There's a rising tide of new entrepreneurs going into business for themselves - and they're not the hip young things you might expect.

Statistics NZ data shows the number of over-50-year-olds who are self-employed but without employees jumped by more than 40 per cent between the 2001 and 2013 censuses - the latest available data - while the total number of self-employed people (without employees) as a whole rose by only 10.7 per cent.

During that time, the numbers in self-employment have grown in every group over the age of 45, but shrunk in every group under 45, apart from 20-24-year-olds.

The number of self-employed people aged 65-plus more than doubled from 14,541 in 2001 to 31,704 in 2013.


Geoff Pearman, who set up Senior Entrepreneurs New Zealand 18 months ago, says the reasons for the rise can be put down to a growing older population, as people live longer and stay healthier for longer.

"That has opened up a whole new lifestage between 50 and 70," he says.

"The population is ageing so you are going to see more [self-employed people] anyway because there are more people. More people living longer is creating this environment."

On an individual front, Pearman says it comes down to push and pull factors - the things that drive people out of employment and draw them into self-employment.

Redundancy, followed by difficulty in getting another job, can be a big push factor.

Pearman knows first-hand what that is like. After being made redundant twice in his 50s, he set up consultancy business Partners in Change to give advice to businesses on how to better cater for the ageing workforce.

He says that while discrimination can happen at any age, there does appear to be an unconscious bias against workers over the age of 50, who are seen as "past it" and not able to keep up with technology.

"It is there and it is real."


Pearman says other push factors may include individuals having a "job crisis" where they no longer like what they do, or just don't want to keep on with the 9-to-5 grind, but don't have an employer that supports change.

Self-employment can offer more flexible working conditions or a way to make money on the side to complement other income. "More are doing it for the lifestyle," says Pearman.

People in their 50s may also have the assets or capital behind them to make a business start-up more possible, including experience in a particular industry.

But he says one of the hardest parts can be having the self-confidence to go into business, because so many stories about entrepreneurs portray them as young, tech-savvy people who are set to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.

"One of the barriers is that we are not necessarily seen as legitimate."

He says there is a view, even among those in business, that people in their 60s should be mentoring others or taking it easy and winding down, rather than starting something new.

"They think: Why are you starting a business when you should be putting your feet up?"

Pearman's advice to other older entrepreneurs is to find a mentor, "someone you can test your thinking on first."

Lisa Ford, general manager of Business Mentors NZ, says she has noticed a rise in baby-boomer business owners wanting to use its services.

Ford points to the global rise in self-employment, which has come on the back of the global financial crisis and emerging technology.

"Personally, I think the GFC was a game-changer."

Ford says during New Zealand's recession in 2008, a lot of people in their 50s were made redundant. Instead of finding another job, many went into business.

And it seems New Zealand is not alone in this trend. In February, the Financial Times noted that the growth in self-employment since 2000 had been fuelled by the over-50s, who were finding it increasingly hard to find full-time work.

"With the sheer number of baby-boomers now approaching retirement age, the era of the 'olderpreneur' is upon us," it stated.

But Ford warns there are also challenges with going into business at an older age.

One big mistake she sees are people who use a redundancy payout to buy a business or franchise without first checking it out properly. "They invest in a business but then get no customers coming through the door."

Ford says planning is vital. "What is your plan? Your goals? How are you going to measure success? How are you going to know you are on track?"

She says older businesses owners also have less time to recover financially if things do go wrong.

Business mentor Lisa Ford.
Business mentor Lisa Ford.
If you are going to fail, fail fast. Dust yourself off and move on, don't waste your retirement funds.

Chris Reid, a business mentor and lawyer who runs his own business consultancy, says most people who start a business are in their 30s or 40s.

"They are in the prime of their life - they are physically strong, have good family support."
And if something does go wrong they have time to recover financially.

He says the reality of owning a business might be far from the idyllic expectation of being your own boss and able to work flexibly.

"While someone might say, we are retired, let's go buy a motel. Then they are dealing with people who ring them at 11pm at night complaining about a broken TV. Constant things on their plate."

He believes most people in their 60s are trying to get rid of those hassles and move into something less stressful.

But for those who do want to give it a go, he says people are more likely to be successful if they are starting a business in a sector they know and understand. "Get financial advice. If it is not a sector you know about, keep away from it."

He says those looking to buy a business need to look at the operation's track record and ask to see the accounts for the past three to four years, and particularly the most recent accounts.

"You've got to dig in and do your due diligence." And that could mean asking for professional help from the likes of an accountant.

"You've got to get good advice."

Reid says nothing comes easy.

"Generally you don't start a business and start making tons of money. It's about making the right choices, putting the hours into it.

"Very rarely do people fluke it.

"Running a business isn't for everyone. A lot of people couldn't deal with the stress."
Pearman agrees. "Going into business is never going to be easy." he says.

Those who want to give it a try need good support, he says, and if you are in a couple, "make sure both of you are on board with it."

He says if there was one piece of advice he would give to those in their 50s, it would be to take a step back and think about what they want for the next 20 years of life.

"Think about it deliberately in your early 50s. You might want to change the nature of your employment or think about buying or establishing a business but be in charge of that. Don't wait for a health crisis to hit."

From home cook to businessman

Larry Clarke started his Jamaican food business at the age of 62, after a slowdown in the building sector.

A plasterer by trade, Clarke enjoyed cooking food from his home country for friends and family, and when the housing market slowed after the global financial crisis, a friend suggested he turn it into a business.

"Someone said 'why don't you do cooking?' For a couple of years I just did it as a joke."

Clarke learned to cook from his mum while growing up in Jamaica before moving to England in his teenage years.

He came to New Zealand 17 years ago after meeting a Kiwi woman in London, marrying and having a family.

Clarke claims she promised life would be easier in New Zealand.

"The first thing she said was 'if you come to New Zealand you won't have to work hard' - that was wrong."

Initially he sold his food via festivals such as Rhythm and Vines, Splore and Ragamuffin.
But the festival set-up wasn't easy: it took more than an hour and a half to get everything ready because the food was cooked on a traditional charcoal barbecue.

He sold a variety of food such as jerk chicken, pork, and curry and rice before deciding to focus in on his meat patties - the traditional Jamaican savoury pastries.

Two years ago he got more serious about the business, called Jamaican Me Hungry. He set up a kitchen in the town where he lives, Warkworth, north of Auckland, where he can pre-prepare his food and vacuum pack it.

Now his patties are being sold in 14 supermarkets between Auckland and Hamilton under the brand Uncle Larry's Jamican Patties, an achievement which Clarke says took nine months and filling in multiple sets of forms for supermarket company Foodstuffs.

Clarke believes it is much tougher to start a business at an older age.

Working a long day doing tastings in Hamilton can mean he's wiped out by 5pm, he says - he had a knee replacement this year and standing all day makes his back ache. "It is hard." But he adds, "I always enjoy a challenge."

If you sit down and do nothing you will wither away.

Clarke says the alternative is to stop working and wither away.

"Every person I know who stops working and retires dies. If you sit down and do nothing you will wither away."

He is adamant that he will never retire. "I am not going to sit around and wait for death."
But his aim is not to get rich.

"I started my business not to get rich, but as a legacy."

He is passionate about Jamaica and says Bob Marley made it famous for music, Usain Bolt did it for running and he wants to do it for cooking.

"When you are young, you have the health. A lot of people as they get older lose their drive and want to sit back and relax."

He says while success might not come as quickly at his age, you "appreciate it more".

"Starting a business at my age you have to have passion and drive; without that you are not going to make it."

The business isn't making a profit yet, but he hopes to do that within the next 18 months, by which time he'll be over 70 years old.

One of the biggest challenges he has found is getting funding.

"One thing I find here, the banks are not helpful, they want you to have more of a history. It is expensive [to borrow money from them]."

He says selling patties means he can't charge a fortune for his products, which means he needs persistence. "And the biggest thing you need to do that is money."

But those challenges aren't holding him back, and Clarke believes the sky is the limit for his business.

"I don't want to put a cap on it. If I am going to do it, I am going to go all the way." He has plans to get into the corporate catering market and wants to start doing ready-to-eat meals for the supermarkets.

Clarke employs two other people: an admin woman and a friend of his son's to help him sell the product. If demand is running hot, the administrator's daughter steps in to help make food with her boyfriend.

"If there are things to do you do it."

"There is no 9-to-5 day. Sometimes you work seven days a week, sometimes three days."
He says it is hard to find good people to work, especially when you can't promise them a reliable income.

But despite all the hard work, Clarke believes it is worth it and running a business is helping him stay young.

"You have to do something - you can't play golf or go fishing every day."