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Many 50+ customers have particular skills, knowledge, talents and experience which would enable them to work for themselves. However, introducing it as a work option can present a challenge for both you and your customer if neither of you have had experience of running a business.

Nevertheless, it is important for you to raise awareness of this option because it may not naturally occur to your customers. They may not know:

  • around one in five working people over 50 is self-employed
  • survival rates for businesses run by over-50s are better than for younger people
  • earnings can be significantly higher.

What does working for yourself entail? This list summarises the key tasks.

What does self-employment entail?

  • Producing something – dress-making or pottery, for example – or delivering a service, such as book-keeping or home cleaning. There are hundreds of different ideas which can be turned into a business, all based on something the customer can do - or could do well with encouragement.
  • Selling the product or service to customers or clients and making sure they know how to find out about what you do (marketing).
  • Planning spending or income and resources, so they don’t run out of material or money.
  • Registering the business with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and ensuring that they are aware of legal requirements, such as Health and Safety.
  • Possibly borrowing money to set up a business or to buy an existing business.
  • Possibly employing other people or finding a business partner to help.

Most of the tasks may involve developing new skills, but the key things to remember are:

  • there is a great deal of support available to anyone who is considering working for themselves. For example, the Government has announced it will give extra help to unemployed people who want to start their own business through the New Enterprise Allowance.
  • any business idea should never be evaluated or judged by a non-specialist.

Introducing the idea of self-employment

The way you introduce the idea of self-employment and the language you use is vital. Using the words ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘enterprise’ may bring to mind images of Alan Sugar or the Dragon’s Den investors. 50+ customers who have been unemployed for some time may compare themselves unfavourably to them. Not every person who works for themselves does so for purely financial reasons. Many do it for satisfaction and the fact that it suits their lifestyles.

Opening questions

“What skills or experience do you have, which others might pay you for?”

“You seem to be particularly good at…… or experienced in,…… perhaps you could think about working for yourself?”

Depending upon the circumstances of your customer, a number of responses may be given. This table will help you to deal with this in a positive and encouraging manner.

The key thing to remember is to not judge or evaluate any ideas they might suggest – simply encourage them to begin researching.

Table; dealing with customer responses

Their responseYour responseSupport available
I’ve never thought about it Well, you seem to be very good at/experienced in…… www.primebusinessclub.com and search for ‘Ideas for Business’.
Use case studies and role models to stimulate ideas.
I haven’t got any money You may not need money to start working for yourself. www.primebusinessclub.co.uk PRIME/Zopa loan
I am not healthy enough There is lots of support for people with health problems. See How to help customers overcome barriers (link to that subsection’s Useful links)
I am too old People aged between 50-65 start 27 per cent of successful new businesses. 20 per cent of this age group already run their own business. Use role models and case studies to show that age is not a barrier.
Everyone would laugh at me If you research the idea then you can prove them wrong. Use case studies and role models to build confidence.
It wouldn’t work out/I’m too scared We can find someone to help you to find an idea and how to research it, so you will know if it has a good chance. Referral to local enterprise coach or mentor. Emphasise value of research and planning.
I haven’t got the skills/qualifications There is lots of training and support available and you don’t always need previous experience to set up a business. Business Link provides access to a wide range of courses locally across the UK.
www.businesslink.gov.uk Enterprise Agencies also run training programmes. www.nfea.com
What about selling/finance? If the customer asks a business-related question, these web sites may help you to respond. www.startupdonut.co.uk www.syob.co.uk www.businesslink.gov.uk www.bytestart.co.uk Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs www.hmrc.gov.uk/selfemployed

If the customer needs further encouragement to consider this option, describing some of the benefits may help:

Benefits of self-employment

  • Flexibility and control (over working hours)
  • Independence (financial and autonomy)
  • Self-fulfilment
  • Realising a long-held ambition
  • Supplementing pension funds
  • Using skills or talents to greater extent
  • Retire when you are ready

And finally, it is useful to remember that people over 50 have a good deal of working experience which will help them create a sustainable business. But it is important to encourage anyone considering setting up their own business to carry out some market research to make sure there is a demand for the products or services they are thinking of providing.

See this list for businesses started by PRIME clients. PRIME supports workless people over-50 into self-employment.

Businesses started by typical PRIME clients

Businesses started by typical PRIME clients
Photography services Book-keeping
Electrical engineering Gardening services
Community Coffee Shop Furniture manufacturing
Importing and exporting Clothing alterations
Pottery Writer
Virtual office support Design consultancy
Handyman Business coach
Leisure accessories Personal appliance testing
Complementary therapies Personal trainer
Language teacher Bed and breakfast
Antiques Property development
Funeral directors Driving instructor
Graphic design Management consultancy
Mortgage and debt consultant Decorative mirrors
Domestic energy assessor Internet business

Case study 1: self-employment (PRIME)

Cecile (50) had a background in the TV and film industry but wanted extra stability for her five-year-old son. She initially set up a support website for those trying to adopt internationally, something Cecile is passionate about. Although this succeeded as a project, the site had too few members to become the basis of a profitable business. Cecile therefore decided she must look elsewhere to find an income. “I set up criteria for what I wanted to do. I wanted to work from home. I wanted flexible hours so that I could be with my son. I didn’t want a boss breathing down my neck, and I wanted to do something that made people happy.”

Cecile searched for a job that fitted her requirements, and came across an advert for the Top Match franchise on www.workingmums.co.uk. She said: “I immediately thought, ‘that’s what I want to do’, and started to get excited.”

Once Cecile decided to buy the franchise, she looked for ways to raise money. She spoke to her bank and found that the chances of getting a loan were minimal.

So she turned to Zopa-PRIME loan. Cecile knew about Zopa from previous research, and liked the fact that the money was lent by ordinary people, instead of a big corporate bank.

“They were very thorough, but really good. It focused my mind. I realised that up until now I had been very fuzzy, but the Loans Manager asked for everything to be really detailed and precise and I thought that was fantastic, and very helpful.”

Within three days she got offers for the full amount. With money now in the bank, Cecile can get on with launching the business.

Case study 2: self-employment (Tribal Employablity and Skills)

Having worked in the gas industry since he was a teenager, Tony Glover (59) from Sinfin, Derby, was shell-shocked after being made redundant in 2009.

Tony, who had previously never been out of work, had his career reignited thanks to the job support and advice from the project Skills for Jobs, funded by the European Social Fund. This project is delivered by Tribal Employability and Skills, who have offices in Nottingham and Derby. He now has a full-time job as well as fulfilling his ambition to run his own gas fitting and repair business.

Tony explains: “After having 44 years’ experience in this industry, I felt confident I would get back into work quickly, but the recession had hit even harder than I had realised.

“I had never had to prepare a CV before or fill out a job application, as I had always got jobs via word of mouth, so realised I needed to get some expert help.”

After hearing about Tribal, Tony set up a meeting with adviser Emma Dalby and told her it was his dream to set up his own business, but had no experience and very limited knowledge in this area.

Emma said: “I could see that despite the knock to Tony’s confidence after the shock of being made redundant he was determined to get back into work.

“I was able to give one-to-one advice and help present his wealth of qualifications, knowledge and experience of the gas industry in his CV. I then referred him to my colleague, Jon Archard who specialises in new business advice.”

Tony had a productive meeting with Jon to talk about business loans and grants, how to write a business plan, how to do cash forecasts and where to find specific support available for people over 50. Jon continued to support and advise Tony through the first three months of his venture.

Tony added: “I found the help from both Emma and Jon extremely useful and encouraging in helping to move my part-time business forward, which is called ‘The Gasman’, serving homes in and around the Sinfin area of Derby. I’m also working full time for EIC, a national building services company based in Warwickshire, which means I’m keeping busy and expanding my skills.”

Case study 3: self-employment (PRIME)

Garry Stephenson (55) set up an innovative photography company just months after being made redundant from his job inspecting motor homes for a large local vehicle importer. His company SkyHiFotos.co.uk offers photography from an unusual angle – taken from the top of a special 50-foot mast.

He first got the idea from the internet: “I saw a pole advertised, then looked into what types there were, what they could do and what they cost. I found that I could get something suitable for not much more than buying a good fishing rod and all the kit.

“For me it ticked all the boxes. Firstly, something I could start almost as a hobby, but then secondly, something I could work with as a business. And then thirdly, something I could keep doing into retirement.”

Garry had always been a keen amateur photographer. And indeed, over the years he had done some weddings for friends.

Case study 4: self-employment  (Business Support Kent)

Business Support Kent (CIC)  runs business support services in Kent and Medway working closely with other partners including welfare to work organisations. Participants in its recent self-employment programme were recruited in Medway (where high unemployment and low aspirations make it particularly challenging to get unemployed people back into work).

The programme was delivered in a group environment (groups of 10-15 candidates). Stage 1 enabled candidates to reflect and take stock of their situations, review previous career paths and decisions, share experiences and concerns with other candidates and focus on the future. Stage 2 focused specifically on the pros and cons of self-employment using business games developed by Enterprise Taktix Limited, a subsidiary of BSK. These enable people to discover what it means to run a business and whether they have the entrepreneurial qualities and skills to do so.

Before undertaking the programme the average level of confidence amongst the participants was 3 on a scale of 1 to 10: afterwards this had risen to an average of 7. All candidates reported improved skills and entrepreneurial awareness. At the time the programme was evaluated, 22 per cent of participants had gone back to work. An outstanding example was an ex-construction industry manger who had lost confidence due to redundancy and who has now set up a business placing unemployed labourers in local construction projects with an arrangement to supply some of the workforce to build 7,000 houses a year over the next 20 years.

This programme suggests that self-employment should be considered as a significant option for jobseekers, even in an area of high unemployment and low aspirations. It demonstrates the cost effectiveness of group sessions based on structured frameworks and with provision for one-to-one support. Being run by a business support organisation facilitated onward referral to business start-up support.

Case study 5: self-employment (Avanta)

Helen, 57, had spent many years working in the public sector. After almost 18 months of unemployment, Helen was becoming increasingly frustrated at not being able to find a job and was occupying her time by indulging her passion for growing plants. During the summer months of 2010, she went to one or two local fairs to sell her plants.

Shortly after, her Jobcentre Plus Personal Adviser told her that she would either have to join a New Deal programme or, if she wanted to explore the possibility of self employment, she could be referred to Avanta (an organisation offering a range of innovative enterprise support programmes, working with Jobcentre Plus, Business Link and other partners to deliver support to people from wide and varied communities in the UK). Because her plant sales had gone well, she was interested in finding out how far this could take her and agreed to go to Avanta.

Alexis, a Senior Business Adviser at Avanta in New Barnet, showed Helen how to put together a business plan, maintain her own financial records and how to deal with tax. While developing her business plan they looked at practical issues such as if her garden was large enough to grow all the plants she needed and how she would transport them to market. Fortunately, Helen was in a position where she would be able to use family members' gardens. She also owned a car so she could transport her plants to sales outlets.

One thing that Helen had to come to terms with was a slight feeling of guilt that she would be making money from what had been, up to then, purely a hobby. She felt it couldn't be right. Another of her concerns was that her business would be seasonal and she wondered what she would do in the winter. Alexis, knowing that most people had more than one string to their bow, asked what else she liked doing. Helen said she enjoyed making jam and that she also liked needlework and sewing, and often finished what other people started.

Towards the end of 2010, she decided to diversify and extended her business activities: she did needlework and sewing to order and expanded into making jams, believing she was incurring no risk other than having to consume a lot of jam if it didn't sell. But she had no grounds for concern as she managed to sell all the jam she made at £2 a jar.

Helen's circle of friends, as well as her family, supported her in her new business. She mentioned that she was about to start doing some sewing and they spread the word and the orders started coming in. "I find that people are usually supportive of others starting their business, unless it is in competition with their own," Alexis said.

Just after Christmas 2010, after Helen has been out selling jams for the first time, she believed she had a sustainable business and accepted that it was fine to make money out of an activity she enjoyed.

To assess viability of her business, Helen and Alexis considered everything from how long it takes to produce one jar of jam, the cost involved, and how many fairs she would be able to attend.

As Helen's business is seasonal, she has to plan carefully. Although January and February are quiet, she uses these months to schedule her activities for the year: when she will start growing plants, when she needs to book a stall at fairs, and when she needs to have enough produce ready for peak selling periods.

In August 2011, some 12 months after she first came to Avanta, Helen felt that her business was established. She thoroughly enjoys making money from her hobbies and is able to draw on the project management skills she developed in her previous job.

As soon as Alexis met Helen, he realised Helen was proactive and had initiative. She had found out about the first two fairs she had attended via the internet. "Helen had what it takes. She only needed a little push to do it and some background knowledge about running her own business," he commented. "In most cases I find people able to run their own business only need a boost to their confidence."


This site is for help and information only. It is not meant as an authoritative guide. It is not meant as an authoritative statement of the law, and future changes in the law and other programmes and initiatives could make it less accurate at times. TAEN, the Department for Work and Pensions and the European Social Fund take no responsibility for your use of the information. You should always take professional advice on any specific legal or financial matter.

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Working for Yourself, HMRC elearning course for people who want to start their own business

Becoming an Employer, HMRC elearning course for people taking on staff

Start Your Own Business, Guide on. GOV.UK for people interested in starting a business.

The Home Business Guide  A Guide from BIS on starting and growing a business from home.

Table: dealing with customer responses

Businesses started by PRIME customers

Case study 1: self-employment (PRIME)

Case study 2: self-employment (Tribal Employability and Skills)

Case study 3: self employment (PRIME)

Case study 4: self-employment (Business Support Kent) 

Case study 5: self-employment (Avanta)

Useful links

Government New Enterprise Allowance

Organisations / resources supporting self-employment


Older Women in Learning and Enterprise 50+

Business Gateway (in Scotland)
Telephone: 0845 609 6611

Business Eye (in Wales)
Telephone: 0845 796 9798

HM Revenue and Customs - Advice on tax issues

HMRC Self employment

NFEA – National Federation of Enterprise Agencies

GOV.UK Business and Self Emplpoyed.

The Olderpreneur - Network forum

Saga – Online information for over 50s

Citizens' Advice Bureau - The CAB provide a useful fact sheet with information about self-employment. This includes setting up in business, employing other people and financial issues. It also gives details of further sources of help and advice.

Be the Boss - Business Start Up Grants for ex-Service Personnel

Horsesmouth - free online business and self employment mentoring