If you think you’re too old to start your own business, think again. About 26 percent of all recent startups were formed by people between the ages of 55 and 64, according to The Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. That’s up from 15 percent in 1996.
Risk-taking millennials often are thought to be the leading generation in terms of having an entrepreneurial mindset, but it’s baby boomers who may have the greater passion for launching a new business.
Britt Hysen, editor-in-chief of Millennial Magazine claims that “60 percent of millennials consider themselves entrepreneurs,” but Federal Reserve data shows the share of people younger than 30 who own a business is now at a quarter-century low.
In fact, the only age group with rising entrepreneurial activity in the last two decades is people between 55 and 64.
While Mary Ellen Tainer didn’t know those statistics, she did know that after a 27-year career in corporate America on Chicago’s North Shore, she wanted to do something very different. So in 2014, at the age of 63, she launched Marmalade Boutique in downtown Sawyer.
After three years in business, Tainer said she’s glad she took the leap into entrepreneurship.
“I had never worked in retail, but I’m loving it,” Tainer said. “The best part of owning your own business is reporting to yourself, and the lack of corporate stress.”
One of the hardest parts for Tainer in running a new business was learning point-of-sale technology and other business systems that were new to her.
“When you own your own business, you have to be able to do everything, or afford to pay someone to do what you cannot do, so I just had to embrace technology and learn new systems,” Tainer said.
While there was a lot to learn, according to Tainer, it was worth the effort to pursue her dream of owning her own business.
“You have to have purpose in life. A reason to get up and out every day. I enjoy this life, getting to know my customers,” Tainer said. “Looking back over the past three years, I love my life. It was worth the effort.”
Dennis Mack, owner of HandyPro of Southwest Michigan, launched his business at 56, but took the franchise route to entrepreneurship.
“In my previous ‘corporate’ job, I found a great deal of satisfaction with the construction component of my responsibilities. Following a re-structuring, I decided to pursue what energized me in my previous job,” Mack said. “Focusing on the home modification component of the construction industry added an element of mission to the remainder of my work life. A franchise enabled me to jump-start the arduous process of starting a business. There are many factors to consider, including how to finance a business.”
Mack said the best part of working for yourself is setting your own pace and your own schedule. The biggest challenges he cites are worrying about cash flow, and cautions it can take two to three years before your business starts to have a positive cash flow.
But perhaps the biggest challenge, Tainer said, is getting the right advice.
“You have to be bold, but you have to get help,” Tainer said. “So many people jump in without doing the research and getting the advice and support they need. Be confident, but do your research.”
The decision to start your own business can be both exciting and daunting. There’s local assistance to help you explore your options through a four-hour “Work for [email protected]+” workshop.
The workshop breaks the choices down, and gives you the information you need to succeed. The session looks at self-employment paths in contracting, freelancing, microbusiness and social enterprise, and helps people identify their own marketable traits, talents and skills. It also offers useful financial advice – regardless of participants’ specific financial situation.
Workshops are provided through a grant from AARP Foundation and the Hartford in partnership with Cornerstone Alliance.
Upcoming sessions are:
• 8 a.m.-noon Aug. 29 at the Area Agency on Aging, 2900 Lakeview Ave., St. Joseph
• noon-4 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Cass County Council on Aging, Front Street Crossing, 227 S. Front St., Dowagiac
• 8 a.m.-noon Oct. 11 at the Van Buren Conference Center, 490 S. Paw Paw St., Lawrence
• noon-4 p.m. Nov. 7 at the AAA
For more information, or to register for one of the workshops, contact AARP Foundation at 888-339-5617 or Stacey Stephens at Cornerstone Alliance at 925-0147.
Christine Vanlandingham is fund and product development officer of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.