More and more over 50s are turning hobbies and passions into flourishing online businesses.
These days you don’t need an office, warehouse or a huge stack of cash to start your own business. As long as you have a mobile phone and access to the internet, you can set up an online enterprise in minutes. For a small fee, global brands such as eBay, Amazon and Etsy give newbie retailers instant access to national and international markets.
There are some spectacular success stories. Alison Abruneiras set up the Nail and Beauty Emporium, on eBay six years ago. It now has sales grossing £1 million per year, trades worldwide and employs four staff. Meanwhile, Cathy Hayes, a former NHS administrator, saw her annual income increase from £28,000 to £100,000 after she started trading household items on a ‘buy it now’ basis on eBay.
A golden opportunity
For the entrepreneurial over 50s, the internet presents a golden opportunity. The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME) says that the number of self-employed people over the age of 50 has risen 28% since 2008, to 1.87 million today. Kelly Hoppen of Dragon’s Den fame (pictured above), is an ambassador for PRIME, lending her considerable business acumen to the project. Enforced redundancy, low interest rates on savings, the demise of final salary pensions and the end of the statutory retirement age have all contributed to make 50+ the perfect time to start trading.
But can you really earn a living from online selling? We asked two new entrepreneurs about their experiences…
David Woodcock, 55, Founder of David Woodcock Photography
‘At 14 I wanted to be an accountant, but photography was always my passion. By the time I left my accountancy job in 2012 I had a City and Guilds qualification in photography. I then went on a series of council funded courses for business start-ups to develop online skills. It was a real education for me. I hadn’t realised how important social media is in driving online traffic.
‘I sell my landscape photographs via my website and also via photos4me.com. They turn my images of local landmarks into prints, canvases, acrylics and phone cases for customers around the world. I’d recommend anyone thinking of pursuing their dream to have a go. But make sure you have a proper business plan and can support yourself until your business takes off.’
Tracy Ackroyd, 53, Founder of Perfectly Perfect Presents
‘My daughter had left for university and I realised that for 20 years I’d been doing a job that I didn’t particularly enjoy to fit in with childcare arrangements. I decided it was time to do something for me.
‘It can be challenging where I live to find nice presents for family and friends, as everything on the high street is the same. So I went on a PRIME business course and in November 2013 I set up perfectlyperfectpresents.com. It’s a portal for designers/makers to sell jewellery and other beautifully crafted items that aren’t mass-produced – and for the public to buy them.
‘It’s been a learning curve, particularly getting the website right, but I would say to anyone over 50 who’s considering taking the leap of faith that it’s now or never! Do it.’
5 tips for starting an online business
Consider your marketplace
- It’s important to choose the online marketplace that’s best for your business. Folksy, for example, focuses on modern British crafts. Tindie is an e-commerce site for maker-made gadgets. A useful guide to the practicalities can be found on the PRIME website.
Check out the competition
- Research similar businesses online, in particular the actual selling prices and bidding patterns. You can see Etsy’s top sellers each week at craftcount.com
Get advice and training
- A business plan is the road map to a successful business. Local authorities and colleges often run free skills training for over 50s. You can also get advice and information from PRIME and Age UK.
Work out your costs
- Factor in selling fees, final value fees, product and postage costs. eBay entrepreneur Cathy Hayes recommends focusing on smaller items that can be posted as a ‘letter’ in the early days. She also suggests, when introducing a new product line, to invest in a maximum of five first to see how they sell.
Drive traffic to your website
- Use SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to maximise online traffic to your business – Google offers various free online resources, including keyword tools googlekeywordtool.com.