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

Women in conversation with laptop, Advice from entrepreneurs

Want to branch out on your own? Seek the advice of entrepreneurs who have done just that. — Chicasso/Blend Images/Corbis

You may think they're the least likely group to throw the dice on entrepreneurship. For the 50 and over set, retirement — or at least slowing down — is usually top of mind.

See also: Why you need a mentor

But a growing number of older adults are doing just the opposite. They're picking up the pace by starting their own companies in a move to control their financial destiny as new entrepreneurs.

Do you see yourself starting a business now or in the future? Consider these nuggets of wisdom from business owners who are succeeding at it right now.


Annemarie du LeBohn, 51

Orange County, Calif.

Former career: Corporate marketing

Current business: At age 50, she launched a motivational speaking business.

Two cents: "Find a business mentor. I went to SCORE. Having a good mentor helps you cut through the BS. They will tell you like it is. Do you have a good idea? Will your concept work? Once you're 50, you don't want to waste your time."


Barbara Hyatte Boustead, 61

Madison, Wisc.

Former career: Licensed clinical social worker for 37 years

Current business: At age 60, she started Mary's Daughter in order to provide daily money management services to older adults and veterans.

Two cents: "Develop your team, people who will help you take your business where you want it to go. For me, it's my business coach, website support and others. Take the risk and have fun. Unlike during my younger years, when I wanted to prove myself and was driven to 'be successful,' this time around it's about leaving a legacy and pursuing dreams. It's about incorporating my business and retirement goals with my personal values."


Gary Bickford, 68

Knoxville, Tenn.

Former career: Worked in medical diagnostics

Current business: At age 55, he returned to school to become a family nurse practitioner and founded the Healthy Life Clinic, a medical clinic for lower-income individuals.

Two cents: "Don't grow too fast. Early success can pin you into making poor decisions."

After opening one profitable clinic, Bickford expanded to five clinics, which he found difficult to sustain. "I couldn't keep up with demand. I didn't have the right staff people to help me."


Yuval Zaliouk, 74

Maumee, Ohio

Former career: Orchestral conductor

Current business: At age 50, while still conducting, he started Almondina Cookies, sold in retail stores around the country, in several foreign countries and on the company's web site.

Two cents: "Know your product and know how to sell it. If you are familiar with the saying, 'selling ice to Eskimos,' you will be aware of the necessity as an entrepreneur to develop good salesmanship. You must develop the ability to sell, or better put, to convince people to buy. Also, think carefully how to market your product, and be 100 percent confident about the merit of your product or service. My long career in the arts taught me one important lesson; if the main door is shut, look for the side or back door. They always exist and are much less guarded."

Next page: A "lice" success story. »


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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