Working life stories: Elaine Clifford

After almost four decades working for large organisations, ranging from an investment bank to the Environment Agency, 59-year-old Elaine is launching a start-up that helps people to support their loved ones in later years.

Elaine Clifford at her desk


There are pros and cons to starting your own business at this age – the pro is that you know a lot, the con is because you know a lot you have more fear. So the best thing is probably to just get going, put your project out there and then grow from there. 

Before this I’d always worked for big companies, where you don’t go live until everything’s in place. In start-ups, it’s not like that. You can start with an offer, then build on it, pivot, adapt. That’s the way I’m seeing my business now – it just needs to get out there. Even if it’s not everything I want it to be yet, it will get there.

A career in communications – plus a stint as a park ranger

I started out as a graduate trainee with the London Electricity Board, after doing a Business Studies degree. I really enjoyed it. I ended up in the head office in the marketing department – it was me and 39 men, who were all engineers, so it was pretty different to most marketing roles! After that I took on a marketing role at Hill Samuel [an investment bank and financial services firm], but I was working there when we had Black Monday, the stock market crash, and it made me a bit disillusioned with the finance world. 

So I decided to go travelling. I went to Australia for two years and while I was there I got a job as a park ranger. So that was completely different! It made me a lot more environmentally conscious, because I had to learn about all the wildlife and vegetation. It was pitch-black at night there and I could identify almost every star in the southern hemisphere.

When I came home, I got on a BBC journalism training course. I covered quite a lot of environmental stories – I think I spotted them because I’d become more environmentally interested. After a few years, I went back into communications and I joined a public sector body called the National Rivers Authority, which later became part of the Environment Agency. I worked there for 17 years and I loved it. One of the major things we worked on were floods, both dealing with them when they happened and also helping people prepare for them. A lot of the things we did were really worthwhile.

In 2012, I wanted something nearer to home as I had three school-age children. I took on contracts at G4S and then an energy company. During the pandemic I worked for a local NHS Trust, doing comms for their service-users, people who used the hospitals and other services. So I’ve worked in several sectors – it wasn’t intentional, it’s just what happened, but I did like getting to know the different industries and different characters. I’ve also moved between the public and private sectors. It keeps the job Interesting.  

A personal experience of end-of-life care

Now I’m about to launch my own business, Vita Nostra, meaning Our Life, to provide information and coaching packages for people who are becoming a Legal Power of Attorney for a loved one. I was an LPA for a family friend from 2017 until she passed away in 2019. She had a stroke and all of a sudden I was responsible for not only her financials, but also her health and wellbeing, and I didn’t know where to begin. 

I had to learn as I went along and I thought: it’d be so useful if people knew these things beforehand, or there was an easy way to get this information. There are all these questions that you don’t think about until you need to. Also, when you’re looking up this stuff online, it can be really depressing. I want this website to say: “These are the practical things you need, you can do this and have a good life, and the person you’re helping can still have a good life too.”

Being an older entrepreneur in the start-up scene

I think there are a lot of people in their 50s or 60s who’d like to start their own business. In the past, many people might have thought that this age is the end of their working life, but people don’t think that now. 

Also, with your own business, it can be as big or as small as you want. I think most youngsters starting out think: “I want this to be a big success”. They want it to be full-on, seven days a week, big turnover. But I think for a lot of older people, it’s about doing something they enjoy. They’d like it to be self-funding or to support them in later years, but it’s not about it turning multi-national. It’s not about something that might take over their lives, it’s about something that fits in with their lives. 

My advice [to other older entrepreneurs] is to find someone to support and encourage you. I did a course with the Start-up School for Seniors – it takes you through all the steps and then you feel like you’re halfway there. So it could be a course, or a mentor, or just somebody you know who runs their own business. Having something structured or someone to give you prompts or advice – it makes a big difference.

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