Ten Tips for Senior Entrepreneurs

PBS NewsHour Economics Correspondent Paul Solman reports on late bloomers who decided to take the plunge into self-employment. Watch his full report above.

Paul Solman: Mannequin Madness. That’s where we met Judi Henderson-Townsend and Cynthia Mackey — at Townsend’s “body shop” in Oakland, Calif., a few weeks ago. We were shooting a story on “senior” entrepreneurs and though both looked young enough to be my daughters, both are in their 50s. That makes these budding entrepreneurs surprisingly long of tooth by traditional standards.

Traditional standards, however, haven’t kept up with the economy, or the Baby Boom, or both. We seem to be entering an era of new firms run by “old” entrepreneurs.

Here are the pair’s 10 Tips for Senior Entrepreneurs.

Cynthia Mackey and Judi Townsend: Paul asked that we introduce ourselves. So when we first started our businesses, we were both refugees from corporate America and we were both over 40. Cynthia had a history of entrepreneurship in her family while Judi fell into it. We both started bootstrap ventures, with far more passion than capital.

Cynthia had been working as a technology consultant and saw a niche to fill in training baby boomers to use social media to grow business. She launched BabyBusinessBoomerBusinessOwner.com as a means to do just that. Judi, by contrast, was an accidental entrepreneur. While purchasing a mannequin for an art project, she stumbled across a mannequin vendor who was going out of business, bought his inventory on a whim, and launched MannequinMadness.com.

While we came to our businesses in different ways, we discovered that we were on the leading edge of the same new trend — senior entrepreneurship. The tips below are based on our experience of being and hiring senior entrepreneurs.

According to SmartBizTrends.com, the new face of start-ups is a senior citizen. If you are thinking of starting a business, here are 10 tips from two “seniorpreneurs”.

1. You Are Never Too Old to Start a Business
Think it’s foolhardy to start a business because you’re a senior? People age 55-64 have a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those age 20-34. Check out these successful seniorpreneurs.

2. Turn Passion into Profit
No idea is too odd to find success, as these 10 off-the-wall businesses demonstrate. Building a business ignited by your passion fuels the time and energy required to propel you to success. Yes, more than passion is a necessity, but without it, your desire to get through peaks and valleys will wane and that will affect your business overall.

3. Build a Community of Positive Influences
Being an entrepreneur at any age is daunting. Seek out people and resources who will encourage you to “go for it” instead of naysayers. In April, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and AARP are sponsoring National Entrepreneur Mentor Month at offices throughout the country as well as online. Senior Entrepreneurship Works is a nonprofit organization designed to help seniors aged 50-plus build sustainable businesses.

4. Make your Workspace Fit Your Lifestyle
Owning a business no longer requires leasing an office space or storefront. You can set up an online store with sites like Etsy, Ebay and BigCommerce to sell your products online. If your business does require an office, co-working spaces are flexible and cost-effective options. As long as you have Internet access, you can connect with your customer, staff or sales data from anywhere.

5. Staff as you Grow with Freelancers
You can find talented independent contractors to do short or long term projects for your business on an as-needed basis. This helps manage your costs, while growing your business revenues. If you can’t find the talent you need locally, here are the 20 best online sites to find virtual assistance.

6. Be Innovative with Your Funding Sources
Before you raid your savings, consider grants, contests and crowdfunding. This 89-year-old grandmother utilized Kickstarter to fund her decorative walking cane business. The Purpose Prize awards $100,000 to social entrepreneurs who start their business after age 60. The U.S. General Services Administration has a list of challenges to award business owners who solve specific problems. Create Google alerts to get information on business contests emailed to you.

7. Go Back to Class
The idea of being a student again might seem like a drag but if you need to beef up your business acumen the good news is you can now learn from the comfort of your living room. Podcasts, webinars, tele-seminars, ebooks, YouTube videos and slide shows are the new “teachers” enabling you to learn about any business subject.

8. An Internet Presence is a Must
Even if most of your customers are by referral, you can give your business a boost by getting a website or blog. A whopping 97 percent of Internet users look for local goods and services online. It is easier than ever to get your business online with tools like Wix, Weebly and WordPress. Google and Intuit have partnered to offer Get Your Business Online, a website enabling small business owners to create a free website through 2013.

9. Your Mobile Device is now a Pocket Office
Your smart phone or tablet now gives you the ability to receive an email order, contact a customer and take a payment all at once, changing the paradigm of what point of sale means. There are numerous applications you can download which are invaluable for running your business. And with tools such as the Square you can process credit/debit payments on your mobile device.

10. Use Social Media for Word of Mouth Marketing
Select the best network for your customers and one that you can maintain consistently. It’s better to be effective on one network, than ineffective on all. Look for social media workshops hosted by the SBA or the Small Business Development Center in your region. Or learn online via courses such as Baby Boomer Business Owner and Lynda.com.

Judi Henderson-Townsend is the owner of Mannequin Madness, an award-winning small business that rents, sells and recycles mannequins.

Cynthia Mackey is a tech-savvy online marketer and founder of BabyBoomerBusinessOwner.com, a website offering courses on how small business owners can use social media to grow their business.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions

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