Critical success factors entrepreneurs never too old go for the gold

You’re Never Too Old to Go for the Gold

It took 14 years for Abby Wambach, the leading scorer of all time, female or male, to finally win her first World Cup in soccer. She didn’t have a starring role, at age 35, but her presence and her character inspired the USA team that grabbed the gold.

Now the team is on a triumphant 10-match victory tour that is drawing record crowds.

Are You a Winner?

It isn’t easy to throw in the towel, when you think you’ve given it all and still haven’t reached your goals. So much time and money invested, and for what?

Many of us have been seduced by the quick trips to fame of 20-somethings like Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, and Danny Iny, founder of Firepole Marketing.

What hope is there for the more “mature” business owner? But the New York Times, in a recent article, The Next Mark Zuckerberg is Not Who You Think it Might Be, revealed that the road to riches isn’t a fast ride but more of a slow slog.

“Most tech start-up founders who have successfully raised venture capital have much less unusual résumés, according to data analysis by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. The average founder is 38, with a master’s degree and 16 years of work experience,” the Times reported.

Are You Prepped for the Slog?

That’s why so many “mature” (read older) entrepreneurs go into business with a sort of chip on their shoulders. They don’t set themselves up for success. They know all the stats about how many startups go belly up in their first year. They’re already prepared for failure.

Some may be yearning to go back to the corporate world – but it’s a world that may not want them back. Or, they’ve decided “no more corporate world for me.”

They hang out their shingles as consultants expecting people to flock to them. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way. Consultants have to work their butts off to get business.

So what are the critical successful factors in becoming a successful entrepreneur – not only at 20 but maybe at 40, 50, 60 or even older? I decided to do some research. Heaven knows I could use a reboot.

Here’s What I Learned

There’s a lot of advice out there. It seems everyone with a Ph.D. or accreditation as a coach has a point of view.

I don’t want to throw stones but even Entrepreneur magazine dished out the usual bromides: do what you love and get it down on paper, discover your USP (unique selling proposition), recruit only the best people and be a good communicator.

Did I need someone to tell me that? I also read that innovation and creativity are key factors. Do something unique. But how many new ideas are there? Most new products and services are derivatives of something that existed before. If it is new, someone else will copy it immediately.

The Best Advice I Got

A column by Naveen Jain, CEO of Intelius, on CBS Money Watch resonated with me. He also discussed being passionate and relying on a great team.

But he also made these two points:

Trust your gut instinct. There are too many variables in the real world that you simply can’t put into a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets spit out results from your inexact assumptions and give you a false sense of security. In most cases, your heart and gut is still your best guide. We’ve all had experiences in business where our heart told us something was wrong while our brain was still trying to use logic to figure it all out. Sometimes a faint voice based on instinct is far more reliable than overpowering logic.

Focus on execution. Unless you are the smartest person on earth, it’s likely that many others have thought about doing the same thing you’re trying to do. Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation, but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won’t win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling. No matter how much time you spend perfecting your business plan, you still have to adapt according to the ground realities. You’re going to learn a lot more useful information from taking action rather than hypothesizing.

“Taking action” is the advice I heard a few years ago from a career coach I admire. I published one of my very first blog posts based on her presentation.

Here’s what I wrote:

You can become paralyzed into inaction by looking for the solution that is guaranteed to work. But I think we all know that’s an illusion.

Instead, set a goal, and feel good about it. Remember the good feeling you had when you achieved something or the happiness you felt at someone else’s good fortune.

Then —

  • Plan a little
  • Test a little
  • Adjust the plan
  • Test again

Simply by taking action you will learn from it. Taking action helps to build momentum and gain confidence. Sometimes taking the path of least resistance will give you the energy to keep going. Maybe you’ll need to refine your expectations.

As I learned, this is not a perfect process. I grew to understand that as the landscape under my feet shifted, I needed to embrace change and recommit to my dreams on a regular basis. I’ve learned to enjoy the victories along the way.

You’re never too old to start or to start over and try to go for the gold.

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  1. This post reminds me of the Willie Nelson memoir I just listened to via Audible. I didn’t realize how long he worked as a radio DJ and that his initial success came first as a songwriter and not as a singer. Thanks to our media rich world, attaining success seems so instantaneous, and I can think of countless former students who felt entitled to quick success and didn’t realize the slog of it all. As for me and my writing, I’m okay with being a later bloomer since it’s only now that I’m approaching forty that I truly have enough life experience to write about as I feel more inclined more and more to write memoirs as opposed to fiction.

    • Jeri — You’re still young yet and plenty of time to reach the golden ring. I’ve seen you grow through your blogging and writing and becoming a renowned editor is not so bad either!

  2. Hi Jeannette. Great post for us older gals, eh? We always hope that our efforts will produce QUICK results, but it rarely happens for the most of us. We have to be determined, passionate, and patient, and with the right people working with us/helping us … we WILL get there.

    • Doreen — It’s been fun to watch your business evolve with the launch of your new website. You’ve become THE go-to source for all things chocolate.

  3. Jeannette, I really like the ‘take action’ part. So often we hear build a business plan and while that is all good, the fact remains that you may have the most impressive business ever but if you don’t take action, it won’t go anywhere. I think having a very basic business plan – this is what I want to do and this is how I’m going to do – with some clear goals and objectives and a timeline for when to do what is more important.
    I also like the ‘go with your gut’ even if it doesn’t fall within the business plan. I think many times we mess up because we are afraid to listen to that little voice.

    • Lenie — It’s like the Nike slogan DO. You have to do something, anything, to get yourself moving. If you plan too much or think too much you can use that as an excuse for not taking any action.

    • Donna — I know, we can get too attached to our original vision. But few people achieve great success without having to make course corrections along the way.

  4. Wow I love that last advice, Jeannette! While I am all for positivity this is rife with the realism that is easier for me to swallow. When someone asks me what is the hardest thing about writing a book, I tell them writing the first page. Planning is tantamount, don’t get me wrong. But taking that first step and realizing that you need to adjust is key.

    • Jacquie — the hardest part is always getting started whether it’s the first page of a book or the first step in a plan. Plans were made to be adjusted. Unless we’re clairvoyant how the heck do we know what the future actually holds for us?

  5. You’re preaching to the choir Jeannette 🙂 I totally agree with you. Many of my former , “I’m depressed my life is going nowhere” therapy clients were immobilized. They resisted taking any action. Action builds momentum,like a ball rolling down a hill. My thought is people don’t take action because as long as they’re stagnate there’s still a possibility for success. Another great point you made is the trending “How to (blank) in 5 steps”. PLease, are you kidding me? It’s like losing weight, no matter how many books on “Get thin with these 5 easy changes” hit the shelves, losing weight is still about calories in and calories out; no short cuts.

    • Pamela — it’s always easier to wallow in the present. Making changes in your life is difficult but when you reach the other side, oh, how gratifying it is.

  6. This is so encouraging. I think in the current would of Mark Zuckerbergs and overnight YouTube or reality stars, we start feeling that for something to have validity, success must come easily and instantly. There are always great stories of those who worked tirelessly for years before “hitting it big”. I love the tip of trusting your gut instinct. I think trusting your gut is completely underrated these days.

    • Erica — I agree about trusting your gut instinct. It’s so difficult to admit to ourselves that something isn’t working even when our gut is telling us it isn’t. I think that’s the hardest thing for an entrepreneur to accept. So we ignore our gut and push on when we should be making a course correction. But, we’re only human!

  7. I think it is vital to Adjust The Plan. Many people believe they had a wonderful idea and strategy to achieve success. The world is not stagnate, it changes as fast as the wind. You must constantly modify your strategy to adjust to these changes. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • William — I think that’s key, the ability to trust your gut and change the plan when you need to. Sometimes it’s scary to do that and simply easier to keep doing what you’re doing.

  8. Wonderful perspective Jeannette! I was very fortunate to have an amazing mentor for several of the critical years of my career and he taught me some life changing lessons, but one of the most important was to think of failures as experiments. It’s SO much easier to open yourself to try more, fail more and let it bounce off your back if you can view it as an experiment. It’s so much easier for me to try new things now because instead of harboring the fear of making a fool of myself, I get excited about what I’m going to learn and how I can leverage that knowledge to try something even bigger!

    • Marquita — said by someone who knows herself and trusts her instincts. You were fortunate to have a mentor who was there to “catch” you when you stumbled. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you try something and it doesn’t work. Get up and try again!

  9. Am sure it doesn’t surprise you that I agree with you, Jeannette. Succeeding with anything in life is about being determined, take action and persevere. And we are never too old for that.

    Read an interesting article recently saying that the current focus on experts is not going to continue. What’s needed instead are expert generalists, such as Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, that know what the market wants in general terms and then cooperate with the experts needed to develop it and work hard to succeed. Many times it’s our gut feeling that tells us what the market really wants and what experts are needed to succeed.

    • Catarina — How true. Steve Jobs famously didn’t do market research. His opinion was that the market doesn’t know what it needs or wants. Did anyone ever dream they would need a smart phone? Yet, we’re all tethered to our phones as if we were on life support.

  10. Jeannette, I do like the slogan. Whether it applies to me or not, I don’t know. If the gold is just continuing my freelance business, then it most certainly does. I enjoy the encouraging tone of this post.

    • Leora — the definition of gold is different for all of us. I never harbored the desire — and no doubt didn’t have the talent — to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Yet I’m happy with my life even though I’ll never be filthy rich.

  11. Jeannette- Wonderful article. I was told that when I started my business at the age of 50 year I would never make it. I am 68 years and I am still going strong. I listen to my gut and not all the advice that everyone seems to have. Watching your business daily gives you all the information you need to improve and keep it going. My best advice is determination and never give up. Age is just a number. Love positive articles it keep the juices flowing.

    • Hi Arleen — I started my first business at 57 and I’m now on my second business. Age IS just a number. You’ve got to have faith in yourself that you will succeed. I have many friends who retired either voluntarily or involuntarily and they are flourishing as they have reinvented themselves. You just go, girl!

    • Jason — Never give up — is so true. Age IS nothing but a number and I should know. I’m a “senior citizen” but I plan to never act it!