Entrepreneurship isn’t just for the young. Older adults are finding that starting a business can be the perfect way to turn a lifetime of experience into something meaningful, take control of their time, counter workplace ageism, and in some cases, make a lot more money.
“In the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, 50+-year-olds are launching more start-ups than any other cohort,” shares Kerry Hannon, the author of Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life. Hannon has been researching and interviewing older entrepreneurs for over a decade and is an enthusiastic cheerleader for those who want to strike out on their own. She’s also realistic about the challenges of building a business at any age.
Starting a business at an older age isn’t just about money, she emphasizes, though it can be a powerful motivator. “Getting rich can, and should, be also about the inner richness that comes from creating a new product or service that changes lives and our world and gives back,” Hannon writes. “It’s the richness of doing work we love, alongside people we respect.”
Here, seven entrepreneurs share the key advantages they discovered in starting a business in their 50s and 60s.
1. You can build on extensive experience
Kathy Kristof started her website SideHusl.com—an independent review site of online platforms that allow consumers to make money in the gig economy—at age 58 in part because she knew it was a perfect fit for her many years of experience as a journalist. In the course of researching opportunities in the “gig economy,” she couldn’t find any sites that offered independent and comprehensive reviews.
“When I started digging in to learn more about individual opportunities, I ran across a host of truly abusive sites that hid their exploitative terms,” she shares. “I hated the idea that my kids and their friends could get conned into working for rotten platforms.”
To launch her website, Kristof used her business experience to her advantage. “Thanks to years of reporting about businesses, I knew how to put together a business plan. And, because I spent decades taking my own personal finance advice, I was in a position to help fund the startup,” she says.
Take an inventory of your skills and connections and look for new ways to apply them to your own business. Experience counts and even governments are taking note of that. “[Japanese] Prime Minister Abe has created a new initiative called ‘Agenomics’ to harness the knowledge and resources of the largest and fastest-growing aging population in the world,” writes Elizabeth Isele, founder and CEO of The Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship, in the foreword to Hannon’s book. And “Finland is the first country to declare experience is its number one natural resource!” she adds.
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2. You have a great network
When Brian Weisfeld’s daughter was 8, he observed her frustration as she tried to sell Girl Scout cookies and run a charity bake sale. Wanting to help his daughter and other girls develop an entrepreneurial mindset, he decided to create a brand that would empower girls. Five years later, Macmillan Publishers published The Startup Squad, the first book in a series, which he coauthored with Nicole C. Kear.
Book publishing can be a brutal business, and Weisfeld, 51, says his network of contacts have been an enormous help. “The largest advantage for me was the network of contacts that I built up over my career which allowed me to reach people I didn’t have access to when I was younger,” he observes.
One of these contacts led him to Girls Inc. of NYC. Weisfeld’s company has recently teamed up with the non-profit to launch 100inspiring100, a program seeking 100 women leaders to each donate copies of his book to 100 girls in need. “I was introduced to Girls Inc. of NYC through a friend of mine who sits on their Board,” he says. “Without that connection, I would probably not have been able to create that partnership, which has enabled over 7,000 girls in need to receive a copy of the book.”
Hannon writes: “I can’t overemphasize the importance of networking to help your business get off the ground and grow. As I like to say, networking is one letter away from not working. Your network, your tribe, your believers are the ones who are going to propel you forward to success.”
3. You have financial skills
For 40 years, Richard Woods and his wife Judith owned Albany Woodworks, a reclaimed flooring business. It bothered Woods that he couldn’t find a good use for his sawdust waste. After several years of research, he created a green energy business called Waste to Energy Systems (WES) which uses gasification to turn sawmill, agricultural, manufacturing, and other types of waste into heat and energy.
Woods says that common sense, including financial sense, has played a vital role in his success. “One main concept that has helped is my understanding of how important it is to use your budget wisely,” he says. “While other companies were dumping tons of funds into research, we were spending our investment where it mattered most.”
Woods also feels being 62 years old when he launched his new business gave him an advantage. He explains, “As a younger person, I might have been swept up in the idealism of being a green energy company and may not have had a practical approach like I do now. However, my experience in the business world and dealings with my other company means I know that no matter how good a concept is, it had to make people money.”
If you want a business and not a hobby, you need to make money. “Dig into the numbers,” Hannon advises. “Do you think you could monetize (your business)? What do your potential competitors charge for their goods and services?”
4. You have good credit
Kerry Mellin, 61, and her sisters Merrily, 67, and Wendy, 65, launched their business four years ago because of the physical demands of their former careers as a motion picture costumer, director of early education, and a culinary chef. They had been mulling over ideas for a business they could start together, when Kerry, who suffers from osteoarthritis, fashioned a duct-tape cuff to hold her broom because her thumb hurt too much to hold it herself.