Fifty-six-year-old Stephanie Heacox of Boulder, Colo., spent three decades of her life as a web consultant. She decided to retire last year when changes at her company would have required a move to New York.
It seemed like the right time to launch an idea she’d had for years: to develop a home-sharing website for seniors that helps them find housemates. She started Senior Homeshares last August. The new business was an ideal meld of a need she knew her community had and her own 30 years of web consulting experience. “We match elders who have more home than they need, like empty-nesters, widows and widowers, with elders in search of safe, affordable housing,” Heacox explains. To ensure her site met user needs, she conducted market research and interviewed and shared her ideas with senior citizens she’d met through volunteer work.
If, like Heacox, you’ve dreamed of starting your own business, you might find that doing so after retirement is the smartest way to go. Like Heacox, you’ve likely developed a solid network, have an array of relevant skills, and have a career’s worth of experience in problem-solving. A recent article on U.S. News & Word Report Money suggests that people ages 55 to 64 started more than 25 percent of all new businesses in 2014. So how do you get started?
Know What Your Market Needs
Heacox understood the value of knowing her target market and what it needed before she launched, and that played a critical role in her second start-up as well, Orderly Estates, which is basically an “executor-for-hire” service, she says. “I help people get their ducks in a row by documenting all the necessary information for a future executor to be able to resolve their estate.”
“I came to this after having been an executor multiple times and realizing that my background as an information scientist and law librarian was ideally suited to this business idea,” Heacox explains.
Lisa J. Phalen, age 52, of Phoenix, Az., took her 29 years of experience working in human resources and applied it to her second career as an independent consultant offering consulting, training, facilitating, and coaching services to organizations and individuals. “I am doing work that is similar to what I did my entire career,” she explains, “but from an outsider’s point of view.”
And because her new business is in a similar field to her previous career, she has benefited from referrals from former colleagues.
Plan Your Tactics
There is nothing more critical to an entrepreneurial venture than a business plan. “The biggest thing a small business person can do is have a business plan,” says Dave Yunghans, a regional director for digital marketing firm Constant Contact. A business plan is critical, particularly, if you’re going to go to a lender for financing. But it’s bigger than that. A business plan helps you determine how you’re going to organize your business, the steps you’re going to follow, the money you’ll need, and the goals you’ll have. Plus, it holds you accountable.
As for finding your customers and clients, Yunghans adds that getting in front of your target audience is also critical, whether that’s through networking, encouraging referrals, or digital marketing. “There is so much vying for people’s attention today that it takes 34 instances of getting your name out there before people start to recognize it. You have to get in front of people a whole lot more than you’re used to.”
Jerry Pradier, author of Financial Success: Ten Shortcuts to a Profitable Business (Trafford Publishing, 2009) advises soon-to-be retirees, “Start planning while you are still employed, and think about the financial side of starting the business.” Pradier says too many entrepreneurs have unrealistic expectations and try to operate new businesses on a shoestring.
What if you’re already retired and haven’t saved that nest egg for a start-up?
Don’t worry. There are other options for financing your business dreams such as microloans and crowdfunding. And although you can always take your business plan to a bank and apply for a loan, consider nontraditional funding sources as well, like a peer-to-peer loan. They’re often easier and faster to get because these sites, like Prosper, let investors bid on your loan.
Ask For and Hire Help
If you’re seriously thinking about starting a new business in retirement, don’t forget that one of the best resources is people who have already done it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. Get in touch with former colleagues and ask them how they see the industry and what they’d do differently.
And if you don’t know how to do something–like accounting, taxes, web design, or marketing–hire someone else to do it. Heacox hired contractors to take care of things outside her core areas of expertise. “I had a good designer do my branding, a tech consultant helped me make all the core technical decisions related to web, email, security, payment processing and support software, and a bookkeeper set up my virtual financial management,” she notes.