Thinking of joining the ranks of boomer entrepreneurs? You’re in good company. Some of the world’s best-known products and companies had creators who were late bloomers.
Sam Walton opened his first Walmart when he was 44 years old. Ray Kroc started McDonald’s in his 50s. Colonel Harland Sanders was in his 60s when Kentucky Fried Chicken got off the ground.
Then there’s Mary Kay Ash, Henry Ford and Margaret Rudkin. All were at least 40 years old when they launched Mary Kay cosmetics, Ford Motor Company and Pepperidge Farm respectively.
Whether your goal is an international software company or a small yoga studio,the second half of life can be an ideal time to start a business. Age brings wisdom, resilience, patience and maturity, along with a higher likelihood of financial assets, an established credit history and an expansive network. All of these are advantages in business ownership.
At the same time, a later start in entrepreneurship doesn’t negate the need to work smart, work hard and make sacrifices. Nor does it mean you’ll avoid setbacks, unexpected obstacles or bad days, which are inevitable parts of first-time entrepreneurship. But you can increase your odds for success by learning from others who have been down this road.
I had the opportunity to interview dozens of people who became business owners later in life for my book. Among these late bloomers were a fashion designer, a baker, a debit card security specialist, an organic mattress distributor, a candy importer and a construction cleanup expert. Here are seven of their recommendations:
- Do what you love. If your research suggests that your favorite hobby or cause can be turned into a business, go for it. Just remember that passion, by itself, isn’t enough to succeed. You also need certain other characteristics, including the discipline to base key business decisions on facts, data and your customers’ buying preferences rather than your own.
- Talk to your significant other. Tension and resentment may arise when your retirement-age spouse or partner is ready to slow down and relax – but you aren’t. A candid discussion upfront can help you understand each other and put you on the same page. The conversations shouldn’t stop once the business is up and running. Regular communication about both progress and setbacks can provide a way to ease stress and address concerns before they turn into untenable problems.
- Get to know yourself better. A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis can be an effective tool. To do it right, you’ll need input from others who know you well.In your eagerness to get going on your business, you may be tempted to forgo a self-assessment. Don’t. You can’t manage your strengths and weaknesses if you don’t know what they are.
- Dig Deep. If owning a business is a life-long dream, ask yourself why you didn’t act earlier.Was it because of other priorities like raising children or caring for elderly parents (or both)? Or was it because you couldn’t motivate yourself to move forward?A timing issue is one thing; a tendency to procrastinate or lose interest is something else. If it’s the latter, be honest with yourself and address that now.
- Expect to take some risks. No aspiring entrepreneur who’s older wants to – or needs to – blow his or her nest egg. Successful late-blooming business owners often are “calculated risk takers.” Once they find a viable opportunity, they weigh, or calculate, the possible risks and rewards before deciding to move forward. This requires basing decisions on thorough research, rather than untested assumptions or whims.
- Reach out. Join networking groups to find mentors and the right consultants for your business. Contact organizations like SCORE, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Kauffman Foundation and AARP, which offer workshops, counseling, business plan templates and other forms of help. Best of all, it’s usually free.
- Start small. This will allow you to keep pace and avoid overextending yourself. When you make mistakes (and you will), they won’t be as big or expensive.
Today, people who retire may have a third of their lives ahead of them. That leaves a lot of time to be productive and make meaningful contributions, whether it’s by starting a business or another second act.
As Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
What are you waiting for?