Did you know the number of people aged 55-64 turning to self-employment and opening small businesses has been soaring? It is estimated there are now more than 5 million Americans age 55 and older who have their own businesses or are self-employed, according to the Small Business Administration.
Driving this trend, no doubt, are many Boomers who are looking for second acts or who have retired early. For some, it’s because they want to continue to be productive and do something new or more fulfilling. Unfortunately for others, the decision has not been by choice, but they were faced with job loss and the need to continue to work to support themselves. According to a recent Met Life Study more than 21% of the oldest Boomers are working full-time. Sadly, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports the proportion of boomers at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living or run out of money in retirement at 40%-50%.
The good news is it’s easier than ever to start your own business. There are more resources – everything perhaps except the funding, that is – available than ever before for anyone who is interested in learning how to launch a small business today, and make it thrive. So many, in fact, it’s hard to know where to start.
This is National Small Business Week in the US – a week to celebrate a major engine that drives our national economy. If you are interested in starting your own business, this is a good time to get the latest information available on resources and trends. The weeks activities include forums hosted by the Small Business Administration (SBA) that stretch throughout the week in regional venues across the country from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Most will be available online.
The 2014 observance starts with a kickoff event at Twitter’s HQ in San Francisco. This seems appropriate given the impact social media has had and is having on business – and especially small business. Incidentally, I was pleased to see the culminating event in DC features a panel on “Veteran’s Entrepreneurship.” Having served our country and been fortunate to go to a successful business career, both as an entrepreneur and working in corporations, I am keenly aware that Veterans often face a tough time entering and re-joining the workforce. Like Boomers, it has been a group that historically has been over-looked, under-valued, and under-served…
Curiously, I didn’t see specific events aimed at Boomers on the 2014 NSBW agenda, but speakers include several prominent women Boomer politicos including Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Rep. Nancy Pelosi – so that leads to hope.
This is not to say the SBA is not attuned to Boomers. In 2012, SBA teamed up with AARP to create a strategic alliance to provide counseling and training to entrepreneurs over 50 who want to start or grow a small business. Utilizing online courses and a network of mentors and counselors, the pair last year trained more 100,000 “encore entrepreneurs” to start and run small businesses. Last month they hosted National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Month and held more than 100 events – workshops, conferences and seminars. You can still take advantage of their webinar series. This month’s webinar is Financing Your Small Business on May 13.
Having started several of my own small businesses prior to AVG, I can tell you how critical figuring out the financing piece is. But today there are more options than ever: a traditional small business loan, equity investment (i.e. Angels and VCs), or the newer crowd funding (ala Kickstarter, Indiegogo) programs or the leveraged-assets route (think of Airbnb – renting rooms in the apartment or home you own, no upfront investment required.) The latter two are particularly interesting for Boomers, who don’t want to be in a position where they put their retirement nest eggs at risk. The reality is that most ventures do not qualify for venture capital and never will.
I’ve started four businesses. I successfully sold two. One I was fired from (by the VC’s) and one I retired from until I actually retire. All four were started with my own money and a willingness to go without pay for six months. My feeling was if I could not pay myself after six months then I had either not worked hard enough or it was not a good business idea.
I brought VC money into one of the businesses (an early .com) because of the need to move quickly. I have to say, in my experience, it was a bad mistake. I would not ever do this again. I became an “employee” and was dismissed at the first market downturn so they could package the business for sale. Beware, unfortunately once they make an investment, VC’s often want to bring in their own CEO talent…
Here’s the basic advice I give to anybody contemplating starting a new business or heading down the to road of entrepreneurship today.
1. Do your homework.
Got an idea? Think it’s good? Do your due diligence.
What’s the problem you’ll be solving? Who’s your competition? What’s the business opportunity?
In addition to SBA, other online resources abound for finding best practices, useful info, news, trends and helpful resources, guides and mentoring. Inc. and Entrepreneur are the category stalwarts. Did you know that almost all of the leading business and news publications and websites also have vibrant Small Business focused portals and followings? Check out the Huffington Post, Forbes, CNN Money, Fox Business, NY Times and the Amex Open Forum.
2. Formulate and put your business plans down in writing.
This means articulating and documenting your product offering, purchase and partner targets, doing the overall strategy, creating your elevator pitch, as well as doing numbers for projections for your first and five year plan, so that you can pitch and share it. Most of the publications and websites above offer good guides to writing business plans.
3. Take advantage of any technology advantage.
This leads us back to Twitter and other social media. It’s today and the future. Learn how it and other online technologies and applications can help you get your business and brand get known.
There are many free resources out there. For example, get “The Beginners Guide to Small Business Blogging” by ConstantContact – a free but useful tool from the content marketing vendor.
I find Ramon Ray’s SmallBizTechnology.com, a great place to harvest new technology ideas for small businesses. Check out his book “Facebook Guide to Small Business Marketing” and his blog/newsletter. Here’s one example of Tips for Building a Strong Linked In Company Page.
Once you’ve gotten your business going, AVG will be a good resource for your digital practices. We often hear about big companies and big data loss but cyber security is a growing issue for small business. We have resources available. Check out our small business blogs at http://blogs.avg.com/category/business. We also offer a very useful Small Business IT Security Healthcheck checklist and an ebook, the AVG Small Business Digital Policy Guide.
4. Network and connect with others.
Get out and meet with other entrepreneurs, people in your industry, mentors, experts and potential customers -whether you are looking to run your idea up the flagpole, still in the testing the water phase, or hunting for your first customers or new business leads. Take advantage of the opportunities from classic Chamber of Commerce events to social network meetups and Linked In Groups.
For some more introverted folks that isn’t so easy – but if you are going to run your own business you need to be its #1 ambassador and evangelist. (Toastmasters or individual speaking coaches could help here.)
Whatever your personality type, sometimes being an entrepreneur and starting your own business, at least at the beginning, can be a solitary endeavor. If you need the stimuli of working with others, consider a shared or collaborative working environment.
Up and coming co-working spaces have sprung up for entrepreneurs and startups across the country- including HatchTodaySF in San Francisco, the Grind in New York and Impact Hub, which started in London and is now global. Some are membership based and rent desks, tables or offices to individuals and small companies on a monthly basis.
5. Don’t get emotionally attached to the idea of the business.
Set boundaries on how long you will go before it makes money. Be honest with your spouse/partner on expected financial strains, and have the courage to pull the plug if it goes wrong.
Bottom line: Starting your own business is exciting and can be rewarding. Just go for it!