When you start a new mission-driven business when you are over 50, despite your 20 to 30 years of experience, you may find yourself staring at a credibility gap. As soon as you jump into a new context — like going from the corporate world into consulting — you will need to prove yourself again. And that can be very disorienting and discouraging for the Silver Starter.
In our discussion with Fabienne Jacquet (You want to start a business at YOUR age?) she described this situation. Fabienne has a PhD, years and years working on an innovation team, deep connections in innovation across industries, the experience of successfully innovating and launching dozens of products. And yet, she still faced a credibility gap when she started Innoveve. I have experienced a similar situation in my consulting work shifting from UX to digital product innovation.
Among Silver Starters, regardless of the kind of business they start, this is a remarkably common problem. if you’ve been grappling with this problem, you also have probably heard these same bits of advice:
- Write a book!
- Develop a community!
- Become a speaker!
And while these are all good things to do, let’s face it, not all of us want to write a book, start some online group or try to be a speaker. Most Silver Starters want to get to down to businesses. We want to work with good people and do good things.
Are there other ways you can close the credibility gap? Happily, the answer is yes.
1) Start with your customer’s why
The first thing to do is deeply understand your customer. You want to know their why for buying from you. Not your why or your crucial differentiator. But what is in their head that makes them buy from you. How do you do that? You talk and listen to them without selling. And not just a few friends. But people who are, or who will be, your actual customers. This kind of listening is not about getting a list of wants; this is about profoundly listening for needs.
There are several ways to go about this. One I do not recommend is conducting a survey. A survey may help you segment your audience a bit or give you a beginning point to start that deep conversation, but you need to talk to people to get to needs and the why that goes with it.
In September, we’ll be hearing from Mike Mutsaerts. He’s a Sliver Starter who left a very comfortable corporate position selling franchises for Expedia to creating a franchise consulting business, Franchise Success. Even though he had long wanted to be an entrepreneur, he didn’t leap right in. But between quitting his job and starting to consult, he spent two years offering free mentorship to people either wanting to start a franchise or in one and looking to grow. Armed with in-depth knowledge about both the technical aspects of franchises and how they work and an intimate understanding of his future customer’s why he has been able to develop a very successful business.
2) Develop a healthy, dynamic network
By the time you cross that 50+ line, you likely have a pretty long list of connections and associates. You might even be thinking you have a robust network. But go through that list of LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends and ask yourself how many of these people are truly people you connect with? And how many are merely links? How many are people who only come to you when they need something? How many are people whom you keep on that list because you may need something form them? How many are there because you hope to sell to them one day? None of those people are really in your network. They are, at best, loose connections.
Now look at the list once more, how many people on that list are toxic in some way?
Prune the toxic connections immediately and identify those people with whom you have a real relationship. And start nurturing and building those. Be helpful, attentive, and mindful, as you would with real friends. Be supportive and generous with those authentic connections. Connect, don’t sell. You’ll know when you have it when you feel trust, reciprocity, and flow.
None of this is fast or easy work. But with that deep understanding, genuine and authentic connection, and supportive referrals, you will soon find yourself invited to the table.
Have you got a Credibility Gap story to share? Please share a comment.