Part of the America’s Entrepreneurs Special Report
Nearly every week, I get an email or a call from a woman interested in starting a business and looking for advice. Generally, she’s over 50. Often, I suspect, she’s frustrated by a job hunt and has decided “what the heck, I have something I’ve always wanted to do and maybe the universe is trying to tell me something.”
If you’re a woman 50+ thinking of becoming your own boss, I say: go for it.
I’m not the only one. David Deeds, the Schulze Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, believes women over 50 are well suited to starting their own businesses. “First, they are willing to learn,” says Deeds. “Men, as we get older, tend to be set in our ways. Women, in general, are more open to learning and are collaborative. Entrepreneurship is a team sport, and women are good at working with others. That gives them a little advantage.”
Describing older entrepreneurs, Elizabeth Isele, founder and CEO of the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship and a 2017 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging says: “Talk about power and promise. Today’s senior entrepreneurs are dynamic economic engines. As they launch new businesses and create jobs, they’re revitalizing our economy.”
My conversations with blooming boomer women entrepreneurs inspire me for lots of reasons. But mostly it’s the aura of possibility and the creative thinking that surrounds them.
Working as your own boss in your dream field can sound romantic. But, truth is, it’s not always dreamy, as I write in my new book Great Jobs for Everyone 50: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy…and Pays the Bills.
There are start-up costs, and chances are, you won’t even be able to pay yourself a salary for the first year or so. Also, you might shrink your retirement savings if you dip into them to pay your bill. And, of course, you won’t have as much time to rebuild the savings as you would a decade ago.
But I don’t want to sound overly gloomy. With years of experience, you’re far more prepared to launch than a 20-something. Starting a business later in life lets you take advantage of the business experience you’ve built up, your network of connections and your road warrior-honed competitive skills.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of older entrepreneurs and profiled some of their success stories in my book What’s Next? and I’m always struck by their confidence, tenacity and hope. For most, the reward is an inner payout that blows right by any financial struggles and setbacks.
Your ultimate success in running a small business will come from having a clear vision. Before you get started, ask yourself: How much time can I really devote to it? How flexible do I want it to be?
7 Tips for Prospective Women Entrepreneurs
After that, I suggest following these seven tips, some of which come from Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ and some from Deeds:
1. Do the prep work. Find a mentor, someone you know who could guide you along your new path. If you’re lacking skills in marketing or finance, sign up for a community college or certification program. You might contact your area Small Business Development Center for assistance, too.
2. Spend a lot of time talking to your future customers. You need to really learn what their needs are and what their wants are, says Deeds. This is a brand-building exercise. You’re letting people know you are going to be starting a business. Conversing with them will help you learn about positioning and how to address the market.
3. Seek out virtual advice. Alice is a new, free (for now) virtual platform using artificial intelligence to connect female entrepreneurs with other business owners, government resources, potential funders and mentors. You enter your profile based on your industry, start-up stage, revenue, and location. Alice then curates your needs based on what you’re looking for. I wrote about the platform in this column.
The virtual mentoring service PivotPlanet.com lets you consult with advisers through one-on-one video and phone conferences. It’s designed to help build a concrete mentor relationship that can evolve over a series of sessions at regular intervals and on an as-needed basis. These meetings are billed hourly and can range in price from $60 to $120.
4. Write a business plan. In general, a simple plan — which you’ll have to submit to get financing — should be about 20 pages. Your business plan will include a summary of what your company will do, who the customers will be, why you are qualified to run it, how you’ll sell your goods and services and your company’s financial outlook. You will need a detailed description of the business, its location, your management team and your staffing requirements as well as a market analysis about your industry and competition and your sales and promotional strategy to reach your customers or clients. Finally, the business plan must have a realistic forecast of start-up outlays and how much you expect to sell and to earn.
5. Get your personal finances in order. When you start a business, Deeds notes, your personal finances and business finances are inseparable. Think through how much money you will need every month to run the business and for your personal life. Then, prepare accordingly. Pare down personal expenditures ahead of time, to prepare for that year or two before you start earning income.
6. Line up sources of funding. Most startups are funded with personal savings. It’s advisable to set aside at least six months of fixed living expenses, though. Try not to dip into your retirement savings; you’ll be subject to withdrawal penalties and income taxes and will lose the tax-deferred compounding that could serve you well in retirement.
If friends or relatives will lend you money interest-free or at a low rate, get the terms in writing. That way, you’ll avoid potential misunderstandings about interest and repayment. Tread lightly if you think borrowing this way might have the possibility of turning ugly.
You may want to pursue an economic development program for financing. For example, you could try getting your firm certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council as a woman-owned business; that can help you qualify for money available only to companies with that designation.
Also, check out the Small Business Administration’s network of nearly 100 Women’s Business Centers around the country. These offer state, local, and private grant information to women interested in starting for-profit or nonprofit businesses.
7. Pay attention to your accounting and taxes. Deeds suggests using simple, straightforward software such as QuickBooks. If you’re doing retail, he adds, make sure you understand sales tax law. The more familiar you are with small business taxes at the beginning, the fewer tax headaches you’ll have in the future.
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