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Start a Business...Even After 50

Neither shy nor retiring, people over 50 are proving there's life--and profits--after retirement as they launch second careers as entrepreneurs.

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When Shirley Green, 52, was laid off early this year after 23years at an IT data center, she decided she wouldn't wait forthe company to rehire her. Instead, she took early retirement andlaunched her own business, PersonalRecords Organizer LLC, a Westminster, Colorado, consulting firmthat helps families deal with elder-care issues. The idea for thebusiness grew from her own experience: "I was taking care ofmy mother and giving advice to people taking care of their olderparents," she says.

Although Green had no entrepreneurial background, she recognizeda niche market and decided to capitalize on it, despite her fearsof start-up. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sacredspitless, but I took the leap," says Green, who willofficially open her business in September 2003 and expects to bringin $70,000 by year-end 2004.

Green is part of a growing number of people over 50 who arebecoming entrepreneurs after long-time careers. According to JeriSedlar, a New York City executive search and transition coach andco-author with Rick Miners of Don't Retire, REWIRE!, there arethree factors driving this trend:

  1. People are living longer and are in better health.
  2. People are recognizing the need for additional income,especially those forced into early retirement because of layoffsand buyouts.
  3. People are looking for intellectual stimulation.
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A recent AARPstudy found that 76 percent of retirees work post-retirementbecause they need the money, while an equal number reported theyworked for the enjoyment of it. Joanne Fritz launched her ownbusiness in Scottsdale, Arizona, after she was laid off as anassociate director at Elderhostel, a nonprofit educational travelorganization for seniors. "I recognized it wasn't worthspending too much time and money in this economy-and at my age,62-looking for another job," says Fritz, CEO of American DreamPublishing and the Web site Not Yet Retired. "I knew I'd be betteroff with my own business."

Joe McCain, 54, of Greenville, South Carolina, concurs, eventhough he wasn't laid off from his sales job: "I saw thewriting on the wall. After 50, you're marked. I wanted tocontrol my own destiny." In 2002 McCain opened his ownlocation of The UPS Store, one of 13 such franchises in his metroarea. Today, the store grosses anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 permonth.

Other retirees find they don't need to change industries;they become consultants to the field in which they worked. A recentstudy conducted by The Conference Board found that 80 percent ofcompanies rehire retirees as consultants. Dow Chemical regularlyhires retired technical staff as consultants. And Delphi Corp.reports that 65 to 70 percent of the retired engineers it bringsback as consultants wind up working on projects they worked onwhile employees.

Merle Meyer, 63, and his wife Linda, 60, who live in theLouisville, Kentucky, area, owned a resort and bed and breakfastbefore they retired in the early '90s. Merle was lured backinto the hospitality industry as a consultant for several years;when he retired again, he and Linda decided to travel for a while,but they missed the industry. Now they're back in it as interiminnkeepers, and they also run the INNterimINNkeeper Network, a matchmaking service for interim innkeepersand those in need of their services. "We didn't want afull-time responsibility," says Meyer. As inn sitters, thecouple earns about $148 per day, plus traveling expenses.

Defining YourDrivers
Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. "You have toknow what motivates you. Learning? Creativity? Accomplishment?Recognition? That will guide you on what business, if any, is goingto make you happy," says Sedlar, who dedicates much ofDon't Retire, REWIRE! to helping readers identify whatshe calls "drivers."

A post-retirement business ought to fulfill passions andinterests. "You have to love it, or you won't stick withit through the tough times," says Fritz, who began herpost-retirement business selling on eBay, an endeavor she expected to gain morepleasure and profits from than she actually did. That's whenshe switched gears and launched her consulting firm. "Helpingother people was an important part of what was missingbefore," she says.

Passion is what led Ed Metz, 68, of Montville, New Jersey, toBobCrosby's Bob Cats, a Swing-era band that plays major venuesaround the country. Metz had spent much of his adult life as aninvestment banker. "I have always loved music. I'd beenplaying in bands since I was in college," Metz says.

A jazz pianist, Metz had been with the Bob Cats for about 10years, when bandleader Bob Crosby passed away. In 1995 he and anow-deceased partner acquired the rights to the band name from theCrosby family estate. When he retired from investment banking in2000, dedicating himself to the band was a natural. Metz pulls inabout $150 per day for his role in the Bob Cats. The band earnsabout $50,000 a year on a dozen or so gigs.

The Meyers were looking for a flexible schedule and anopportunity to travel. Their interim innkeeping business servesboth needs. The couple can be selective, working when and wherethey want. "For instance, in January and February we inn-sitin San Antonio, where it's warm, and in July we go to thePacific Northwest, where the weather is cool," Meyernotes.

Identifying aMarket
Knowing what you want is a good start, but it won't mean athing unless someone else will value what you offer. Apost-retirement business is like any other in this regard:There's no business if there are no customers.

In fact, a built-in customer base is what attracted McCain tohis franchise. "I used Mail Boxes Etc. and The UPS Store whenI was in sales, so I was familiar with them," he notes."We looked at the demographics and the franchise to help mefigure out where to locate myself for maximum foottraffic."

It was the Meyers' own experience as full-time innkeepersthat informed them about a market. "We knew innkeepers getburned out being there 24/7. That's when a lightbulb went on.We realized there was a major need for interim innkeepers, soowners could have a break," explains Meyer.

Challenges

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

Another issue, especially among retirees who have been forcedout early, is a lack of confidence. "People come off thatexperience pretty demoralized," says Fritz. "They need togive themselves time to build their self-esteem and psych up againbefore they can start something new."

Another challenge retirees face is insufficient technicalknow-how. "Learning how to use computers and software is amust," says Tellez.

There are indications that older Americans are becoming morecomputer literate. The "Consumer InternetBarometer"-a quarterly survey by NFO WorldGroup,Forrester Research and The Conference Board that tracks Internetusage among Americans-found that people ages 55 to 64 withonline 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 thatselling oneself was unseemly," Tellez says. "They have toget beyond that in order to market their businesses."

There are many community resources where people can acquire newskills. Community colleges, professional organizations, the chamberof commerce, senior centers and AARP often offer classes ineverything from marketing to finance to graphics.

Planning
"Take your time and fiddle with your plan before you commit toit," advises Fritz. A smart plan can be the difference betweensuccess and failure.

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

Older entrepreneurs are at an advantage because they can tapinto a lifetime of professional contacts. McCain regularly speaksto other small-business owners, including hiscompetition-other franchises-in his area. "Webounce ideas off each other," he notes.

On the horizon is company-sponsored post-retirement businessplanning. A number of organizations have charged their humanresource departments with the task of finding ways to assistretirees-to-be in exploring entrepreneurial options.

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

According to Sedlar, the advantages for companies includeimproved fiscal and physical health for retirees, who in turn relyon fewer costly retirement benefits. Also, companies benefit fromthe retained institutional knowledge that can be sourced whenformer employees open post-retirement consulting firms instead offorgoing the industry for the fairway.

Hours &Skills
Be prepared to work hard and tackle new challenges. With hisbackground in sales, McKain had no trouble marketing andadvertising his business; it was keeping the books that proved mostchallenging. "It's a lot of work, and I'm stilllearning," he says. "I'd never done itbefore."

Sedlar suggests neophytes shadow a pro before launching theirown companies. "Just because you were good at your jobdoesn't mean you're going to automatically be good atbusiness," she cautions.

Another surprise, especially to those who spent a lifetimeworking with colleagues, is how lonely owning your own business canbe. For those working solo, Tellez recommends joining professionalorganizations. "These are good places not only to network, butalso 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 othersbecause it keeps them from becoming too isolated," explainsSedlar.

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

NextStep
  • AARP has developed a Web site exclusively for small-business ownersover 50.
  • SCORE is anonprofit organization comprised of retired executives who offerfree start-up advice.
  • Individual franchises and organizations hold seminars geared atretirees, some of which can be found through the International FranchiseAssociation.

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