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Self-employment helping boomers stretch retirement savings

Marc Romanelli | Blend Images | Getty Images

There is one way to avoid outliving your money: Work longer, on your own terms.

You may not want to or be able to retire at 65 or 67, but so what. If you're doing work you enjoy in your own business, setting your own schedule, fulfilling goals you've set yourself—it may not even feel like work. Pursuing their professional dreams while working for themselves has enabled many older self-employed workers to secure their financial future.

A recent survey by AARP found 10 percent of workers ages 45 to 74 plan to start a business and 15 percent workers in this age range are already self-employed. Some start a business due to a job loss, others had already retired but weren't ready to fully stop working. On average, self-employed workers in their 40s or 50s may spend nearly two decades working for themselves, the AARP study found.

(Read more: Rethinking the 4-percent retirement rule in uncertain market)

Mary Parker, a 59-year-old entrepreneur, spent more than three decades navigating two challenging industries before taking the helm of her own firm. After she was downsized from her job at an auto manufacturing plant early in her career, Parker saw a job opening for a security officer.

Some people may have seen that as a step down from the managerial role she had held previously, but she saw the long-term potential of the position and began learning the business from the ground up.

"In terms of career opportunities. You never really think about a security guard being anything other than a guard. What I learned was the security industry is a very lucrative industry," she said.

While rising through the ranks, Parker thought she would be most fulfilled running her own firm.

"Although my career in corporate America was very successful," she said, "I just believe that any time you work for other people there are so many limitations."

Like many the self-employed, Parker focused on providing a service. In 2001, she founded ALL(n)1 Security Services, based in Atlanta, which provides security personnel and technology. As CEO, she runs a multimillion-dollar enterprise with more than 200 employees.

"What we see is that most of the individuals that start businesses later in life represent professional services," said Jane Setzfand, vice president for financial security at AARP. "Whether it be lawyers or accountants, data processing—that tends to be more of what we see in terms of older self-employed workers."

(Read more: Planning for long-term care can have a big payout)

What's perhaps most encouraging is that the AARP study found most of the businesses doing well.

"Once you have the life experience, you probably have a shorter pathway to being successful, and that is something we're seeing," Setzfand said. "The majority of the people who responded in our survey are profitable in their endeavors."

Nearly 75 percent of older self-employed workers surveyed by AARP indicated that their business made a profit in 2011. That may explain why nine out of 10 believe it is not likely they will have to stop working in the next year.

(Read more: Spanked on retirement, Gen X still doesn't get it)

Parker certainly intends to keep running her business. Thanks to a diversified portfolio of retirement funds and real estate investments, she could chart a new course in retirement, but she'll probably just keep working.

"When I'm ready to retire in the next three to five years, financially I don't have to worry about what that will look like," Parker said. "I will not have to work, although I know I will continue to work."

By CNBC's Sharon Epperson. Follow her on Twitter @sharon_epperson.

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