The Boomer Entrepreneur: Never Too Old to Launch a Business
The following is a guest commentary for CNBC.com.
My grandfather is still going strong at 88. And I don't mean just getting by. Perhaps he's slowed a bit, but his clients wouldn't know it. An entrepreneur with an automotive parts aftermarket distributorship, he services his customers' needs with "high touch," often showing up in person to deliver their goods. And who is helping him keep his books? You guessed it. My 82-year-old-grandmother.
It's becoming less frequent that we hear of someone's "traditional" retirement. With people feeling healthier and living longer, coupled with a down economy that has reduced retirement savings, many Americans of traditional retirement age are choosing to continue working or even go back to work — for themselves.
In many ways, their personal and professional experiences position members of this storied generation to be successful entrepreneurs. (More: 11 Notable Entrepreneurs Teaching the Next Generation)
As a result, "baby boomers," people born before 1965, are significantly redefining the marketplace as they launch and grow businesses, bringing with them a wealth of experience, talent and passion.
Numbers bear out the trend. The 2011 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that the percentage of firms created by Americans ages 55 to 64 grew more than any other age demographic, up 6.6 percent to 20.9 percent in 2011 vs. 14.3 percent in 1996.
Success, however, isn't guaranteed. To increase their odds as founders, baby boomers must carefully consider financing options, establish comfort with social media, and embrace intergenerational thinking in their business ventures. They also are advised to research various firm options, among them true startups, franchises and takeovers of established firms.
My organization, Kauffman FastTrac® — dedicated to providing the education, tools, resources and information to help entrepreneurs start and grow successful companies — is working to address the needs of boomer entrepreneurs. For starters, we have compiled resources and created curriculum tailored for boomers. (More: Could the U.S. Run Out of Entrepreneurs?)
And in collaboration with AARP and FastTrac affiliates in select U.S. cities, we are piloting specialized courses (in English and Spanish) for boomer entrepreneurs seeking to start and grow businesses. Based upon what we learn about their level of interest, we hope to expand in the coming year.
We are already seeing the fruits of this labor. In my hometown of Kansas City, a group of aspiring boomer entrepreneurs has gathered for learning sessions for the past several weeks; many have already launched new companies.
Though the specifics of their stories vary, one thing is consistent — each believes his or her time has come to take the entrepreneurial plunge. Boomer FastTrac participants say their business ideas have percolated for a number of years, but they now feel equipped to test the market feasibility of those concepts, conduct their due diligence and launch their ventures.
For boomers willing to take on business ownership for the first time, the payoffs can be many: added financial security, a chance to embark on a new chapter of life, and an opportunity to transform a beloved hobby into a career. (More: What Is the Worth of an Ivy League Education?)
I offer a few words of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, boomer or not:
• Whatever your motivation for launching a business, be sure you are genuinely enthused about the product or service you are creating. If not, you may come to resent the demands the business puts on your time. Your passion will sustain you through the tough times.
• Acknowledge that you will likely put in much longer hours than traditional employees, that owning a company requires business planning skills, and that you will be required to manage risk and multi-task. Draw from your experience as you serve in the many capacities required of your business: CEO, business development/sales, IT, accounting and more.
• Surround yourself with a strong support network. Family, friends, mentors, advisers, staff and others can complement your skill set for daily operations and, at all times, cheer you on from the sidelines.
Go ahead. Start up your idea!
Alana Muller is president of Kauffman FastTrac, a global provider of training to aspiring and existing entrepreneurs, giving them the tools, resources and networks to start and grow successful businesses. Kauffman FastTrac was created by the Kauffman Foundation. Muller has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, where she was the recipient of the Mike and Karen Herman Fellowship for Women in Entrepreneurship, and an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Smith College. She was recognized as a 2012 Influential Woman by KC Business magazine. Muller is the author of a book, Coffee Lunch Coffee: A Practical Field Guide for Master Networking, and a companion blog located at www.CoffeeLunchCoffee.com. Follow her on Twitter @AlanaMuller.