Just because you aren’t fresh out of college doesn’t mean you can’t start a business. Entrepreneurs who are in their 50s and older are sometimes called “boomerpreneurs.” Often, they’re professionals who held long, successful careers and started a business later in life after a layoff or retirement or simply because they wanted to do something new.
How do you launch a company after 50? Here’s some advice from your peers who’ve been there.
1. Consider your risk tolerance. “Over-50 entrepreneurs need to understand their risk tolerance,” says Denise Beeson, who teaches small-business management at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. “At risk with a startup is losing all of the retirement funds that you may have. Consider a franchise opportunity or a business that is already up and running. Starting from scratch may not be very wise.”
2. Don’t use your retirement funds. Karen Klein of BusinessWeek notes that using retirement funds to start a business could prove disastrous. “If things don’t work out …, not only will you have no income, but you’ll also have no life savings. While desperate people sometimes — understandably — feel they must take desperate measures, make sure you’ve first exhausted all other options.”
Instead, look for funding from a bank, family, friends, or investment funds that are not connected to your retirement. The latter could include a severance package from an old job or vested company stock options.
3. Have a thick skin. Every entrepreneur has to know how to sell — to customers, investors, vendors, and future employees. Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, points out that “there will be lots of rejection and obstacles, but a small number of wins can drive a successful business. If 95 percent of my prospects do not call me back or accept my proposals, the 5 percent that do engage me can drive a successful business.”
4. Don’t build the business around yourself. “As we get older, the odds of illness or diminished ability increase. The challenge of the senior entrepreneur is his own mortality,” observes Tom Collins, author and founder of the software company Juris. “He must make himself dispensable or lose everything he has built. He can recruit and/or train his replacement or sell the business. Wait too long to do it and the business along with its value will evaporate.”
In other words, find a partner. This could be a son or daughter or somebody else a generation after you. Not only can they help with the longevity of the business, they may attract a different customer demographic.
5. Get help. Even if you’re starting a business in a field where you have years of experience, running a business involves a new skill set. “I have a mentor at the UTSA Small Business Development Center, and I attend their workshops,” says Vickie Hosek, owner of Senior Sidekick, a business that assists seniors with financial and other tasks. “I also participate in webinars and read senior-oriented publications. I am a member of several professional organizations, which provide the opportunity to network with professionals who also work with seniors.”
6. Enjoy what you do and give back. Craig Wolfe, president of CelebriDucks, a company that makes custom rubber ducks and has been featured on The Tonight Show, says, “I’m 60 and over time, as you age, you become a different person with a different set of values. Doing business becomes less about just making the best deal for you and more about making sure it’s a win-win for both parties. You are also more inspired to use your success to benefit others who can use your mentoring and often your donations.”