Ask SCORE: At age 50, am I too old to start a business?

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 24, 2013 

Question: I'm coming up on the big-five-oh birthday. According to AARP, I will then officially become a "senior citizen." Is it too late for me to start my own business?

Answer: Relax; you have plenty of time, and also lots of company. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP recently partnered to put an emphasis on educating seniors about this exact matter. There are loads of opportunities. Let's talk about this.

First off, unless you want to ride off into the sunset right now (and most of us don't) there are lots of reasons to start a business later in life. Check this: Ray Kroc started McDonalds at age 52. Harland Sanders franchised KFC when he was 64. Steve Jobs brought his greatest innovations to Apple in his late 40s. So it's not just the twenty-somethings like Mark Zuckerberg who innovate and start businesses. OK, let's all say it together: "Fifty is the new thirty."

According to a recent news release, the SBA and AARP are launching their strategic alliance to provide counseling and training to entrepreneurs over the age of 50 who want to start or grow a small business. The SBA will offer online training courses and help from its nationwide network of SCORE business mentors and counselors. The two organizations expect to train 100,000 "encore entrepreneurs"- men and women over 50 who are starting, or running, small businesses.

SBA has set up a dedicated Web page for Americans over 50. It features an excellent self-assessment tool to help potential small-business owners understand their readiness for starting a business. There also is information to help with business planning, shaping a winning business idea, counseling, financial services and information to find local resources in our area. You should check this site out: .

We need to be frank about the issue of elder employability. It is difficult in the current economy for an older candidate to find traditional employment. There's a general impression, often wrong, that older workers are too set in their ways; are probably overqualified; may resent reporting to someone younger; and have low-level tech skills. This is unfair and unspoken but common.

Most of the public discussion recently has centered on things like how to prepare an attention-getting resume; tips for using employment websites; and job-hunting suggestions like networking. But after months or even years of trying, many seniors are deciding to look into starting their own businesses.

Here are five points of advice for starting a new business as a senior:

Do your homework. Don't just assume that a hobby or other interest of yours will be the basis for a successful business. You'll need to do research on the market for your products and services. In particular, who are your target customers or clients? What are their needs? How will you reach them? What is your competition?

Have a realistic timeline. Planning a business involves lots of goal setting and forecasting. Planning out a 15- or 20-year timeline when you're 30 is fine. But for someone at 50 or 60 or older, it's unrealistic. The lure of that special vacation, or spending time with the grandkids, may be strong.

Be realistic about your physical stamina and abilities. Some businesses, for examples construction and landscaping, are inherently very physically demanding. As time goes on, this reality may require you to add staff who can step in to do the heavy lifting in your place.

Consider buying a franchise. In general, franchises have several strong points that attract older folks.

They are typically profitable much sooner than an independent business might be.

Franchises generally involve lots of standardization and simplification: of products, procedures, marketing materials and a strong brand awareness.

Be sure to read the Franchise Disclosure Document carefully, and talk to current franchisees.

Check out UnhappyFranchisee.com.

Get good financial advice. A common and serious mistake is to plow all of one's savings, retirement funds, 401(k) accounts and any other assets into the business. Of course you will have some initial investment to put up, and it's likely you'll have to "feed" the business for its initial months. Be sure you start with a written business plan and fact-based financial projections. Also, it's best to have a "stop-loss" strategy. This is where you define a future point where, if necessary, you will shut down the business rather than incur more losses.

You'll be hearing more in the media about "silver startups" and "older-preneurs." To explore further, look into these sites:

2young2retire.com,

sba.gov.

score.org, and

aarp.org/work.


ABOUT SCORE

To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business." SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization,visit SCORE.org.

Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com.

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