How 50 plus Islanders are learning to be their own boss

The Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce is supporting older people on the Island by providing help and advice on starting a business or being self-employed. Since 2015 The Chamber has been hosting monthly workshops and providing ongoing mentoring as part of the Age Friendly Island campaign, an exciting partnership funded by the National Lottery through the BIG Lottery Fund, making the Island a great place to grow old, while tackling social isolation.

The Chamber’s Over 50s business mentors are engaging with people aged over 50 who are looking to go into business and be their own boss. Business advisors Fiona Grist and Lynda Draper are often helping older people who have been made redundant or who are at the early stages of retirement. More than 100 people have now attended the Start Me Up one-day business course as part of the programme and 36 new businesses have been created so far.

“The majority of our clients have never been self-employed before and they’ve now reached that age where they want to do something for themselves, that they enjoy doing,” Fiona says. “Our job is to take a good idea and help people to sell it, whether it’s a service or product, and make a bit of money out of it. Our conversations are often about how we turn a hobby into a business.”

Fiona and Lynda provide one to one mentoring, often meeting clients at home. The mentors provide practical help as well as friendly support.

“We help with all of the legal things, like information about insurance and registering with HMRC, but it’s also about being able to provide a bit of a nudge, encouraging our clients to plan ahead before we have our next meeting. We are there to listen to new ideas and to hopefully provide a bit of reassurance too.”

That reassurance is often crucial when it comes to helping a fledgling business idea. Restoring confidence or fighting self-doubt can be a big part of the journey to being your own boss.

“Some of our clients have been through bullying or stress at work and might have retired early or taken redundancy, partly because of their experience. Starting again, and having the confidence to leave all of that behind, is very fulfilling. We watch our clients grow, from hesitancy to enjoying the process. Everyone moves at their own speed too.”

Clients receive mentoring for up to three years. There are regular monthly get-togethers too, where new relationships are formed. It’s a chance to swap notes and in some cases find a bit of work too.

“We’ve mentored a bookkeeper, a web designer and a bike repair business, and they have all found customers within the programme. Our clients are forming their own friendship groups too. A couple of our clients claim to be recluses but they always attend the networking events which is brilliant. There’s a network of like-minded people now, who can share experiences as well as provide services to each other.”


Start with the Start Up Course
It’s an essential primer for the next step. The workshop provides help and advice on marketing, market research, customer care, banking, tax, National Insurance, cash flow forecasts, business names, legal status and business insurance. Bookkeeping and tax returns can be a big worry for newly self-employed people so we’re putting on a whole day session covering bookkeeping and tax returns in June.

Have a great idea but be flexible
Most people already have a great idea, because it’s based on something that they are good at and that they know about. We can help you to research and hone that idea. Be prepared to be adaptable though and respond to demand. You have to be able to sell your product, so it needs to be something that other people love as much as you do.

It can be hard work
Like anything in life, the more effort you put in the more you will get out of it. The best businesses will spend lots of time getting themselves noticed and making the most of networking opportunities, as well as running the business.

Don’t be afraid
Don’t be frightened of making a mistake. There is plenty of help available, particularly regarding things like bookkeeping, so don’t let that put you off. Be confident about asking for money too. Clients often say that they wonder whether they are good enough at what they do and feel uncomfortable about charging for their work. You have to value your worth and the skills that you have.

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