Posted on 28 May 2008
By Mark Miller
Ask someone over 50 what they want to do after retirement, and you may well get this answer: “Keep working!”
Surveys suggest that more than 75 percent of the baby boom generation plans to keep working past traditional retirement age. But it’s not likely that many will keep laboring away in Corporate America. Most boomers who hope to keep going are looking for something new-and many want to go into business for themselves.
In some cases, that will mean launching full-blown companies with office space, employees and all the accompanying headaches. But others will start what Mary Furlong calls “lifestyle businesses.”
Furlong is one of the country’s leading thinkers on boomers, marketing and business. Back in 1986. she started SeniorNet-a non-profit dedicated to helping people over 50 to master computers and the Internet; she followed that up in 1996 with ThirdAge, one of the first online communities for older Americans. She has taught entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, and she runs a business consulting firm focused on the boomer and senior markets.
Furlong sees boomers leading a huge new wave of start-ups in the coming decade, but believes many will be small ventures that mix work, play and other pursuits. “Boomers want to earn income and do something they like to do but they’re looking for a mosaic,” she says. “How can I have work that I like, time for health, time for my family and time to play?
The numbers prove her point. Sole proprietorships are by far the most common form of startup: 85 percent of all business tax returns are filed by companies with no employees, according to the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE).
The good news about sole proprietorship is that you don’t need much start-up capital to get going. Many small enterprises can be started for a few thousand dollars, thanks to the Internet and inexpensive technologies that enable working from home. And rather than take on the responsibility of hiring employees, consider striking up relationships with other sole proprietors to provide key services, such as bookkeeping and marketing.
The biggest challenge is keeping your monthly overhead under control while revenue develops-and until you know how large the business can grow. The biggest cash drain will be living expenses; experts advise setting aside at least six months of cash to pay the bills while you wait for revenue to develop.
Next comes the interesting part-picking the right idea for your business.
First, ask yourself what you’re really passionate about-because whatever you settle on will occupy most of your waking hours and energy for the foreseeable future.
“Most people are burned out on the corporate world by the time they reach age 55,” says Jeff Williams principal of Bizstarters, a company that provides coaching and training to would-be entrepreneurs. “So, you really need to find something you’re passionate about.”
Williams recommends taking an assessment test such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to help zero in our your true interests. You can take these tests at most community college career outreach centers, and many outplacement firms use them, too.
Aside from interests, you’ll need a business that matches your skills. It may seem as though you’re heading into completely unfamiliar territory. But if you’ve learned to sell, develop a sales pipeline and serve customers in your previous work, those skills will transfer well to your new entrepreneurial pursuits. Experience in marketing, finance, operations and business development is valuable, too.”Boomers have experience and a network, and they’ve navigated through situations,” Furlong says. “They have energy and intellect, they have the Internet now for research, and they want to be mobile.”
Furlong believes some of the most promising boomer business launches will provide services to the boomer population itself-an aging marketplace that she describes in her recent book, “Turning Silver into Gold: How to Profit in the New Boomer Marketplace” (Financial Times Press, 2007).
She sees plenty of opportunity in businesses related to financial security and longevity for an aging population, and also for technology services like “senior geeks” who help people with their computers and digital media. She predicts eldercare services will be another explosive growth category with plenty of opportunity for entrepreneurs-everything from in-home services to adult day care, new assisted-living solutions and fitness classes.
Says Furlong: “Boomers have always been willing to pay for services, and we’ll be inventing new ones as we age.”
NASE maintains a phone-based consulting service for anyone interested in starting a business. You can pose a question at the association’s ShopTalk 800 website and get a call back from a professional business consultant about any question on your mind, ranging from tax and legal issues to business structure options and regulation. The service is geared to members—joining for a year will set you back $120. But you can get one or two free consults, says Gene Fairbrother, NASE’s lead small business consultant.
Links to other articles on 50+ business startups you may find useful:
Small businesses cater to gray – SmartMoney
Consultants help elderly downsize at home – National Public Radio