Start a Business...Even After 50


Retirees starting a business are likely to face slightly different challenges than other entrepreneurs. Marilyn Tellez, owner of MJT Consulting, a career coaching firm in Yakima, Washington, specializing in people over 50, says capitalization can be a big problem. "A lot of older people are afraid of tapping into their retirement money or taking a loan, but the fact is, your business won't work if you don't fund it," she maintains.

Another issue, especially among retirees who have been forced out early, is a lack of confidence. "People come off that experience pretty demoralized," says Fritz. "They need to give themselves time to build their self-esteem and psych up again before they can start something new."

Another challenge retirees face is insufficient technical know-how. "Learning how to use computers and software is a must," says Tellez.

There are indications that older Americans are becoming more computer literate. The "Consumer Internet Barometer"-a quarterly survey by NFO WorldGroup, Forrester Research and The Conference Board that tracks Internet usage among Americans-found that people ages 55 to 64 with online experience rose from 59 to 64 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Having to market a business can throw some retirees for a loop. "I find that a lot of older women were raised to believe that selling oneself was unseemly," Tellez says. "They have to get beyond that in order to market their businesses."

There are many community resources where people can acquire new skills. Community colleges, professional organizations, the chamber of commerce, senior centers and AARP often offer classes in everything from marketing to finance to graphics.

"Take your time and fiddle with your plan before you commit to it," advises Fritz. A smart plan can be the difference between success and failure.

"Seek counsel, suggests Sedlar. "Find people you trust, and create your own little board of advisors."

Older entrepreneurs are at an advantage because they can tap into a lifetime of professional contacts. McCain regularly speaks to other small-business owners, including his competition-other franchises-in his area. "We bounce ideas off each other," he notes.

On the horizon is company-sponsored post-retirement business planning. A number of organizations have charged their human resource departments with the task of finding ways to assist retirees-to-be in exploring entrepreneurial options.

"Companies are beginning to see the tangible benefits of helping employees transition into productive retirement," says Sedlar. "We're still a long way off from having this kind of planning offered across the board, but at least some companies, like Chase/J.P. Morgan and Proctor & Gamble, are taking a look at it."

According to Sedlar, the advantages for companies include improved fiscal and physical health for retirees, who in turn rely on fewer costly retirement benefits. Also, companies benefit from the retained institutional knowledge that can be sourced when former employees open post-retirement consulting firms instead of forgoing the industry for the fairway.

Hours & Skills
Be prepared to work hard and tackle new challenges. With his background in sales, McKain had no trouble marketing and advertising his business; it was keeping the books that proved most challenging. "It's a lot of work, and I'm still learning," he says. "I'd never done it before."

Sedlar suggests neophytes shadow a pro before launching their own companies. "Just because you were good at your job doesn't mean you're going to automatically be good at business," she cautions.

Another surprise, especially to those who spent a lifetime working with colleagues, is how lonely owning your own business can be. For those working solo, Tellez recommends joining professional organizations. "These are good places not only to network, but also to socialize," she notes.

Another way to stay connected is to rent a shared office. "This is good for people who are used to working around others because it keeps them from becoming too isolated," explains Sedlar.

Motivated by passion and money, older entrepreneurs aren't showing any signs of fading. "We're too young to retire to a rocking chair," Meyer says. "I don't think we'll ever be old enough for that."

Next Step
  • AARP has developed a Web site exclusively for small-business owners over 50.
  • SCORE is a nonprofit organization comprised of retired executives who offer free start-up advice.
  • Individual franchises and organizations hold seminars geared at retirees, some of which can be found through the International Franchise Association.
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