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Want to Start a Business? Entrepreneurs Who Found Success at 50+ Offer Their Advice

M.J. Eckert, 53

Annapolis, Md.

Former career: Registered nurse

Current business: At age 50, she cofounded (with friend Nancy Fields) Lice Happens, a mobile head lice removal company that provides services in several states.

Two cents: "Besides having a passion for what you're doing, embrace new technology to optimize efficiency. Hire a geek. Leverage the relationships you have developed thus far through social media marketing. Document processes and procedures early so you can easily train additional help when you need it. And do it now. You're not getting any younger."

Joyce Kane, 57

Pittsburgh

Former career: Worked in infrastructure and telecommunications management for 30-plus years

Current business: At age 53, she started a Cybertary franchise offering virtual administrative assistance to businesses.

Two cents: "Be realistic in your goals. Becoming an entrepreneur after 50 has its trials and tribulations. Do not assume that since you were battle-worn yet triumphant in your first 50 [years], that your second 50 will be a snap. Try the Law of 5 strategy: Whatever you think it will take to get your business going — time, money, other resources — multiply it by five. If you think your expenses will be about $50,000, plan and budget for $250,000. If you estimate your revenue will be positive in six months, plan for it to happen in 30. If you feel meeting with three funding sources will get you your money, line up at least 15. If you think it'll take four contacts to convert a prospect to a client, plan on at least 20 before you land the deal. On the flip side for revenue and customers, plan for it to take five times what you think. If you plan to have 50 clients within a year, bank on landing 10. If your revenue projections in your business plan show an income stream of $250,000 by the end of your first fiscal year, ratchet it back to $50,000."

Frannie Martin, 67

Douglas, Mich.

Former career: Corporate marketing

Current business: At age 55, she founded Cookies on Call, an online cookie business.

Two cents: "Only work with people you can trust. I had to have our website done over three times, which cost me $20,000 for several redesigns. I wasted $15,000 not getting what we wanted. The key part that makes it work well now is the shopping cart. It's totally secure."

Lynn Brooks, 82

New York

Former career: Executive director of the International Center in New York, Inc.

Current business: At age 58, she started Big Apple Greeter, a nonprofit organization that pairs visitors to New York City with volunteer "greeters" who help them explore the city, free of charge.

Two cents: "I believe that anybody can accomplish anything. It's about having a vision and believing it. I had an idea to match visitors with volunteers. I did not plan to start a nonprofit or a business. I thought it would be an office in someone else's agency. People told me it wouldn't work. I went to the next person and the next. I wrote 50-75 letters asking for advice from key people. About a year and a half later, I got a 'yes.' The key is to not give up."

Editor's note: During the preparation of this story, Lynn Brooks unexpectedly passed away.

Find Help Starting a Business

Over the last 16 years, the number of entrepreneurs ages 55 to 64 has climbed by 10 percent, according to the Kauffman Foundation's latest report on business start-ups. During that same stretch, entrepreneurship in the 45-54 age group grew by 3 percent. It decreased by 3 percent among those ages 35-44.

Sure, older entrepreneurs generally have the edge with more years of managerial and other kinds of experience under their belts. But building a business is not for the faint of heart: it requires strategic planning, financial reserves, energy and zeal to put in 60- to 80-hour workweeks, or even more. That's in part why some encore entrepreneurs, like those you'll read about here, looked to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for guidance.

The SBA and AARP have teamed up to help match first-time business owners over the age of 50 with SBA resources and advisers.

"I find folks over 50 have the advantage of passion, commitment and focus that a more mature, experienced person brings to the table due to his or her life history," says Betty Otte, a business mentor with the Orange County, Calif., chapter of SCORE, an SBA-supported nonprofit that aids small businesses. "The desire to succeed is stronger because the need and target market for the business is usually already defined. There is a clear reason the person wants to start the business and many times it is because they have encountered the need themselves and found a way to solve it." — Stacy Julien

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