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10 Tips for 'Senior' Entrepreneurs

In a new 'PBS NewsHour' project, two successful business owners over 50 offer advice on launching and growing a company in midlife

By Judi Henderson-Townsend and Cynthia Mackey

PBS NewsHour just launched an excellent website, New Adventures for Older Workers, based on a year of reporting. It combines fascinating infographics, articles and NewsHour videos about America’s retirement crisis, and suggests ways to find a part-time job during retirement or launch a second career.

The following article and video are part of this special project.

Paul Solman: Mannequin Madness. That's where we met Judi Henderson-Townsend and Cynthia Mackey — at Townsend's "body shop" in Oakland, Calif., a few weeks ago.

We were shooting a story on "senior" entrepreneurs and though both looked young enough to be my daughters, they’re in their 50s, which makes these budding entrepreneurs surprisingly long of tooth by traditional standards.

Traditional standards, however, haven't kept up with the economy, or the baby boom, or both. We seem to be entering an era of new firms run by "old" entrepreneurs.

(MORE: 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Starting Your Own Business)

Here are the pair's 10 Tips for Senior Entrepreneurs:

Cynthia Mackey and Judi Henderson-Townsend: Paul asked that we introduce ourselves. When we first started our businesses, we were both refugees from corporate America and we over 40. Cynthia had a history of entrepreneurship in her family, while Judi fell into it. We both started bootstrap ventures, with far more passion than capital.

Cynthia had been working as a technology consultant and saw a niche to fill in training baby boomers to use social media to grow business. She launched as a means to do just that.

Judi, by contrast, was an accidental entrepreneur. While purchasing a mannequin for an art project, she stumbled across a mannequin vendor who was going out of business, bought his inventory on a whim, and launched

While we came to our businesses in different ways, we discovered that we were on the leading edge of the same new trend – senior entrepreneurship.

If you are thinking of starting a business in your 50s or beyond, here are our 10 tips:

1. You Are Never Too Old to Start a Business

Think it's foolhardy to start a business because you're a senior? People age 55 to 64 have a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those age 20 to 34. Check out these successful seniorpreneurs.

2. Turn Passion Into Profit

No idea is too odd to find success, as these 10 off-the-wall entrepreneurs demonstrate.

Building a business ignited by your passion fuels the time and energy required to propel you to success. Yes, more than passion is a necessity, but without it, your desire to get through peaks and valleys will wane and that will affect your business overall.

3. Build a Community of Positive Influences

Being an entrepreneur at any age is daunting. Seek out people and resources who will encourage you to "go for it," instead of naysayers.

(MORE: Where to Get Help Launching Your Encore Career)

Senior Entrepreneurship Works is a nonprofit designed to help people 50 and older build sustainable businesses.

4. Make Your Workspace Fit Your Lifestyle

Owning a business no longer requires leasing an office space or storefront. You can set up an online store with sites like Etsy, eBay and BigCommerce to sell your products online.

If your business does require an office, co-working spaces, are flexible and cost-effective options. As long as you have Internet access, you can connect with your customer, staff or sales data from anywhere.

5. Staff as You Grow With Freelancers

You can find talented independent contractors to do short- or long-term projects for your business on an as-needed basis. This helps manage your costs, while growing your business revenues.

If you can't find the talent you need locally, here are the 20 best online sites to find virtual assistance.

6. Be Innovative with Your Funding Sources


Before you raid your savings, consider grants, contests and crowdfunding.

This 89-year-old grandmother used Kickstarter to finance her decorative walking cane business.

(MORE: The Best Ways to Get Free Help Starting a Business)

The Purpose Prize awards $100,000 to social entrepreneurs who start their businesses after age 60.

The U.S. General Services Administration has a list of challenges to award business owners who solve specific problems.

7. Go Back to Class

The idea of being a student again might seem like a drag. But if you need to beef up your business acumen, the good news is you can now learn from the comfort of your living room.

Podcasts, webinars, tele-seminars, ebooks, YouTube videos and slideshows are the new "teachers" enabling you to learn about any business subject.

8. An Internet Presence Is a Must

Even if most of your customers are by referral, you can give your business a boost by getting a website or blog.

A whopping 97 percent of Internet users look for local goods and services online. It is easier than ever to get your business online with tools like Wix, Weebly and Wordpress. Google and Intuit have partnered to offer Get Your Business Online, a website enabling small business owners to create a free website through 2013.

9. Your Mobile Device Is Now a Pocket Office

Your smartphone or tablet now gives you the ability to receive an email order, contact a customer and take a payment all at once, changing the paradigm of what point of sale means. There are numerous applications you can download that are invaluable for running your business.

And with such tools as Square, you can process credit and debit payments on your mobile device.

10. Use Social Media for Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Select the best network for your customers and one that you can maintain consistently. It's better to be effective on one network, than ineffective on all.

Look for social media workshops held by the Small Business Administration or the Small Business Development Center in your region. You can also learn online via courses for such websites as Baby Boomer Business Owner and

Judi Henderson-Townsend is owner of Mannequin Madness, a company in Oakland, Calif., that sells and rents mannequins and dress forms. Cynthia Mackey is a digital marketing expert in Oakland and runs Baby Boomer Business Owner workshops, seminars and webinars.

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