Van Thomas has a young business. His self-named hair care line, Van Thomas Concepts, launched in March of 2013 when Thomas was a mature 63 years of age. Thomas is just one of many examples of baby boomers who are choosing post-retirement entrepreneurism. After a career spanning more than three decades developing hair-care products for well-known, established brands, Thomas decided to use his industry and product knowledge and develop his own product line.
Fort Worth, Texas-based entrepreneur George Harmon wanted to use his retirement to pursue a different career path. The former heavy-equipment mechanic developed MySleev - an arm towel used by mechanics and athletes to wipe sweat off their brow without using their hands. "When you work with heavy tools, it takes a toll on your body. I was excited to do something different," he says of his post-retirement drive for entrepreneurism.
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Sean Castrina, business coach and author of 8 Unbreakable Rules for Business Start-Up Success (Champion Publishing Inc., 2013), says Thomas and Harmon's stories aren't uncommon. He's worked with many retirees who have shunned the idea of reclining on their porch chairs for the next 20 or 30 years and have instead embraced the freedom and excitement that comes with owning a business.
Castrina even says these late-bloomer entrepreneurs have a greater chance of succeeding than their younger counterparts, as their finances are typically in better shape, their personal life is more stable and they know what their weaknesses are. "At 50 years of age and older, you know your Achilles heel. At 20, you don't think you have one," says Castrina.
Despite the benefits, this new generation of business owners faces a number of challenges. Castrina offers his top four strategies for building a successful business later in life.
1. Rely on your expertise. Castrina recommends post-retirement entrepreneurs draw on the wealth of experience accumulated during their working lives when thinking about striking out on their own. Thomas says his three decades of experience in the hair-care industry lent credibility to his new product line. "I'm getting feedback from people saying you've been doing this for so long that we really believe you know what you're doing," he says.
2. Choose a business that fits your finances. Castrina recommends retirees looking to start up a business consider their finances first. "Find a set amount of money that you can afford to risk," he says.
3. Identify your weaknesses. Both Thomas and Harmon admit to having shortfalls in the area of technology. "Social media was new to me," says Thomas. Harmon had never even opened an email, saying his previous career didn't require he work with computers. He was also shy about giving sales pitches and speaking in public. "Just standing around talking to the guys; I'm pretty good at that, but speaking with customers [was a new experience]," he says. Castrina says post-retirement entrepreneurs can easily get bogged down thinking they have to learn everything about their areas of weakness. He recommends they focus on hiring the right people to handle tasks beyond their capabilities, dedicating their energy to the strengths they bring to the business.
4. Find time to still enjoy retirement. While striking a work-life balance is important for all entrepreneurs, Castrina says it's even more crucial for post-retirement entrepreneurs who may find their energy levels waning as they get older. By defining the number of working hours you will devote to the business upfront and hiring a staff that can work around this schedule and fill in gaps when needed, you can ensure your company's success doesn't come at the expense of enjoying a little much-deserved R&R.