What’s the dynamic demographic running America’s small businesses? Older people
(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
The hot fintech startup genius. That amazing e-commerce savant who created a billion-dollar company selling shoes from her apartment. The cool owner of a cosmetics line. The game-changing inventor of an eco-friendly toothpaste. These are tomorrow’s business owners, right? No, not even close.
Although the media loves to write and feature all of these sexy, young, exciting millennial entrepreneurs, they are far from representative of the people who are actually running small businesses in America in 2019. The majority of small business entrepreneurs are baby boomers.
That’s according to an email survey of more than 2,700 male and female small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs from across the US that was conducted by the small business financing company Guidant Financial and the online credit marketplace LendingClub Corporation.
The survey, which was released this week, found that 57% of small business owners were born between 1946 and 1964. The boomers – who primarily work in business services, food, restaurant and health and the beauty and fitness industries –overwhelmingly employ two or more people and have the same challenges that most other small business owners have: cashflow and growth. Added to that are aching backs, failing eyesight and an increasing reliance on subtitles when watching anything on television.
“In 1996, about 20% of small business owners were over 50. Our survey shows that there is a massive shift toward baby boomer-owned businesses – nearly 300%,” said David Nilssen, the chief executive of Guidant Financial. “This generation of entrepreneurs has had a huge and growing impact on small business in America and will continue to.”
Why is this so important to know? Because this is small business America, folks.
I see these people every time I speak at business conferences or visit prospective clients in the Philadelphia area, where my business is located. They are mostly men (77%, according to the Guidant/LendingClub survey) that have been running their companies for more than 10 years. During this time, they – like me – have seen it all. We remember when Japan’s economy was going to take over the world, the Soviet Union was threatening life as we know it and Dubai was nothing but sand. We remember the days when employees actually showed up to work, customers weren’t paying with bitcoin and phones had rotary dials. We crushed on Marcia Brady, feared the Dallas Cowboys and drank Coke with real sugar.
If you’re looking to sell to small businesses, then it’s important to understand these demographics.
Your customers are probably not on Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram (in fact, only 22% of Americans are on Twitter, and 10% of them make up more than 80% of the activity, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center). We’re more inclined to pick up the phone when you call us. We attend meetings of our industry associations in Vegas and Orlando once or twice a year. We probably lean a little to the right. We eat red meat and still don’t understand the complexities of recycling. We are always looking for the best exit from our business so that we can spend more time with our grandchildren. We’re eyeing an escape to Tucson once the weather turns cold.
Get it? The great majority of business owners in this country are, on average, old. And as life expectancy grows we’re just going to get older. Look around at the people running gas stations, pizza shops, landscaping businesses, roofing companies and industrial packaging distributors. We may not be as sexy or even as interesting as those millennial startups. But that’s who we are.