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Starting a Business After 50: Finding the Idea

Here are common categories and ways to locate opportunities

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

(This article originally appeared on and is the second in a weekly series about starting a business after 50.)

When I asked the 44,000 members of the Sixty and Me community what was preventing them from starting a business, by far the most common response was: “I don’t have a business idea.”

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the first step to take when starting a business is to examine your own strengths. But what next? How can you convert your passions, experience and skills into profitable work? How can you find a business idea that is right for you?

What Is a Business Anyway?

Part of the reason people have so much trouble thinking of a business idea is that their definition of “business” is too narrow. They think that starting a business involves inventing a new product or investing significant amounts of money in a retail business.

While both of these can be valid options, they are far from the only opportunities that are available to older entrepreneurs.

A business is anything that you do to make money. It’s that simple. From dog walking to soap making, freelance consulting to internet marketing, there are almost no limits to how you can put your skills to productive use.

Strictly speaking, you don’t even need to have a company to have a business, although you might want to for tax and legal reasons.

Let’s look at some of the most common categories that you can investigate as you look for your own business idea:

Freelancing — This is a huge category, covering self-employed work that you do for others in the fields of writing, software development, gardening, design, engineering, marketing, business and many others.

Product creation — This category involves creating a physical or virtual product in response to a need that you see in the market.

Retail — You don’t have to open a retail store to build a successful retail business. Coffee shops and smoothie bars are examples of retail opportunities.

Franchises — When you buy a franchise, you are purchasing someone else’s successful business model. McDonalds, Easy Hotel and Subway are all examples of franchises.

Online businesses — This category is closely related to the “product creation” category, but, since it has several unique attributes, it deserves to be called out separately.

The important thing to remember is that every business opportunity has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you have marketable skills and don’t want to invest a lot of money in starting your business, freelancing can be a great option. On the other hand, if you are more interested in passive income and don’t mind putting in the work, starting an online business may be a good option.

Not all of us want to create a big company, but almost all of us would like to earn a little extra money, on our own terms. So, let’s start by looking at the many freelancing opportunities that are available. Then, we’ll take a look at how to generate ideas in the other business categories.

Finding the Right Freelancing Opportunity

If, like many older entrepreneurs, you are not interested in starting a physical business or simply don’t have a lot of money to invest, freelancing can be a great option. The trick is to find an established freelancing category that matches your skills, passions and experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from.

Let’s make this more practical. Following is a list of freelancing categories, each of which already has significant demand. If you have already completed the exercises in Part 1 of this series, you can print this page and put a star next to the ones that you are interested in exploring in more detail.

Freelance Job Categories

Writing: Article writing, ghostwriting, article research, translation services, travel writing

Software & IT: Pay per click advertising, blog management, software development, app development, database administration, SEO

Design & Creative: Marketing materials, arts and crafts, video editing, presentation design, website design, audio editing, graphic design

Data & Admin: Article submission, customer support, data entry, virtual assistant, web research

Engineering: Engineering, technical project, management statistics

Marketing: Advertising concept, development, marketing strategy, social media marketing, market research, social media management

Business: Accounting, finance, business consulting, project management, business plan writing

Teaching/Tutoring: Test preparation, personal training, sports training, dance training

With so many freelancing opportunities available, there is sure to be one that matches your unique combination of skills and experience.

But what about passion? By the time we reach our 50s, don’t we deserve to do something we love, not just something that we know how to do? The answer is a qualified “yes.”

The hard truth is that “doing what you love” isn’t enough to ensure your success as a freelancer. At the beginning, you will need to make plenty of compromises as you build your reputation and your client list. But as you become more established, your options will increase.

I know plenty of successful business people who started out as freelancers and went on to build online courses or physical products, based on their passions. The great thing about freelancing is that it gives you the opportunity to start making money right away. It may not be a path to instant riches, but it can put you on the path to long-term financial success.

Identifying Product and Retail Businesses Opportunities


Freelancing provides almost unlimited options for making money after 50. But, what if you have your heart set on creating a business around a product or retail idea?

As Yahoo! Small Business Advisor points out, there have been plenty of examples of people starting successful product or retail companies, well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. For example, Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at 65.

If you know what you love, but don’t have a product idea, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What other companies are making money related to my passions or skills?
  • What frustrates me most about the activities I love to do? Could I fix this?
  • Could I make a small improvement to an existing product or retail model?
  • What do I hear people in my target market asking for?

Unlike starting a freelancing business, coming up with a retail or product idea can be a long process and there is no way to know when inspiration will hit. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to dedicate a few minutes every day to brainstorming, without judgment.

Not only will this give you the opportunity to come up with ideas during the brainstorming process, but it will also prime your brain to be on the lookout for ideas throughout the day.

Looking for Franchise Opportunities

What do the UPS Store, Dairy Queen, Dunkin Donuts and Super 8 Motel have in common? They’re all franchises. It may not seem particularly exciting to buy someone else’s idea, but that’s exactly the point. Franchise ownership shouldn’t be “exciting.” It should be “predictable” and, hopefully, profitable. has an excellent section on franchises if you want to dig into this topic in detail.

Selecting a franchise replaces the process of idea generation with idea filtering; your main goal is to find a franchise that meets your lifestyle and income goals.

Don’t forget that franchises provide much more than an idea. They also provide training, marketing materials, support and a recognizable brand.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you begin the process of evaluating franchise ideas.

  • What practical requirements do I have? For example, what hours am I willing to work?
  • What types of businesses am I most interested in?
  • What is the reputation and brand strength of each franchise?
  • What level of support do they provide to new franchisees?
  • Which option gives me the best potential reward-to-investment ratio?

A word or warning: don’t let anyone tell you that owning a franchise is easy. Franchises may be more predictable than the average new business, but they still require a great deal of effort.

Starting an Online Business

Of all of the potential business ideas out there, starting an online business sounds like the easiest. Just set up a website, post an e-book or two, sit back and watch the cash come rolling in. If only it were that simple!

The truth is that, while setting up a website is easy, establishing a profitable online business takes time, discipline and creativity. There are plenty of people who will be happy to take your money in exchange for teaching you how to build an online business. The problem is that most of them haven’t done it themselves!

Those caveats out of the way, starting a profitable online business is still possible, especially if you have a specific skill to teach and are comfortable with technology. Here are a few questions to consider as you brainstorm ideas for your online business:

  • Do you have specific skills you want to teach?
  • Can you find a targeted niche within a larger category? For example, “chair yoga for seniors” instead of just “yoga.”
  • Could you present old concepts in a new way? For example, if everyone is writing articles in your niche, could you use video?
  • What do you wish you had known when you were getting started with your skill or hobby?
  • Can you present existing concepts in a more entertaining way? Plenty of successful YouTube stars started this way.

Don’t Wait for the Perfect Idea

Regardless of whether you choose to go the freelancing route or to start a more traditional business, get started as soon as you can.

Once you have an idea you like, begin researching it. You will have plenty of opportunities to change course before you invest significant time or money in your new venture.

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

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