The economic turmoil that plagued most of the country for the last several years saw many experienced professionals on the short-end of company restructures. Many baby boomers were displaced, and watched as their savings portfolios declined due to the struggling market. They also discovered that their age, coupled with their salary history, played against them in finding new jobs.
As a result, many boomers took their proverbial lemons and made lemonade, turning many unsuspecting boomers into later-in-life entrepreneurs.
The Unintentional Entrepreneur
For Wray Rives and R. Jean Roth, finding themselves over 50 and laid off in what may be described as one of the worst economic climates meant finding a new way to live. Too young for retirement, too “experienced” for the available jobs, both turned their education and experience into entrepreneurship.
“My first reaction was to try and find another job, but after a few months of going on interviews and never hearing back from anyone, I realized that finding another job when I was north of 50 was probably not going to happen,” says Rives, who spent more than 20 years working in corporate finance. Instead, Rives began doing what he loved: freelancing as a CPA, providing bookkeeping and tax services for friends, neighbors and local businesses. These efforts led to the birth of Rives CPA and NeedaCFO.com.
Roth felt the same way, “I decided to push my own agenda, as it were, instead of spending more time running after job leads that actually led nowhere, especially for baby boomers,” she says. While she was searching job postings, she was also spending a considerable amount of time doing freelance graphic design work for former colleagues. She realized it might be easier and more enjoyable to transition her real-life experience to a new business.
Roth is now the sole proprietor of Rotem Design Studio, a graphic design and creative communications studio in Los Angeles.
Baby Boomer Dominating American Startups
Roth and Rives are not alone. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies U.S. startups, aging workers were among the leaders when it came to starting new businesses. In fact, in 2011 entrepreneurship increased for those in the 45 to 54 age bracket.
Further, it is the 45 to 64 group that makes up nearly half of all new startups in the country, increasing 19 percent since 1996. The older market has seen the most significant growth over the last 15 years.
But, starting up a business isn’t always easy. There are a lot of things to consider before taking the plunge.
Funding. Most startups require some sort of capital. If you’re considering using your retirement savings as startup capital, you need to be certain that you will be still be able to manage if you’re unable to recoup your investment. Also, be aware that cashing in 401(k)s or other types of retirement portfolios may result in penalties for early withdrawal. (Click here to read our story on using 401(k) funds for startup.)
Management. Are you ready to go from being an employee to being the boss? Do you have experience effectively leading a team? Are you ready for the additional responsibilities that come with business ownership, such as bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, etc?
Embrace new marketing strategies. Gone are the days of simply running a weekly ad in the newspaper. Successful businesses are fast turning to social media to engage with their clients. Boomers need to be willing to step outside their comfort zone with technology and embrace popular marketing vehicles including Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. “While many baby boomers are reluctant to get into social media, it's an absolute must,” says Roth. “The opportunity to network and join supportive mini-communities goes beyond, in my experience, anything a chamber of commerce might offer—or at least will complement it in a different way.”
Along with social media, you may want to consider establishing a healthy Web presence. Content marketing and other forms of digital marketing, such as cost-per-click ads are driving forces in today’s marketing.
Of course, there is still a time and place for traditional media and many businesses will still find great success with print, television and radio.
Work-Life Balance. For some, entrepreneurship provides more freedom and flexible schedules. Others will find their business requires, especially during the start-up phase, rigid schedules and family sacrifices.
For Rives, he actually believes his work-life balance has improved, although he admits there are times his family would feel otherwise. He does have days when he can’t just leave work behind but relishes the fact that he can take vacation days or run to the grocery store in the middle of the day without needing everyone’s permission. Technology, Rives says, has made him feel more in control of his business and his work-life balance.
Know you boundaries. Most people are good at one thing and have no experience at another. For example, a 30-year sales veteran may be a great people person and know how to close the deal, but would he be able to run his own books or handle payroll? Rives suggests that every business owner determine where their strengths and weaknesses lie and then ask for help where it's needed. Outsourcing is a great way to augment where you fall short. And you may find another struggling, out-of-work boomer to help with those specific tasks.
The challenges of starting a business later in life aren’t much different than at any other time. But, the experience and expertise that more experienced professionals bring to the table provide opportunities like never before.
Are you a non-traditional business owner? What are you tips for success?
Angela Stringfellow is a PR and MarComm Consultant and Social Media Strategist offering full-circle marketing solutions to businesses. Angela blogs via Contently.com.
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