturopath and Nutritionist Melissa Byrne started her business at 43 and soon realised that the best thing about working for yourself is being able to do it on your own terms.
“Life is too short to not do something you are passionate about. I can work on my terms and the only boundaries are the ones I put on myself.”Melissa Byrne – Naturopath
Like many starting a new business (at any age), believing you can generate an income can be a challenge, but for Melissa realising that not only could she generate an income, but she could also set her own rates and financial goals which has been a huge bonus.
Starting a business in your 40s – my experience
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these stories about starting a business in your 40s.
For me, a few key lessons from my experience stand out:
- The older I get, the less I care about what people think. Or I just don’t have time to worry about the opinions of others.
- My networks are broader and I’m more experienced in building networks.
- While taking a redundancy and having super gave me a cushion, I am a more experienced money manager and appreciate the financial risks.
- I have more confidence.
“The older I get, and the longer I’m in business, the more I realise that business, just like life, is a journey. There are good days and bad, and twists in the road you didn’t expect.”Angela Pickett Copywriter
Part of what makes running your own business exciting and fulfilling is being able to keep changing and growing.
I’m so glad I seized the opportunity to start a business in my 40s. I no longer see my business as something to fill in the time between my diplomatic career and retirement. Instead, I know it’s an exciting chapter I plan to make the most of.
Over to you
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. If you know someone thinking of starting a business in their 40s, I’d love you to share it with them (via the link or grab the PDF below).