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Starting a Business After 50: Find Your Strengths

These three steps will help you zero in on an enterprise

By Margaret Manning and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

(This is the first article in a weekly series on Starting a Business After 50, originally published on

Thinking about starting a business after age 50? Most people think that successful businesses start with an idea. They don’t. Successful businesses start with a person. More specifically, successful businesses begin when a person recognizes his or her unique talents and sets out to improve the lives of others.

If this seems obvious, think about the number of people who never start a business because they “can’t think of an idea” or “don’t know where to start.” Many of these people could become successful freelancers, small business owners or entrepreneurs, if they examined themselves before looking for ideas.

As you begin the process of exploring your own talents and passions, don’t worry too much about whether your skills are “marketable.” This will come later in the process. For now, just enjoy getting to know yourself a bit better and gaining the confidence that you need to succeed.

Let’s explore how your experience, skills and passions can come together to form the basis for your profitable business after 50. This will be a three-step interactive process, so, get ready to do some writing.

Experience: What’s Your Story?

If you’re asked about your professional experience, the first thing that probably pops into your head is your resumé. Sure it says where you worked and when, what your responsibilities were and what you achieved. But a resumé almost never tells the “why” of your story, which is a shame, because this is usually the most interesting part.

So, if you’re contemplating starting a business, start writing your story. Write your answers to the following questions:

  • Which of your previous jobs made you the happiest? Why?
  • What three personality traits have helped you to succeed in your career? How did they help?
  • What one thing do you do better than most of the people in your profession? Why?
  • How would you describe your professional experience in one sentence?
  • What three words would people use to describe you?
  • What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Skills: What’s in Your Toolbox?

By the time we reach our 50s and 60s, we have acquired a number of skills. In fact, this is one of the main reasons that older entrepreneurs have an advantage over their younger counterparts.

Some of our skills are work-related, such as programming or writing. Others, like playing chess or painting, relate to our passions. Both are important sources of inspiration as we set out to start a business.

So, add a new section to the document you started and answer the following questions. Add as many skills as you can think of and don’t worry about how “good” you are at each; there will be plenty of time to filter these in future exercises.

  • What professional skills do you have?
  • What non-professional skills do you have?
  • What specific activities do people ask for your help with?
  • What else are you good at? Note: it’s OK to include traits, like being organized.

Passions: What Do You Love to Do?

While “doing what you love” isn’t enough to ensure that your future business will be successful, passion is still important. Why? Because, starting a business is hard. If you don’t care a lot about what you do, you will almost certainly give up along the way.

So add one more section to your document and answer a few questions about your passions. Don’t worry too much about whether you are good at the things that you love. The most important thing is to document what you love to do.

  • What activities do you enjoy so much that you lose track of time?
  • What activity would you try if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What do you enjoy teaching others?

Bringing it All Together

If you have made it this far, you have already done something that 90 percent of new business owners don’t do: You have taken an honest inventory of your experience, skills and passions.

In part 2 of this series, next week, we will begin the process of looking for business ideas that match your talents. For now, just enjoy the fact that you have gotten to know yourself a little better.

The work you have just done will form the basis for building a profitable business after 50 — and that’s a great start!

Margaret Manning Read More
Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX
By Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX

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