How to Start Your Own Business

I’ve started small home business in my 20s as well as in my 50s. Were there any differences in the process based on my age alone? Yes, and if you’re an over-50 entrepreneur, it helps to keep them in mind.

To begin with, when I was younger, I had the boundless optimization that is bred by the naivety of youth. I hadn’t been through much hardship in my life, and so didn’t think anything bad could really happen to me, including the possibility of my business failing. Therefore I went boldly forward with few resources or contingencies in place.

At 50, I had, like many people, been through some very serious problems in my life, including my wife being diagnosed (mistakenly, it turned out) with terminal cancer. Therefore, I considered the pros and cons of my new business plan more carefully, and should things have turned sour, I would not have been badly hurt.

Even though I had only a few thousand dollars in my bank account when I was in my early 20s, I felt more able to take risks because I also had relatively few financial responsibilities: no family, no mortgage, and (living in Manhattan) no car payments. Plus, when you’re young, if your business tanks and you lose it all, you have plenty of time to make it back.

You’d think older entrepreneurs with their greater net worth would be more financially courageous, but the opposite is often true. If you’re 50, and your business bombs and draws down your retirement nest egg, you may not have time or earning power to make it back. Therefore, many 50+ entrepreneurs are afraid to take big financial risks.

Yet for many of the over-50 entrepreneurs who are willing to take financial risks, the money to start a business is there. If I wanted to launch a business with $100,000 start-up costs, I could do it without borrowing. Yet on the TV show Shark Tank, you see people giving away 10 to 50 percent of their entrepreneurial ventures to investors who in exchange pay them a sum in the high five or low six figures.

Younger entrepreneurs are often fueled by boundless – and some might say naïve – optimism. Optimism propels people to action, which is a good thing, but it can give them unrealistic expectations, which isn’t so good.

As an old dog entrepreneur, you have to learn new tricks, and it may take a lot of practice to break old habits. For instance, my children laugh that when I need a business phone number, I look in the Yellow Pages and not Google. When my youngest son saw that AARP sent me a free transistor radio as a premium, he laughed again: “No one listens to the radio on a radio,” he said.

One of the things I envy younger entrepreneurs is their seemingly infinite energy. Some of the more famous Internet marketers I know go at their online business 24/7. I work hard too, but once I hit 50, I saw that my own energy had limits.

Perhaps the biggest difference between younger and older entrepreneurs is this: in their quest to be rich, many young entrepreneurs will do any kind of business as long as they think it can make them quick and significant bucks.

When you are over 50, you are far less willing to do whatever it takes just for money. You want to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. You are reluctant to bow to the will of others just for the money. Your work has to bring you pleasure. You don’t like being told what to do.

So how do you choose a business opportunity that meshes well with your personality, interests, and desires?

Career coach Valerie Young has her clients write a short composition describing their ideal day. You can do the same to discover what your ideal day would look like.

Would you spend it sitting in the backyard alone with your laptop — or working shoulder to shoulder with a team? Do you want afternoons free for fishing and golf? Can you stick to a schedule or do you crave freedom and flexibility? Do you want to make crafts or spend the day with kids? Do you see yourself in an office or outdoors?

Then it’s a matter of finding a vocation that allows you to live, as closely as you can, your ideal day – every day of the year. To find that vocation, make a list of your interests, passions, aptitudes, and favorite activities. Are any of these things other people would pay you to do or make? Those are the realistic options, unless you are independently wealthy.

How wealthy you are determines the degree of freedom you have in choosing your new business, profession, or vocation. Take stock of your financial situation. How much money do you have? Is it enough to retire? If your business failed and you lost money, would you still have enough to retire? Can you do whatever you want? Or does the need for money trump the need for self-fulfillment?

The bottom line: as an after-50 entrepreneur, you want and deserve to have a business that lets you live the life you want to live. And with a little planning, it can all be yours.

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[Ed. Note. Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter, information marketer, and the author of 80 books including Start Your Own Home Business After 50 (Quill Driver Books, 2013).]