Every year, thousands of people take that first brave step and set up their own business. These people are from all walks of life. Contrary to popular stereotypes, many first-time entrepreneurs are in their 50s and 60s.
It’s always heartening to hear stories of entrepreneurs starting from scratch and doing well. Though anyone who runs their own business will understand how much effort it takes to get a new venture off the ground. I hope that my own entrepreneurial story will encourage the other women in the Sixty and Me community to follow their passions.
I’m often asked how Eternal Collection was started – after all, a costume jewellery company is not the sort of business you expect to find a husband and wife running from a small town in the middle of Scotland!
Our story began many years ago when I worked for the wonderful Liz Earle, the award-winning queen of skincare. Whilst at Liz Earle I was responsible for the mail order side of the business – a hugely complex operation; and I thrived on the challenge. Over the years I learned everything there was to know about mail order, little realizing how useful this experience would be to me further down the line.
While I had always dreamed of running my own business, I never did anything about it. However, in 2003, a chain of events began to unravel that would lead me on one of the most difficult stretches of my life, both professionally and personally.
It all began when my wonderful husband, Paul, asked me to marry him. The date was set, the venue organized and we travelled to California for the wedding, with my parents house-sitting our pets back home. Everything changed when, 3 days before our wedding, my father collapsed and died of heart failure. We were devastated. We cancelled the wedding and flew back. Shortly afterwards, my mother came to live with Paul and me.
Still grieving the loss of my father, but needing something positive to look forward to, we rearranged our wedding in 2004. Shortly afterwards, we decided to move to Scotland, a place Mum had always cherished, and I was offered a wonderful job – for all of us it was an adventure, a new start, and we relished the opportunity.
Changes in Paul’s work, coupled with the need to care for my ageing Mum, meant that my old daydreams of running my own business began to resurface.
We spent several weeks deliberating and brainstorming ideas for a product to sell. Having always loved my jewellery and in later years, costume jewellery, we ultimately decided to set up Eternal Collection – the home of exclusive costume jewellery.
We took ourselves off to Milan to one of the main trade shows in the year and despite not really knowing what we were doing, bought a lot of pieces that we thought would sell well in our first catalogue. Needless to say, we made a lot of mistakes and the business was slow to grow and required constant investment to nurture it along.
Little by little, however, we attracted more customers, initially because we had a good range of clip-on earrings and the choice of clip-ons on the High Street was poor. Paul’s people skills came to the fore in dealing with customers and he spent his time wisely learning how to make jewellery, studying pieces we had bought and working out how they were made and perfecting techniques. Most importantly to me he was at home all day and able to spend a lot of time with my mother.
In 2010 we decided to bite the bullet and I resigned from my secure job to work full-time on Eternal Collection. With both Paul and I concentrating on the business we grew 175% in that year and 147% the next year and recruited two full time staff to assist us.
We relished being able to care for mum until age related dementia entered our lives in 2012. Sadly, by 2013 Mum needed 24-hour care and moved to a nearby residential home. I hated leaving Mum; it upset me greatly each and every time. It hurt deep down that we hadn’t been able to look after her at home, even and although I knew she was being well looked after, and it left me feeling drained and down.
After a period of illness, we moved her to another, residential home just 7 miles away, although two and a half weeks later she passed away. I was with her, had been for a few hours and watched her pass.
When she passed away the floodgates opened. Whilst relieved that Mum was not going to suffer any longer I couldn’t imagine her not being in our lives and I still find it hard, as does Paul.
Once the funeral was over and family returned down South and to the US we sat down, somewhat dazed, and did not know what direction to take, or where the impetus would come from. We were emotionally drained and stressed at the same time. We had learned far more about the ageing process than we would have wished to, an innocence and possibly naivety had been lost. We’d had so many highs and lows on the rollercoaster that is dementia but a deep rooted sadness was what we were left with.
Yes, we had the business, but in all honesty we had started it to be at home with Mum and continued with it when Mum went into residential care, as we knew no employer would have permitted either of us to take the many hours out of a working day to visit Mum. We had run with it, through good times and bad, because ultimately we felt we had no choice. Now we realised that we could make our own choice if we wished.
We had invested our life savings in Eternal Collection, we had four staff whom we cared greatly about also, who had helped us in many ways. They had shielded us in bad times, worked long hours to help the business flourish, even though we ourselves on many occasions had put the business second and were absent often during the working day. They had lived through the emotional upheavals with us.
We now had time on our hands that initially we didn’t know what to do with. We had always worked evenings because we spent most of the afternoon visiting Mum. Our telephone lines are open six days a week, Sunday is our only day off, but we had always spent Sundays with Mum and it felt like a great void needed to be filled.
Now we had uninterrupted working days and a Sunday when we could do whatever we chose – we just didn’t know what to do with it.
In essence, Paul and I had put our lives on hold for the best part of seven years, but the business was a living, breathing entity that had grown and flourished during those same years, almost despite us.
We realized that we could do anything, go anywhere, but at the end of the day we enjoyed where we lived, enjoyed our work, relished the interaction with our customers and held our team in high esteem as Susan, Patrick and Johan are as passionate about the service we offer and the business as we are.
Nowadays, I feel we are now entering another era in our lives. I have quality time to concentrate on the business, to explore new markets and new ways to bring Eternal Collection to a wider audience.
Most importantly, I look back over the past years and feel I did everything possible for Mum and it is a great comfort to both Paul and I that we have no guilt and no regrets. She had always come first in our lives and we loved her dearly. The business had given us the means to spend as much time with her as she wanted or needed.
I feel that after all we have been through Eternal Collection deserves to come first in our lives for once. Whilst our lives and Mum’s languished virtually in limbo over the past seven years, Eternal has continued to flourish – that is the legacy Mum left me in reality.
It can be daunting when you know you have to generate not just your own income but that of four other people, but the sense of achievement I feel is worth all the worry and sleepless nights that cash flow problems have thrown at me.
I am optimistic for the future, neither of us is ready to wind down and are more inclined to ratchet up a gear or two. Whilst it can be stressful running your own business I wouldn’t have it any other way, Eternal Collection is our creation and we are both passionate about it, our customers, our service and I thrive on the wonderful testimonials and comments we receive.
If you are thinking about starting a business, my message to you is this – it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Is starting a business easy? Of course not! But, as older women, we have decades of experience, contacts and skills to draw on. If you are interested in taking the next step, please read about my biggest learnings from many years of managing Eternal Collection. I wish you all the best with your own entrepreneurial endeavors!
Have you started a business in your 40s, 50s, 60s or better? What did you learn from your experiences as an entrepreneur? What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a business in retirement or quitting their job to start something new? Please join the conversation and “like” and share this article to keep the conversation going!
Tags Small Business