These days, 60% of the clients I work with as a career consultant are 45 or older. That percentage has nearly doubled from eight years ago, when I first became a licensed operator of Bernard Haldane Associates, the career-management firm. Mirroring a nationwide trend, a sizeable number of my clients -- whether they've been downsized, laid off, or have retired early from corporate jobs -- yearn to make entrepreneurship a second career.

As an entrepreneur myself -- I now operate Bernard Haldane offices in 12 locations, and before this career, I founded and managed a company that manufactured corrugated storage boxes and closet accessories -- I understand that what lies at the heart of entrepreneurship is the desire for control over one's professional destiny .

At the same time, having counseled 15,000 individuals since 1991, I know that only 5% have what it takes -- those crucial inner qualities -- to make a go of business ownership. Of that percentage, an even tinier sliver -- 1% -- actually acts on the urge, exploiting entrepreneurial talents. For people who are 50 or older, the numbers are even tighter.

Bad News, Good News

For all you post-50 entrepreneurial wannabes, that's the bad news. Now for the good news: there is life after corporate life. Making it as an entrepreneur, even after age 50, is not an insurmountable task. As a counselor, I have seen hundreds of corporate employees reinvent themselves, successfully making that transition.

I can spot the client with entrepreneurial inclinations very early on, often during the first few hours of counseling. An "entrepreneurial" profile emerges. The aspirant tends to have a take-charge personality but has no interest in climbing the corporate ladder. There is plenty of interest in making a lot of money.

What follows is a look at what I believe are the four elements necessary for membership in that select group: the frame around which one considers a business; the willingness to give 100%; a persona that fits the entrepreneurial mode; and a strong desire to meet a goal. Let's take them one by one.

  • The Frame

    Whenever I meet someone who loves food and whose dream has always been to open a restaurant, but he's been working at a bank for 25 years, I say to myself, this one is going to go down the tubes. He's better off going out to dinner every night for the rest of his life.

    The guy who has a shot may or may not love food, but sees a real future in delivering groceries and prepared meals to people's homes, bypassing the supermarket. Analyzing the market, this aspirant knows that in more and more families, both husband and wife work full-time, appreciate nice dinners, are too tired to go out to eat every night, and need meals brought to them.

    In short, becoming an entrepreneur entails coming to terms with the difference between the guy who loves food and the one who is thinking market opportunity, placing hopes and dreams into a framework that works as a business. He's the guy whose head, as well as heart, is in the right place.

  • The Willingness

    A lot of entrepreneurial hopefuls look at business ownership through rose-colored glasses. Having worked for a salary most of their lives, they are used to Saturdays and Sundays off. That causes me to wonder whether they are willing to do what it really takes, which is to make a 100% commitment.

    We entrepreneurs value our families and children. But if we are in the middle of a deal, we may well be the only person not attending the family reunion. Becoming an entrepreneur means signing on for a very different life from that of the salaried employee -- one in which the business comes before everything. It's as if we were living on a different planet.

  • The Persona

    I'm a believer in entrepreneurial "types." While exceptions surely abound, the typical entrepreneur is likely to be outspoken, extroverted, intuitive, and judgmental, and is far less likely to be quiet, introverted, or intellectual. That's because a large part of building a business involves self-promotion, which requires enormous physical energy and personal magnetism to keep momentum going forward. More than many other careers, company building requires the right persona.

  • The Desire

    To the above, I would add a strong desire to meet the goal, a quality to which I can relate. For me, there has been no stronger force than the will to succeed -- in the corrugated storage business and later as a career counselor. I remember having it when I was 15 -- it has never gone away -- and now that I'm nearly 50, it's gotten stronger. Indeed, it's what becoming an entrepreneur is all about.

And all that means that becoming an entrepreneur the second (or first) time around isn't about age at all. As a post-50 aspirant, your packaging may be different from your younger counterparts' -- you look older, have gray hair or no hair -- but the inside stuff needs to be the same. If anything differs, it's that your enthusiasm may need to be greater and your perception of reality sharper. So ignore the calendar and focus instead on the factors that will make entrepreneurship happen for you.

Barry A. Layne is president of Bernard Haldane Associates, a provider of career management services, for which he has been a licensed operator since 1991. Before becoming a career consultant, Layne founded Corrugated and Closets Concepts, Ltd., a maker of corrugated storage boxes and closet accessories, which he ran for 12 years.

Copyright 2000