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Cartoon Mid-Life Career Change

Mid-Life Career Change

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Let's face it, the corporate world does not really like mid-life career changers. A Finance Manager with 20 years experience cannot one day call on Human Resources and say, "I'm rather tired of this money stuff. Could I be a designer instead, please? I've always loved sketching."

If your 40th birthday party has long since come and gone and you want to change career, you will probably have to set up on your own or launch a new business. You'd not be alone. Research in the USA shows that the average first time business founder is not a 20 year old hot-shot in Silicon Valley, but a 40 year old experienced businesspersonwho is probably married and has at least one child. What research does not tell us, but we can probably surmise, is that many of those 40 year olds became entrepreneurs because they were bored out of their minds with their jobs at the time.

So, what if you know you want a change, you believe you'd love to start up a company, but you face one small obstacle: you don't know what you want to do? If so, do not panic! I am here to help. There are three things to look to when you want to change career and start something new in your more mature years: your network, your reputation and your skills.

1. Your Network

Do not underestimate the value of your professional network and your personal network. At best, people you know and who know you can become your first clients and their references will help you build your business. Even if they do not become customers, they can provide advice, make introductions and help you source products and services you need to perform your new business. I launched my first business in Bangkok where I had a strong network that I was able to build up along with my business and my second business. I started my third business in Brussels (I guess I like cities that start with a "B"). At the time, I did not have much of a local network. As a result, getting he business up and running was much harder.

If you have a hobby that you love, consider the network associated with the hobby. For insance, if you belong to a local achery club and participate in a tournaments regularly, you probably know a lot of people who share your hobby. That puts you in a good position to do something professionally associated with it, such as opening an archery supply business.

Incidentally, when considering your network, do not think only about how they can help you. Think a lot about how you can help them. If you only expect your network to give, you will find that people lose interest in helping you. But, if you give as much as you can, people will remain interested in you and helping you when you need it.

2. Your Reputation

If you are 40+, you have probably built a professional reputation. What is that reputation? Ask friends, colleagues and professional contacts about your reputation as well. It may not be quite what you think it is.

Clearly, if your new business is related to your reputation, it is much easier to build trust with future clients. In Bangkok in the early 1990s (though I was in my early 30s at the time), I had a reputation for being a good writer and for being fluent in Thai. My first business was a small marketing communications firm that specialised in producing English language content for international marketing. I could look at Thai language advertising or talk with executives in Thai, and then produce with my team print adverts, brochures, catalogues and other work in English. My reputation enabled me to build business quickly.

3. Skills

What are your professional skills? They are probably related to your reputation, but are probably broader and might help you define your business better. If you are good at working with people on a one-on-one basis, coaching might be right for you. If you are better at writing, work invoiving analysis, copywriting or translation services might better suit you.

With a Little Help from Friends and Strangers

By looking at your network, your reputation and your skills, you can begin to work out what kind of business you could build. A great way to move forward is to put together a small group of people to advise, support and even criticise you. This group will probably include a friend or two, but should also include people who are not friends -- at least not close friends -- who can provide other perspectives. Friends tend to be too supportive and too positive. Many a business has been lauched because "all my friends said it was a great idea," only to fail miserably. It may have been a great idea -- but it was not a viable business!

Recently retired business owners and managers are great additions to your support group. Unlike those still working, retired businesspeople have time and are often keen to maintain some connection to the business world. They also have a wealth of knowledge, experience and connections they can share with you. And everyone loves giving advice.

What Are You Waiting For?

If your job bores you and you dream of starting your own business, get to work on designing it. Look at your networks, reflect on your reputation and put together a small group of friends and strangers to advise you. Once you know where you want to go with a business, you can find people to advise you, sign up for adult education courses to provide knowledge you may lack (such as bookkeeping) and get moving!


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