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Assessing the Needs of Small Business Owners

Gaining insight into the motivations, challenges, and strengths of the age 45+ entrepreneur

Small business owners and entrepreneurs age 50-plus had to pivot in 2020 to deal with challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. To gauge the pandemic's impact, the AARP Work & Jobs team and The Federal Reserve Bank of New York conducted interviews with 25 small business owners age 45-plus, asking about their experience with business financing and the impact of the pandemic on their businesses. 

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Key Findings

  • All participants described 2020, and the business interruptions and shutdowns caused by COVID-19, as exceptionally challenging. While all the participants in this effort had managed to keep their businesses open, many described it as a struggle and said that they expected revenue and sales in 2020 to be lower than they had anticipated at the beginning of the year. ​
  • Many participants described having to make significant changes to their regular business operations to continue operating during business shutdowns and in light of COVID-19. ​
  • Many participants discussed how they were able to pivot during 2020 to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and business slowdowns. They described how they changed, expanded, or tweaked their business models—from products to delivery methods—to stay in business over the last year. ​
  • One of the most common operational impacts that participants described resulting from the pandemic was the need to implement new technologies and expand their overall digital presence in 2020.
  • Despite the challenges and setbacks that participants described facing their businesses in 2020, they also had many examples of achievements and accomplishments that they were proud to report. ​


The AARP team used contacts with national small business groups to identify business owners over 45 years old who fell into five segments: African American, Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander/Indian, Veteran, LGBTQ+.

Remote in-depth interviews (IDIs) were conducted via telephone with 25 entrepreneurs—five from each group—from November 2020 through January 2021. Interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes and addressed three major content areas:

  • Business owners’ experiences in 2020 and how COVID-19 affected their operations and business stability.
  • Their overall history with financing their business and experiences with financial advice, resources, and planning.
  • How AARP and the government can help support small business owners, particularly those over 45 years old.

As a qualitative effort, the goal of this research was to gather rich insights and stories from older entrepreneurs, adding depth and complexity to existing survey data. The findings described in this report should not be used to determine effect sizes or to generalize to the overall national population. Rather, these findings allow for better understanding of the attitudes, perceptions, feelings, and experiences of older small business owners.

For more information, please contact Jeffrey Love at For media inquiries, contact