Seniors In Business
Seniors In Business
Chalk it up to the baby boomers' refusal to fade into the
background, but 21st century retirement bears only a vague
resemblance to the "golden years" of past generations. True,
some traditionalists continue to spend newfound leisure time on
the golf course or at bridge club. A significant number, though,
are viewing retirement as an opportunity to start over with new
plans, new goals, new careers.
As reported in a study by the Pew Research Center's Social
& Demographic division, about 54% of workers ages 65 and
older say they continue to work primarily because want to.
What's more, a fair number choose self-employment - 15% among
those ages 50 to 64 and 25% among workers 65 or older.
The reasons seniors become entrepreneurs - sometimes dubbed
seniorpreneurs, gray entrepreneurs or third age entrepreneurs -
vary. Some have always wanted to start a business, but lacked
the financial or family flexibility to follow through. Some see
it as a progression of their career. Some must go this route
because they lack acceptable alternatives and enough money to
retire early. Others simply can't warm to the idea of enforced
Whether deciding to remain in a current job, seek new
employment or start a business, older citizens do have choices
to make - and resources to help them do so.
Evaluating Your Options
Older entrepreneurs may find starting a business easier than
their younger counterparts because they have confidence born of
experience, industry credibility, a career track record and
established assets. On the other hand, business ownership can
eat up every second of free time and may pose a serous threat to
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) suggests a
planned approach to deciding whether to launch an enterprise or
take on a salaried job. Here are some pointers:
- Determine how much risk is acceptable. Consider
time investment, financial safety nets, health coverage
cost and employability in the job market if the business
- Decide whether your current salaried position
can provide the same rewards as self-employment. Sometimes,
negotiating new, creative assignments, more flexible hours
and a change in department can be as satisfying as going it
- Consider a transition plan. Some older
entrepreneurs hold on to full-time jobs while developing
their companies after-hours. Others switch to part-time
schedules to focus on their own businesses.
- Take time to prepare. If entrepreneurship is a
real possibility, devise a strategy a year or so before
retirement looms. Enroll in a small business start-up
course. Or write a business plan, and then invite
professional input from support organizations such as SCORE
(www.score.org) or a Small Business &
Technology Development Center (SBTDC).
- Take family into account.Launching a new
business can eat into time spent with loved ones - even
more than a regular job. And when a small company is
home-based, the issue becomes too much togetherness.
- Failure, unfortunately, is always a possibility.
What will happen to your family if your business is slow to
make a profit or sinks entirely? Plot out the scenarios
with a financial planner and make sure that you have an
- Explore other investment options.When
launching a venture strictly for monetary reasons, other
options may generate better returns. Consult a financial
specialist for guidance.
The Entrepreneur: Access to Capital
A small-business grant would be a terrific source of start-up
money - if they were more available. In fact, while the U.S.
government provides a slew of other resources, neither federal
nor state government agencies offer grants for starting a
company or paying off debt or covering operating expenses. This
includes "special" gifts for minorities, veterans, the disabled
or anyone else. Given this, loan programs are the most likely
funding source for senior entrepreneurs.
While the federal government does not lend money directly to
small businesses, it does offer lender guaranties, a security
blanket that encourages private banks and lending institutions
to approve loan applications. These include a variety of
low-interest loan programs for business owners who may be
finding it tough to procure traditional loans. The SBA offers
the most for senior entrepreneurs, including:
All 7(a) loans are provided by non-government lenders,
which include the majority of American banks, as well as
some non-bank lenders. Available on a guaranty basis and
structured on SBA requirements, this program requires that
applicants be both eligible and creditworthy. In a
nutshell, applicant businesses must: meet SBA size
standards, be for-profit, lack business or personal
resources to come up with financing and be able to
In cooperation with Certified Development Companies, the
504 Program, a financing tool for community economic
development, offers small businesses long-term, fixed-rate
financing for major fixed assets, such as buildings and
land. Usually, a 504 project includes a private-sector loan
secured with a senior lien covering up to 50% of the
project cost, a loan secured with a junior lien from the
CDC covering up to 40% of the cost and a contribution of a
minimum 10% equity from the applying small business.
This program, which recently received additional funding
through the Recovery Act.works with commercial lenders to
provide loans in amounts too small (up to $35,000) to be of
interest to larger loan programs. Small business owners are
the target market, particularly those with minimal capital
Because SBA loans come through commercial sources, business
owners must visit their local participating banks or lending
or a list of SBA lenders.
Lenders typically consider the following criteria:
- Ability to Repay. Banks look at business cash
flow and collateral, so start-up owners should put together
a loan package detailing a projected repayment plan.
- Credit History. Obtain your personal credit
rating well before applying for a loan. Errors take up to
four weeks to rectify, so make sure it is correct and up to
date. For help in interpreting or evaluating your credit
report, consult an accountant or banker you know
- Equity. Even start-up business owners usually
must invest some personal funds into the company. The
amount depends upon the type of loan.
- Collateral. These are those personal and
business assets that can be sold to repay a loan. Most loan
programs, including microloans, mandate at least some
- Experience. Entrepreneurs lacking experience in
their new businesses should not apply for loans unless they
plan to take on partners or staff familiar with the field.
In addition, the owner should take time to work in the
discipline first, as well as enroll in related
For additional guidance on small-business funding, visit
Business.gov at http://search.business.gov/startLoans.html.
The Entrepreneur: Procurement
Some of the most lucrative business relationships for
seasoned entrepreneurs come through government sector contracts.
Big government purchases a host of goods and services, including
appliances, office equipment, automobiles, clothing, food items,
electronics and much more. Obtaining one of these deals is both
an art and a science, but is eminently doable. Refer to these
protocols when bidding on government work.
- Research and prepare. The Small Business
Administration's Web site (www.sba.gov) offers an in-depth
overview of policies and procedures around loans, including
tips and contact numbers. Other good sources are: the
National Center for Small Business Information
(ncsbi.fit.edu) which offers classes on government
contract procurement at all levels. Specific opportunities
are available at FedBizOps.gov (www.fbo.gov/index), including a
comprehensive listing of agencies and departments that
regularly request bids. The SBA likewise provides an
extensive online list of government procurement offices at
- Understand that competitive bidding may be part of
the process. Federal guidelines make the lengthy
process well-nigh mandatory in most cases. For this reason,
do not expect a quick decision in vendor choice.
- Ensure a solid CCR profile. The CCR is a
government-wide registry for organizations wishing to do
business with the federal government. Besides allowing for
automatic payment transfers when doing business, it also
requires a brief company profile - a real opportunity to do
a little marketing.
- Understand the bidding process. The government
issues an "Invitation to Bid" when work is available.
Though instructions are detailed, deadlines can run 30 days
or less. For this reason, always keep company information
handy in boilerplate form. This makes it fairly simple to
save time by to filling in final details according to the
- Design a competitive bid. Low pricing is not
always a deciding factor in winning a bid. Experts point
out that companies with strong histories and excellent
performance records typically land the best contracts; so
emphasize these points in your proposal
- Network and collaborate. Companies too small to
handle contracts in their entirety should team up with
other businesses who also want government work. In
addition, economic development organizations provide deep
support for business owners needing to connect with peers
and colleagues for contract procurement.
Older entrepreneurs can get plenty of support in establishing
post-retirement businesses - and smart ones do. But once
operations are humming, many find themselves wanting to help
someone else in turn. Becoming a mentor allows an
older, experienced individual to share expertise, wisdom and
guidance with younger people in a similar profession or line of
A responsible mentor typically:
- Provides support by listening to a
protégé's needs and concerns
- Guides protégés through problematic
- Helps protégés establish personal and
- Provides professional opportunities, where
- Commits sufficient time to the relationship
Though a mentor-protégé relationship may
develop from academic and professional liaisons, several
organizations assist in connecting the right people.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) is
likely the best-known mentor group, with chapters in towns and
cities nationwide. A nonprofit association, SCORE is dedicated
to educating entrepreneurs and facilitating the establishment,
growth and success of small businesses. The SCORE counselor
staff consists of retired business owners and professionals who
share their knowledge and experience at no cost to the client.
To learn more about getting involved, visit www.score.org.
Established in 1991, Menttium is a private company
aiming to foster development and diversity in the business
community by designing mentoring systems consistent with the
mentor's business strategy. Programs include formal one-to-one
mentoring processes; formal internal group mentoring process;
and self-directed processes. In all cases, the company matches
mentors and protégés through a personalized
process. More information is available at www.menttium.com.
icouldbe.org is a volunteer organization in which
mentors work with at-risk teens online to help them with
educational and career planning. Youngsters participate through
their schools or after-school programs, choosing mentors
matching their interests. Volunteer mentors must commit to at
least one hour per week.
Elder Wisdom Circle (www.elderwisdomcircle.org) enrolls people age 60 or
older to counsel younger folks who visit the Web site.
Currently, 200 volunteer mentors belong, answering questions on
topics ranging from careers and business to relationships and
AARP (www.aarp.org) continually updates its data base of
mentor and volunteer opportunities for seniors, so check back
occasionally for new entries.
Without the social support inherent in a 9-to-5 job, senior
entrepreneurs may find they lack connections to keep them in the
professional and communal loop. Of course, local chambers of
commerce, universities, professional organizations and senior
centers have always provided opportunities for older
entrepreneurs, but these days, the easiest way for the harried
business owner to keep in touch is by getting online.
Web sites such as Facebook (www.facebook.com)
and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) offer quick access to
virtually thousands of fellow subscribers. Moreover, savvy
seniors have found that setting up a business page on one of
these sites is a simple, inexpensive way to market.
Social networks usually are free, requiring only an e-mail
address and password. Most ask for a profile (rather like a
resume), which can be as limited or extensive as you wish. These
networks are relatively easy to navigate, providing numerous
prompts for any function, so even beginners should be able to
Although hundreds of pages have sprouted since the movement
began a few years back, a handful court the baby-boom
generation. These merit a look:
Eons.com (www.eons.com) is the online community for those
born between 1946 and 1964 (or earlier). An offshoot of
Monster.com, the employment site, Eons.com allows subscribers to
keep in touch with friends and family, pursue interests and
explore new areas. Dozens of groups, many devoted to business
and technology, are open for membership.
Seniorocity, an online community for mature adults and
seniors, enrolls members age 40 and older. In addition to
postings, videos and photos, the site hosts a slew of special
interest groups, with business and money among the most popular.
AARP, the granddaddy of senior citizen organizations,
hosts a lively online community, too. Featuring more bells and
whistles than most sites (e.g. featured discussions and videos),
members can participate in discussion groups on numerous topics,
and also submit videos, journal entries and photos. For details,
go to www.aarp.org/onlinecommunity.
Opting for the Workforce
Seniors who decide entrepreneurship is not for them still
have some chores ahead of them - particularly when seeking new
careers. Sometimes, the best way to decide what to do next is to
get outside help.
A qualified career counselor will help clarify career goals,
write resumes, teach interview skills and put together an
individualized career plan. This comes at a cost, though, so
it's a good idea to pursue other avenues first.
An excellent resource is the AARP Foundation Senior Community
Service Employment Program (SCSEP). This initiative helps senior
job seekers sharpen skills, obtain training and, ultimately land
jobs. Visit http://www.aarpworksearch.org/ for
details on how to get started.
Community colleges likewise have a lot to offer senior job
seekers, with classes on everything from business management and
computers to course work in specific disciplines. Many offer
internship programs and job search services. To locate one in
your area, check out the Community College School Guide,
Upon establishing a post-retirement career path, most senior
job seekers will need an updated resume. Extensive skills,
experience, perspective and a mature work ethic are assets, and
a resume should emphasize this. Here are some guidelines culled
from AARP and other experts.
- Know what a prospective employer seeks. Check a
company's Web site to learn about its business strategy and
products and how it treats employees. The exercise will
help position personal experience and skills most
- Highlight accomplishments. Think about the
positive results created for previous employers. Use verbs
such as "established," "developed" and "organized" to
introduce the accomplishments.
- Mind the length. One page may not be enough for
a long, distinguished career, but more than two pages is
probably overkill; highlight only the most salient aspects
of work and experience.
- Keep it relevant. Non-work experience and
hobbies are useful to include—but only if they
highlight skills or interests relevant to an employer
- Address gaps in work history. In the case of
lengthy absences from work, identify activities (e.g.
classes, volunteer work) for that period that showcase
- Avoid personal information such as age, height,
weight, sex, race or religion.
- Offer an e-mail address. This has become the
preferred method of communication for those who handle
hiring at companies.
Once a job interview is in place, seniors may encounter some
anxiety, which is certainly understandable. For the best
outcome, experts suggest handling the entire process
- Prior to the interview, try to relax. Deep breathing,
exercise or a good book all can help.
- Be professional: Timeliness, appropriate dress, clear
diction and positive body language are important.
- Most employers will ask: How can you add to the
success of our company? Be prepared to answer.
- Expect questions on personal behavior, such as "Tell me
about a time when you had to deal with a difficult boss."
Describing real-life examples is the best way to go.
- Emphasize achievements and skills rather than your
length of experience.
- Answer questions directly and concisely. Always ask for
clarification if a question is confusing.
- Avoid negative remarks about former employers or
- Respond to age-related questions by focusing on skills
and job-related experience. Emphasize willingness to work
with younger people, offering examples from a prior
- Ask informed, specific questions. Researching the
market and company prior to the interview, visiting the
corporate Web site and reading articles about the firm in
question are all sound practice.
- At the end of the interview, reaffirm your interest in
the job. Summarize your strengths and how you can help the
organization. Finally, ask about the timeline for a
- Do not mention salary unless the interviewer brings it
up. If asked, inquire what range the employer has in mind.
If pressed, say "negotiable."
- Follow up with a hand-written thank you note, and wait
a few days (unless you're told to call) before checking
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