So, you want to be an entrepreneur? Here’s a different route.

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There is a real hankering for many to start their own business – and there’s no shortage of empowering television, especially for younger people it seems. The Apprentice is now on season 15 and Lord Sugar’s search shows no sign of slowing down. But while programming might be aimed at the younger demographic, the reality (as opposed to reality TV) is that the entrepreneurial spirit is more likely to be realised by an older generation.

Statistics suggest that people in the second half of their lives are going to become the largest proportion of business owners. 2018 data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows the 45-54 age group as the fastest growing self-employed age band. It is slightly deceptive though. While becoming self-employed may position you as a business owner, I want to use the word ‘entrepreneur’ in a slightly different context. I see being an entrepreneur as building a scalable business which is more than just relying on your time.

It’s an all or nothing lifestyle

As a true entrepreneur you are the originator of that business, as opposed to, for example, someone who buys a franchise. You may well have dreamed of some wonderful business idea that you have been honing and considering for years and years, but the entrepreneurs I meet are people who are prepared to commit to an ‘all or nothing’ lifestyle. They are prepared to risk everything to build the business that they want.

For many of us, this is just not a practical way forward at our stage of life; we have commitments to other people, and obligations to our own future. We cannot just set aside all of our time, 60-80 hours a week, for two to three years and be prepared to fail and fail and fail again before finally success blesses us. An entrepreneur would be prepared to run out of all their resources, use up all their credit card limits, re-mortgage their house and potentially undermine some of the most important relationships in their lives.

How to satisfy that entrepreneurial urge

We just can’t take those risks – but many of us still have an entrepreneurial urge. The good news is that there is a very satisfying ‘half-way house’ that can work for many experienced professionals.

I often talk about the potential for being a portfolio executive, and I believe that this is a relatively low risk way of building an alternative workstyle. However, for those with that entrepreneurial urge, you can approach this with a slightly different attitude and take the process up a gear.

That attitude is this: ‘I am going to build a business that is focused around my capability to provide leadership of a business function as a portfolio executive, rather than just selling my time for money. I am going to do this by intentionally building a business where some of the subsidiary roles are supported by people that I engage as affiliates or employees.’

Let’s look at a couple of examples…

A portfolio marketing executive

Suppose you have decided that you want to build a business as a portfolio marketing executive. You are going to have responsibility for the marketing function for a number of businesses, perhaps four to six, and you are going to be spending between two and three days a month with each of them.

Now you could just provide that service, or you could take the view that alongside providing that service you are also going to have a network of associates that can take on specific roles around different marketing interventions. So, you might have somebody whom you sub-contract as a copywriter, or someone to do design, or help run email campaigns and so on. For your clients, you can then offer them a reasonably complete marketing outsource service but still have that trusted relationship as the marketing executive in that business.

A portfolio finance director

I looked at a business plan for someone who wanted to do this for the finance function. We realised that, quite quickly, they could build a business with a million pound turnover. How could this be achieved?

By continuing to be fee earning about 12 days a month, running the business about 4 days a month and building new opportunities another 4 days a month. The entrepreneurial urge would be satisfied because a set of people would be providing the different functions in the finance function as sub-contractors (book-keeping, credit control, management accounts etc.) – so they could focus on building the business to profits of about a quarter of a million per year.

Do these examples present you with a conflict of interest? Possibly but not necessarily. If you are a trusted advisor to your clients, if the people you bring on board are delivering great results day in day out and if everybody is prospering, then that’s good for your clients as well as you.

In conclusion

So, if you still have the hankering for being an entrepreneur and if you want to realise your vision of what that could look and feel like, then starting as a portfolio executive and taking on associates has to be a serious option.

It can give you the basis to satisfy your entrepreneurial urge by building a worthwhile, interesting and completely sustainable business – without risking all you have built in your life and the relationships that matter most. It actually doesn’t need to feel like a ‘half-way house’ – it can be the best of both worlds. Even better, age discrimination doesn’t exist when you are your own boss.

To find out more, check out our Portfolio Executive programme


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.