Have you always wondered what it would be like to be your own boss? Now might be the perfect time to find out. After all, those who are 50+ have the work experience, deep knowledge of their own skills and interests, and confidence it takes to start a business. No wonder more older Americans—a.k.a. “encore entrepreneurs”—are at the helm of start-ups. “We all think of young entrepreneurs as the fastest and hottest in country, but the rate of entrepreneurship among those over age 44 has been growing fastest for the past 10 years,” says Michael Chodos, associate administrator for entrepreneurial development at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Of course, launching a business can be daunting no matter how much professional experience you have. We spoke to Chodos and Barbara Corcoran, real estate mogul and star of ABC’s Shark Tank, about the key points to think about before taking the leap.
Don’t put it off another day. It may be hard to imagine launching a business when retirement is on the horizon. But that’s exactly why you shouldn’t wait. “Procrastination is the archenemy of success,” says Corcoran. “When you're stuck and can't seem to move something ahead, remember that you don't have to get it right, you just have to get it going.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed, check out the U.S. Small Business Administration's web site, to sign up for free start-up classes and connect with mentors who can help you.
Harness the skills you already have. Encore entrepreneurship isn’t about starting over. “You’re not throwing away everything you’ve done, you’re repurposing it,” says Chodos. So consider start-ups that allow you to use your skill set in different ways. Chodos offers an example of one 59-year old who has been working with the SBA on opening his own restaurant. He had been in the wholesale fish business for years, and was able to use his skills—and his food distributor contacts—to make a smooth transition into the restaurant business. In the two years he spent planning his business, he also took some cooking classes, and will be opening his restaurant this fall.
Put what you love first. As an mid-life entrepreneur, it’s understandable if you feel you can’t take as many chances as you would have if you were younger. But starting a business based solely on trends could be a mistake. “Trends are a lot less important than passion,” says Corcoran. “Only a deep passion for a business you really believe in will carry you through the hard times and over the inevitable hurdles to success. Forget the trends and focus on what you're really passionate about!”
Check your ego at the door. There’s one downside to having a lot of experience: “You think you know everything,” says Chodos. “But you’ve really got to be humble about what you know and what you don’t know, and be open to receiving coaching and feedback from others so you can succeed.” That includes not getting sidelined when you don’t get the response you feel you deserve. “The more successful you’ve been, the greater the insult is when they don’t return your call,” says Corcoran. “Get over it.”
Follow your instincts. Inevitably, there will come a time when you won’t necessarily have the answers for what to do. Try not to hit the panic button, though. “Chances are at this point in life, you've learned to trust your gut, and trusting your gut is the single best thing you can do when starting a new business,” says Corcoran. “On two Shark Tank businesses, I ignored it, and I lost a lot of money. Your good instincts will always steer you right.”
Good resources to help you start your own business,
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