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The New Golden Age

It's not your father's retirement. Today's baby boomers see life after 50 as a new opportunity to start businesses they love.
February 7, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/76136

Baby boomers, who comprise the largest generation in history, have been redefining American life as we know it for decades. And now, they're redefining the traditional notion of retirement as well.

Rather than leaving their careers for lives of leisure, golfing or touring the country in RVs, many baby boomers aged 50 and older are choosing to start new careers--but not just any careers. They're applying their experience in management, finance, marketing and other business disciplines to businesses of their own that are personally fulfilling, exciting and fun.

Richard Busch, 63, owner of Glenfiddich Farm Pottery in Leesburg, Virginia, is a perfect example of this trend. When he decided to retire in 1997 at the age of 56 from a 30-year career as a magazine editor, he immediately turned his passion for pottery into a profession that would carry him, as he puts it, "into my dotage."

"I realized there was a reasonable chance I'd live to be 90 or 100, and I didn't want to spend the last 30 years of my life in endless meetings. I had a satisfying career in journalism, but deep down, I felt it was time to move on and do something else," says Busch, who now runs his pottery studio and showroom on a 20-acre farm. "I'd been making pottery as a hobby for about 14 years, so I made a business out of it."

He's certainly not alone. According to a recent study by the AARP, in 2002, 16.4 percent of workers aged 50 and older, or 5.6 million people, were self-employed. What's more, 1 out of 3 of those workers made the leap into self-employment after age 50, either as a transition to retirement or as a way to supplement their incomes while doing something interesting and fulfilling with the next few decades of their lives.

If you're one of the senior members of the baby-boomer generation, chances are you've also been thinking about how you'll spend your retirement years. Maybe you've been in a job for 25 years and you are facing the prospect of a layoff due to downsizing. Or your pension isn't going to stretch as far as you thought it would. Or your investments aren't performing the way you had envisioned.

But first things first: What type of business should you choose? According to Paul and Sarah Edwards, authors of The Best Home Businesses for People 50+, the hottest self-employment careers for new entrepreneurs involve filling a need or fixing a problem for three market segments: business clients, businesses and consumers, and individuals and families. Examples of service businesses in high demand are senior care, financial management for senior citizens and image consulting--all of which are great for people who are helpers and improvers by nature, says Paul.

Turning a hobby into income, like Busch has done, is also a strong trend. "It's very gratifying to take something you love and make it into your retirement career," says Sarah.

No matter which type of job you choose to pursue, you're bound to find that your previous business successes will give you an edge in your new profession. "Not being in the first bloom of entrepreneurial aspirations is a plus," says Paul. "You'll find your previous skills, experience and contacts are all valuable for building a new post-retirement career."


Eileen Figure Sandlin is an award-winning freelance writer and author who writes on business topics.