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A midlife career change at 40 can seem daunting. Chances are by this time in your life you have a fair amount of responsibility. Maybe a mortgage, a marriage and even children, or some combination thereof, are now a part of your life. You have spent 20 years in a career, or combination of careers, and now it feels as if you are on the precipice of change once again. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that adults will change their careers on average twelve times over the course of their lifetime.
Many people also go into business for themselves. Some people aren’t cut out for the daily 9-to-5 grind. Others need a flexible schedule to provide care for their family. Still others want more creative freedom to do the work they care most about.
If you are in your 40s, you still have 25 years plus until you reach an average retirement age of 65 or beyond. You have more professional and personal contacts to springboard into marketing for your new venture. Although starting a business is more challenging than finding another job, you likely have the skillset to make this happen. What determines your success often comes down to your commitment, working hard on the right things, and perseverance.
The following steps can move you along the path of creating your ideal private practice!
Step One: Overcoming the Obstacles
It’s important to consider the trials that may present when starting a private practice mid-life. For instance, individuals in their forties tend to have more responsibilities than those in their thirties. Starting a business at 40 may be difficult if you have younger children at home. Continuing to make enough income to cover the increase in expenses can be a challenge. You might need to continue your current full-time job while working on your business.The idea of starting a business can feel overwhelming and leave you feeling stuck.
Once you actually make the decision and begin to formulate a plan however, you are likely to feel a sense of relief. Taking one step to move forward, no matter how small, can create the momentum you need to take the leap.
Action Item: Write down the obstacles you will most likely face and come up with at least one way to overcome that obstacle.
Step Two: Identify your values, interests, personality, and skills
Begin with a self-assessment. A self-assessment should include taking a close look at your values, interests, personality and aptitude. Values include things like does your career match up with the contributions you wish to make in the world and also include practical matters like autonomy and achievement. Interests reflect activities you enjoy participating in. Personality is made up of your personal traits and those things which motivate you. And, lastly, Aptitude constitutes those things which you are skilled at doing. For instance, accounting or computer proficiency. Your skills may be a mix of natural ability and learned ones.
There are many online tools to help with a self-assessment. I’ve developed a tool that I use with my job search clients but is also useful for people starting their own business. My Career Design Studio uses personality inventories and professional preferences and examines how they translate into career satisfaction. Look at your strengths and how to leverage them to avoid burnout and build a private practice that you love.
Action Item: Review your list of strengths and identify which ones will be most helpful in starting a private practice.
Step Three: Conduct Financial Planning for Your Business (and Yourself)
You want to make sure your revenue is adequate to meet your expenses, plan for your retirement and have enough left over to enjoy life. Know what your expenses are, both personally and as a business owner. Will you need an office? How much do they cost? High-speed internet? An accountant? Liability insurance?
Once you’ve examined your expenses, ask yourself how many hours a week you want to work. This will help you to determine how much you need to earn on an hourly basis and if a private practice is a realistic option for you.
At this stage in your exploration, you also want to be flexible and try on different scenarios or explore what it would take to make a private practice financially feasible for you. Some people are able to charge $500/hour by having highly specialized services and focusing on individuals or companies that can afford the fees.
What is more probable is that you’ll need to work more hours at a lower hourly rate to cover your expenses. As you look at your options, take the time to imagine what it would be like for you to work under those circumstances. If the thought makes you smile, then you are on the right track.
Action Item: Research and budget for common business expenses as well as common rates for other private practitioners.
Step Four: Research Training to Gain Important Entrepreneurial and Professional Skills
Like any job, an entrepreneur needs specific skills and experience to become successful. Explore what is needed and what you can do to get those skills. Your local library may have online classes on financial management or marketing or business start ups. The Small Business Association has many free online classes and local branches also offer coaching.
In my experience, many general small business classes and coaching services didn’t apply to starting a private practice. What we do is a little too niche and I found it confusing to constantly translate what was being taught to my situation. This was the main reason why I developed the Empowered Entrepreneur Program specifically for career professionals. I understand what you are going through and what really works when starting a private practice.
Action Item: Prioritize your educational needs and identify where you can get training.
Step Five: Reconceptualize your Resume
You may have a great resume, one that has successfully gotten you where you are today. However, clients rarely look at resumes when deciding on their future coach or counselor. Your LinkedIn page, Facebook page, and/or website will replace your resume on a day-to-day basis.
What do potential clients look for? Testimonials, narratives, helpful advice, and authenticity.
Just as a resume needs to be tailored for the job, your marketing materials need to be attractive to the clients that you want to work with. Your work needs to address the challenges they face in the job market. What are their fears and anxieties?
Once you’ve identified the “who,” focus on the “what.” What kind of services will best help your clients? Work on ways to describe what you do so that your potential client can clearly see how their lives will get better when they work with you.
Action Item: Identify your ideal clients and their pain points. How can you help them?
Step Six: Expand your Network
Chances are, if you are mid-career, you already have a substantial network. Being in the career profession, you also understand the importance of networking. Starting a private practice benefits from a healthy network but it may need to grow in new ways. Referrals are gold and well-established career coaches often have more business than they can keep up with. Identify those with established private practices in your local chapter of NCDA.
A private practice can be a lonely enterprise, so I found it helpful to connect with others with new-ish private practices. Sometimes we did online working sessions. Sometimes we just chatted on the phone. No one really understands what you are about to go through except people going through the same things!
When going through courses like the Empowered Entrepreneur Program, consider your cohort to be your colleagues. Although it can be tricky to navigate schedules, identify people who you want to support and you want to be supported by.
Action Item: Identify at least 10 people you’d like to talk to who have well-established private practices.
Step Seven: Conduct Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are not just for job seekers! Reach out to those who are currently in private practice and ask for a conversation. Ultimately, you want to ask for referrals, so make it easy for them to recommend you. Know your target clients. Have a professional website. Know your strengths.
Many career coaches also coach people wanting to start their own private practice. Paying for one or two sessions with someone you admire helps you to learn from the best and also demonstrates your commitment to the work.
In addition, professional network meetings and conferences can give you opportunities to talk to people in a less formal atmosphere. Go to conferences and meetings with specific goals in mind that will help you establish and grow your private practice. Then look for people who can help you.
Action Item: Reach out to the career professionals that you identified in the step above for informational interviews.
Now, you have a concrete plan for starting a private practice mid-career. You can see why your experience and the confidence you have mid-life can be enormous assets. You may have more responsibilities to consider than you did a decade ago but the valuable skills, self-knowledge and contacts you have made thus far work to your advantage.
You have done the hard and worthwhile work of an effective self-assessment. Your research has led you to opportunities to help you grow your business. You have taken the time to make some connections through professional groups and informational interviews. You have written compelling marketing materials for your website and social media profiles. Most of all, you have gone on a journey to better understand yourself and your work values and desires. Be proud and confident in the next steps on your path. Your wisdom and hard work help to ensure your business will serve others while also serving you.