Self-employment trends in 2024

Suzanne Noble, co-founder of Startup School for Seniors, talks to about trends in self-employment and how her organisation helps older workers set up on their own.

Mature lady working at home on a laptop talks to Suzanne Noble, co-founder of the Startup School for Seniors which runs a programme that helps older workers realise their entrepreneurial potential. Are you seeing more people signing up in the last few months and if so, what is the main motivation or is it very varied?

Suzanne Noble: Interest in Startup School has been consistent; however, we’ve definitely seen a growth in people with disabilities, which may be a result of the government’s recent change in policy, which now says: “People with mobility and mental health problems should work from home or lose benefits.” Clearly, it’s going to be easier to do that as a self-employed person. The main motivation for people joining the programme is to learn how to take an idea and turn it into a business, to give them agency over their financial situation and to be their own boss.

WW: Are there more women than men joining and if so, why do you think this is?

SN [pictured right]: Yes, roughly 70% of our cohorts are women, although the number of men coming on the programme is definitely increasing. Many of these women are caregivers, so juggling household responsibilities and holding down a full-time job is challenging. We’ve also had several participants who have been made redundant from senior roles in the public sector and are highly motivated to become consultants or turn a hobby into an income.  As I’ve mentioned previously, caregiving is another reason for the disparity between the number of men and women who enrol at Startup School. It’s more usual for women, especially if they happen to be Afro-Caribbean, to take on the primary caregiver role. They are not able to give up work so finding a replacement income becomes a major concern.

WW: How can the Start-up School help? How important is it to get practical help and a supportive cohort group?

SN: We help participants learn how to take an idea that may have been sitting in their head for years and make it a reality. Many won’t know the practical steps to take, so they’ll build a website, only to discover they have no visitors to it! Or they’ll manufacture a product nobody wants. We teach them how to discover whether there is a demand for their product or service, who their ideal customers are likely to be and where to go and find them. Seeing and meeting others in a similar circumstance helps to rebuild their confidence, which may have taken a hit due to losing a job.

WW: Do you anticipate a rise in self-employment in 2024 due to the current economic uncertainty and rising redundancies?

SN: That’s tough to answer because one of the biggest challenges many of our participants on benefits face is persuading their workplace coach that self-employment is a viable option. It’s hard to go on endless job interviews while building a business. It’s much easier to transition into self-employment while working part time or even develop a side hustle while holding a full-time role. But if your confidence is already low and you’re being encouraged to seek full-time employment, then becoming self employed may feel overwhelming. What we know is that if you’re over 50, it’s hard to find a job and so self-employment may be one of the few options available. If there were more government support for people seeking to make that change, it would certainly lead more people to do so with a positive attitude.

WW: There is a big policy push on getting older people back to work, particularly those with disabilities or health problems, but are the jobs out there for them?

SN: Not the jobs that most people want and the recent policy insisting people with disabilities work from home is not going to make it easy for them.

WW: What does self employment offer than regular jobs don’t?

SN: Primarily, flexibility. If your business is online, you can work remotely, which means the ability to be closer to friends and family. Doing something you enjoy rather than something that pays the bills.

WW: Do people usually do something linked to their old job or contacts or something very different when they sign up for the School?

SN: It’s a mix. Those who come from a professional or corporate background tend first to consider consultancy, but may, after our eight-week course is over, have discovered their skillset is of value elsewhere. It’s natural to want to draw upon your network as your first client. We encourage everyone who comes on the course to look forward rather than back, using their lived and work experience to drive them to reconsider their future rather than rehashing their past. For the majority, however, they are more inclined to want to test out an idea they have or monetise a hobby for which they have a passion. Starting a new business is hard, so unless you absolutely love what you have always done, it’s best to consider what makes you happy to be able to get over the inevitable times when things may not be going as well as you had hoped.

WW: Do you keep in touch with past graduates and can you give a couple of examples of what they have gone on to do?

SN: Yes, we keep in touch with many of them. Many have become business coaches and tutors. We have a hat maker, several people selling jewellery and consultants in areas such as diversity and inclusion and IT security. There are social enterprises, such as a someone working to make businesses friendly for people with dyslexia, urban garden projects and walking tours in undiscovered areas of London.

*Startup School for Seniors’ next course starts on 18th January and registration is now open. Fully funded places are available to anyone retired, with caring responsibilities or unemployed. Sign up here.

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