Why does anyone start a business? Better yet, why is anyone starting a business after 50? From all the entrepreneurs I have known over the years, it is usually a mix of spotting a gap or need; a hunger to run a business the “way it should be done”; being in control of your life; or an urge to make a lot of money. In my experience, only a few entrepreneurs start off with the financial goal.
As a contributor to Prime Women, I have been impressed at the founders behind this online magazine. They embody the spirit of “prime women” in the 21st century – still full of ideas, energy and a lot to give. In particular, I have loved watching the team begin to understand social media and its importance, how search engines work and learning new skills to maximize these.
So, I gave myself a treat and interviewed Dorthy Miller, a key driver behind Prime Women, to understand what gave them the idea, how did they go about starting a business after 50 for women and what have they learned along the way? Here I share Dorthy’s insights:
(And you should know that Dorthy was already an enormously successful businesswoman, having built one of the largest woman owned automotive advertising agencies in the US – click on the link to read more about her background)
1. Dorthy, why did the four of you start Prime Women?
It all began with a lunch followed by a spa afternoon at the Four Seasons after skiing in Jackson Hole. We have a great group of girlfriends, who have all had or are still running their own businesses and thought, “We have such fun when we meet. We should do a business together.” We tossed around some ideas, but then we started talking about magazines and internet information – none of us felt there was anything out there for us.
Women’s magazines tend to be for women in their 30s, 40s and maybe 50s. They might cover family, career advice and fashion, but the perspective of that age group is very different from the 50+. Today, women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are often on executive boards, so career advice can be more about getting non-exec roles. We still see ourselves as fashionable – but also realistic that, as Helen Mirren famously said “women of a certain age want dresses with beautiful sleeves.” Alyson Walsh wrote this brilliant article in The Guardian about Helen Mirren, which really epitomizes what Prime Women is all about.
Oftentimes we have more time for ourselves and a bit more money to enjoy the fun things in life – travel, wines, nice places to eat.
So the idea of Prime Women was born in 2014, to fill the gap of an online magazine that spoke to our generation. Not patronizing but matching our energy and dreams.
2. Who is involved?
Three of us from the first lunch decided to go ahead with starting a business after 50 – Valerie Freeman, CEO at Imprimis, Dianne Patterson and myself. Initially, Dianne said she liked the idea and wanted to invest, but she wasn’t sure how much she wanted to contribute. That soon changed – she started reviewing theater, opera, ballet and books, even interviewing big name authors for Prime Women!
The fourth member of our team wasn’t at the lunch, but she’s a great friend of ours in the UK, Jan Fletcher OBE. When we told her about the idea, she loved it and joined in.
So there you have it, the famous four of Prime Women!
3. What was your inspiration for it, and how is it going?
Our initial goal was to have fun, and we thought maybe we could make money later on. We saw the need and felt that between us, we were the best people to fulfill this.
I love writing and was looking forward to writing articles on the site. We quickly realized we needed far more content than a few of us could ever write, so we built up a great team of contributors from our friends and contacts.
As it’s progressed, we are still having fun but can now see real potential for Prime Women. We have increased our investment in the business to help get the site promoted, and we are now seeing a jump in visitors to the site. It’s really lifted our spirits to see the response and increase in subscribers in the last few months.
4. Did you have worries or fears?
No, no worries – but we should have! We laugh now remembering our view at the time of “How hard can it be?”
It is A LOT harder than we ever imagined. Because of my advertising experience, which was increasingly moving to digital, I felt quite comfortable with the principles of setting up this business. However, I have a lot going on in my life – I still chair Miller Ad Agency, I was in the middle of a Masters degree and my voluntary activities too – so time was probably the biggest worry. At the start, I never thought starting a business after 50 would take so much time.
5. What excited you about starting a business after 50?
My personality type loves puzzles. This business is like creating a giant puzzle and pulling in different pieces until they fit, which is exciting and rewarding as they start to work.
As an example, we did Facebook ads at the start with dismal results. Then, we tried again this January and wow, suddenly they took off. You are constantly learning what works and what gets women to subscribe, and that is exciting.
6. What has been the biggest challenge?
The hardest bit for me is having to look at Google Analytics every day, analyzing what is driving visits to our site – organic and advertising, what is working, what we need to stop and what we should do more of. Analyzing data gives great returns but is tedious.
We also had a problem in the early days; our site was blocked in a lot of places – long story – and it took time to sort this. That really held us back.
And as I mentioned, time is maybe the biggest challenge. We have had to learn how to write well for search engine optimization (SEO – so that people find you on Google) and make sure all our articles perform well on Google.
7. What have been the advantages of experience (age?!) and disadvantages in becoming an entrepreneur again?
Age is a great advantage when starting a business. It helps to know that nothing great is ever built overnight. When you are younger, you want things quicker, expect more and haven’t learned patience. That has been important in this business – to keep trying new things and being prepared to learn and change.
We couldn’t have done this without all our connections – and those definitely come with age. We have spent our careers helping others, and it’s been wonderful to have that support back from our contributors.
This is a 24/7 business and you do need energy – luckily I still have a lot! You need to be daily posting, watching, sharing – you can’t put up content and walk away. I am constantly reading blogs, subscribing to other magazines and staying on top of new ideas and trends. When we post an article now, I instinctively know which ones are going to do well.
8. You seem to have become quite an expert on search engine optimization (SEO) – how to write to be found on Google and in social media. How has this happened, what has been difficult, and what have you enjoyed?
I have to say I wasn’t very active in social media when I started this business, and I assumed that other women weren’t either! Of course, I hadn’t made the link between social media and being found on Google searches – in the meantime social media, especially Facebook, has really taken off for this older, more professional generation.
At the start, I thought if I wrote a clever heading and included a few keywords, that would be gold! Now we’ve been taught to search Google and see what is popping up and that becomes your headline, even before you have written the article.
In the start, I was hardly on Facebook. Now, this is really important for us. I wasn’t on Twitter at all, and now I need to be there; I have used Pinterest occasionally and want to develop; and while I’m on LinkedIn, I didn’t really use it much as I didn’t see myself as still active in the business world.
It’s been a big learning curve and we’ve had a lot of training – from our SEO company, LindedIn and some of our contributors who understood this. A year ago, our SEO company did a review of our site and articles and said we had only two contributors who really understood how to write to be found on Google searches. They were you, Victoria, and Tricia Conover, who had worked in the digital space. The feedback was that you two “wrote fresh content in a new way – you didn’t feel you had read it elsewhere.” You also had good followings on social media which helped in getting it shared.
This way of writing was very hard for most of our contributors; we have set up a lot of training and they have been great in adapting their style.
9. Any tips about starting a business after 50?
Choose a business that you understand! We understood women of our age, but with hindsight we knew very little about an online magazine. It’s been a long, hard road to learn this.
Get outside expertise to advise you, and talk to lots of people in that market – people have been generous helping us to understand.
I now realize that whatever business you are in, almost certainly social media will be important – so if you aren’t using it yet, start now! The longer you leave it, the harder it will be.
And, think ahead. Where do you want to be in 10 or 15 years into the future?
In the end, it doesn’t matter what age you are, starting a business is fun, always hard, but hugely rewarding! As author John Mason observes, “The secret to success is to start from scratch – and keep on scratching!” My best advice – “Just do it.”
Thanks so much Dorthy for this interview. It has been a privilege to be part of your team. I had a feeling, before I started this interview, that you would demonstrate all the characteristic traits of an entrepreneur – this blog highlights them and you have them all in spades!
Good luck to all of us – there is now a community of your writers – and we look forward to helping you with the next steps.
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