Small Business Startup Tips for Older Workers


Small business makes up 99.7% of all employer firms in the U.S., according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Starting a small business may be scary for someone who has spent their career in Corporate. However, older entrepreneurs are twice as successful in opening up a new business.

Older workers are at a crossroads. We were brought up to believe that if we got a good education, worked hard, and stayed loyal, we would be rewarded with a continuous career be able to retire comfortably. But the reality is that many of us will need to keep working. And most of us enjoy being engaged at work and want to keep going in any event. Starting a small business is one way of staying engaged, and continuing to earn income. And there is every reason to take advantage of who we are and what we know.

Starting a small business may indeed be the answer to corporate uncertainty, ageism, and other factors that conspire against us in the marketplace. But what business to start? That question is a tough one, particularly if we need to start generating income sooner rather than later.

My own corporate career in the entertainment business went off the rails in the early 1990s, and starting my own business was my only real option. Founding a technology start-up during the dot-com era gave me a crash course in making the transition from executive to entrepreneur. Now, as a career coach, I’m helping other baby boomers make the same shift.

Here are three principles that have helped me and my clients start on a sound footing when making the jump into small business ownership.

Be Patient and Do the Prep Work

Don’t shortcut the research and due diligence needed to launch your small business. Don’t think that your first idea is your only idea – or your best idea. Impulsive moves like this could come back to haunt you. Sure, you want to avoid being out of work for too long. You may also lack confidence so you listen to what sounds like a good suggestion from a friend or colleague. Slow down! Don’t give in to short-term pressures.

Expertise is Not as Important as Passion

Don’t think that because you’ve grown up in one industry or sector that that’s all you can do.  Your experience and your expertise don’t limit you. They are actually the foundation that can support you starting most any kind of business.

The real key is: do you really want to do it?  Do you want to wake up every morning raring to go and excited to carpe the diem?

Yes, peeling off into a consulting business that is in the same field as the job or company you’ve just left is a great way to start. It is a proven path to success.  But if you’ve grown sick and tired of the work that you’ve been doing, maybe you should think twice. If that business no longer holds the same magic, maybe it’s time to expand your thinking – and your horizons.

Remember that in any new business, there will be tough days. You’ll need the passion to work through the obstacles and overcome the challenges. That passion is a more important factor than your familiarity with the business.  Hire domain experts and recruit advisers and board members to bring the necessary expertise.

You’re a Different Person Today

Remember that you’ve grown a lot since you were first starting out. Do you think you missed out on a certain ambition or business fantasy you had when you were younger? If you think that now is the time to fulfill it, think carefully. Your ideals and priorities may have changed with age, wisdom, and experience. And the economy has changed as well. For example, if you had always dreamed of opening a photography studio, consider how the photography business has been disrupted by digital…

The overall takeaway is to be extremely mindful of starting your small business. Every decision we make at this stage is one we’re going to have to live with. It’s one that we won’t be able to change as easily as when we were younger. So it’s important to make the right decision.

While it’s impossible to account for every eventuality, the good news is that starting a small business is easier and cheaper than it has ever been.

So what’s your next move?

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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