Sixty-year-old Kay Allison has enjoyed multiple successful careers, including being a professional cellist, working at global ad agencies, and founding a consultancy and focus group facility. Yet, as she wound down her consultancy, she felt directionless. “I thought I didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to the world anymore,” she says.
That all changed in 2017 after she moved to Boulder, CO, where she started a food company, Farm & Oven Snacks. “I’ve tried for years to get people to eat more vegetables,” quips Allison, co-founder and chief growth officer, “so I developed products that make veggies taste like cake.”
A national brand launched from hand-rolled dough
From baking in a small commercial kitchen with her business partner, Allison now sees a big ROI: The company works out of a 10,000-square-foot bakery, Target stocks her products, and she enjoys significant business on Amazon, QVC and her company's website. “I was hand-rolling dough and cutting each mini-muffin myself,” Allison says. “Now, we’re expanding our products from 1,500 stores to 3,500 in 2020. I plan to scale the company and sell it before I’m 70.”
She's not alone in looking to create culinary masterpieces lots of people start their own food-based businesses, such as starting a farm-to-table dining venture.
Lots of people at retirement age and beyond leave their first or second careers behind and start new business ventures. They use their years of experience to fuel passion projects that also support them during this life phase and into their true retirement years.
It’s Healthy to Keep Working
Studies support the health benefits for retirees who continue to work or take on second careers after age 55. In the ongoing U.S. Health and Retirement Study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 40% of men and women who had retired were 40% more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack than those who kept working. In addition, retirement significantly increases the risk of being diagnosed with a chronic condition like cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Total retirement also leads to other reported issues: a 5%-16% increase in mobility challenges, a 5%-6% increase in illness, and a 6%-9% decline in mental health, during an average post-retirement period of six years. A study published in the Journal of Popular Aging found that retirees were twice as likely to report experiencing symptoms of depression than those who continued to work. And by contrast, a report from by the Institute of Economic Affairs and Age Endeavour Fellowship shows that retirees are 40% less likely to describe themselves as in “very good or excellent health” than their working counterparts.
Turning your skills into a business
“When you’re contemplating starting a business, turning skills you already have into a business is a good way to start,” says 69-year-old Carol L. Gee, owner of Stone Mountain, GA-based A Feast of Words. “For example, a former educator might tutor students or teach online courses. In your retirement, having a business that you’re passionate about will keep you motivated when other problems arise.”
Many retirees start their own ventures, rather than going to work for someone else. Yet, heading up your own firm can be daunting, so it makes sense to consider your options. “My recommendation for anyone considering a new endeavor is to start with brainstorming,” says Debra Eckerling, a Los Angeles-based goal coach/project catalyst and founder of Write On Online and The D*E*B Method. “Try directed journaling, where you set up several 15-minute appointments with yourself to brainstorm specific questions: What kind of business should I start? How can I help others? How much time can I devote? What makes the most sense financially and in relation to my skill set?”
How many hours a week do you want to work?
When you discover a skill, product or service you’re passionate about, think about what problem it solves for others, and if you have the ability to make your business a success. It’s also important to consider whether you’ll go it alone as a solopreneur or manage employees, whether they’re full-time, part-time, or remote contract staffers. That includes thinking about how many hours a week you want to work. In addition, if you start a business in your 60s, for example, you’ll need to consider an exit strategy, whether it’s a succession plan or just shutting your doors.
“Make sure you have adequate cash flow to cover yourself for up to a year.”
“Over my career, I’ve seen people siphon their 401k to start or buy a business only to find themselves close to bankruptcy years later,” says 51-year-old Tyler Martin, CPA and financial coach at San Jose, CA-based Financial You. “Have a plan when you’re starting a business, and make sure you have adequate cash flow to cover yourself for up to a year. My advice? Keep debt to a minimum, and seek expert help when the time is right to speed up the process.”
Keeping costs to a minimum
Remember that a business doesn’t always have to be a huge financial investment. “What you’re investing in, primarily, is your time, energy, and expertise,” says Ecklering, author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap to Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals. “The good news with the digital age is that, especially for consultants and experts like bloggers, speakers and authors, startup costs can be minimal: a website, plus some social media accounts for a web presence and legitimacy, an internet connection and a smartphone.”
The Fruits of Your ‘First-Career’ Labor
Retirement-years ventures can take on many shapes, as you’ll see from these quick snapshots of four diverse entrepreneurs.
A freelance writer.
Most recently, Air Force veteran Gee worked at Atlanta-based Emory University for 21 years, first in administration and then as an editor at its Goizueta Business School. “I accepted this position as a stepping stone toward my lifelong dream of becoming a published author and freelance writer,” says Gee, who started freelancing on the side as far back as 1964 and realized this would be her “retirement” business. Now, Gee is considered an expert, sharing her thoughts on business, writing and veterans’ issues in print magazines like Essence, in interviews, radio shows and podcasts.
A business consultant for veterans.
After retiring as a consultant with a large Chicago accounting firm in 2006, Paul A. Dillon reinvented himself by starting his own company, which is devoted to helping veterans start businesses. “I’m a former U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant and fought in the Vietnam War,” says 74-year-old Dillon, president, CEO and solopreneur at Dillon Consulting Services, with offices in Durham, NC, and Chicago. “I’ve always wanted to work with veterans in some capacity.”
A digital marketing strategist.
After working in the high-tech industry for 30 years, in his 50s, rather than retiring, V. Michael Santoro immersed himself in digital marketing, website design and SEO. “I earned enough part-time selling other people’s products to put my daughter through college,” says Santoro, co-founder of Charleston, SC-based Vaetas, a 5-year-old internet tech company. Then in 2009, at age 60, he founded a digital marketing firm with a partner. In 2014, at 65, Santoro transitioned Vaetas to a SaaS company that developed an interactive video platform, which was awarded a U.S. patent in May 2017.
A retirement and relationship coach.
After graduating from college in 1969, Marianne Oehser earned her MBA, worked in marketing at a major airline, and managed a premier real estate company. After a divorce, she joined a marketing research company and worked remotely for 13 years before retiring in 2011. However, she had a plan for “what’s next”: “I enrolled in the Relationship Coaching Institute where I took virtual classes at night, and it took a year to complete the training and earn my certification,” says Oehser, a certified retirement coach, educator, speaker and author of Your Happiness Portfolio for Retirement: It’s Not About the Money.
In 2012 on her 65th birthday, she launched her business, Huntsville, AL-based Retire and Be Happy. “In 2001, I married my husband and have enjoyed a blissful marriage, and I wanted to help other people have the kind of relationship we share,” says 72-year-old Oehser. “However, after a few years, I realized so many of the couples I worked with had problems with their relationship because they were struggling with all of the changes that retirement brings. So I completed the Retirement Options certification program. Today, I thrive on watching people move from a place of pain to where they’re flourishing.”
These entrepreneurs, and others like them, are using their retirement years to enrich not only their lives but the lives of others as well. They are taking skills they learned over the course of their careers and using them to make their retirement years more productive.
Shifting Into Owner Mode
When you’re starting your own business as a second or third career, there are some important lessons to learn that other age-50-and-beyond entrepreneurs have already acquired. Here are five important considerations to keep in mind as you launch a venture.
Be flexible. Dillon didn’t kick off his business with the idea of helping veterans. “I started out thinking I was going to provide project management and business development services to companies in the service industry,” he says. “But, that didn’t work out. I had to pivot several times before I found a niche that worked.” Ultimately, after doing research for a client on businesses that hired veterans, Dillon started helping veterans found their own companies. “I believe in having a strategic vision,” he says. “That way, you’re open to opportunities.”
Shift into CEO mode. Seventy-year-old Santoro had to make a conscious mindset shift from an employee to a business owner. “Employees know their job, receive a salary and benefits just for ‘showing up’ at their job,” he says. “Business owners are responsible for all aspects of their business and only get paid when they ‘show up’ to build their company.”
Build your brand online. Martin uses an online content calendar to stay connected with his online audience. “Building trust with your potential clients using a free guide or resource via email marketing can help the sales process too,” he says. Santoro generates video content and shares it on social media and YouTube to generate targeted traffic to his website. “This is important because potential customers conduct research to check out a business before deciding to do business with you,” he says. Finally, since promoting her work is a large part of Gee’s business, she researches opportunities to write and publish. “HARO.net has been a boon for me,” she says.
Hire the right expert help – and listen to them. Martin has worked with coaches to enhance his professional and personal growth. “A business coach helps me focus on my company’s plan,” he says. “Plus, my fitness trainer clears my mind so I can prepare to grow my business.” In addition, Dillon recommends tapping into a strong group of friends and mentors who’ll offer unbiased business advice when you need it. Allison relies on her certified financial planner so that she doesn’t worry about her retirement accounts continuing to grow.
Remember that age is just a number. “With business changing at the speed of thought, the perception of being ‘older’ can diminish your perceived value,” Santoro says. “In reality, it’s OK to be older. We all get there. However, it’s not OK to have an ‘old’ mindset. For example, instead of saying, ‘When I was your age, I did it this way.’ Instead say, ‘Do you think this solution to your problem can work?’ You want to be viewed as a valuable member of your client’s team.”
The Future Sky’s the Limit
Today’s aging population is not content on the status quo of hitting the golf course or going on a cruise. They want to continue to challenge themselves and set their sights on accomplishing their lifelong goals. They are looking to not just idly sit by in their golden years, but to remain vital members of society.
Seniors are more likely to be self-employed
Americans 65 years and older are more likely to be self-employed than adults in any other age group, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By 2024, BLS projects the U.S. labor force will grow to about 164 million people. That number includes about 41 million people who’ll be age 55 and older—of whom about 13 million are expected to be age 65 and older. The 65- to-74-year-old (55%) and 75-and-older age groups (86%) are projected to have faster rates of labor force growth annually than any other age group. BLS cites that increase in part because of longer life expectancies, and with changes to Social Security benefits and employee retirement plans, people are working longer.
Dillon believes that one of the ways to be content in retirement or semi-retirement is to stay active and engaged. “That’s why I created my bridge job to final retirement,” he says. “For those considering retiring early, if you have an expertise, becoming a consultant is a tried-and-true bridge. You can set your own hours and work at your own pace while making an income.”
“My daughter is one of my business partners and our business journey has made our relationship grow closer and more meaningful.”
Santoro, who’s filed for a second patent, wants to grow his software user base to generate recurring revenue and scale his business internationally. “I’ve learned to live outside my comfort zone and to make the right, hard decisions in a timely fashion,” he says. “My daughter is one of my business partners and our business journey has made our relationship grow closer and more meaningful.”
Going forward, Martin plans to grow his reach in his financial coaching business by financially bettering at least 100 people a year for the next decade. On tap for Gee is writing another book: “Plus, I have the flexibility to care for a spouse with health issues,” she says. “Through telling stories for a living, I’m living my life’s dream.”
Retirees are thinking outside the box like never before and are finding success in ways they never imagined. They’re changing the face of retirement and how we perceive aging and earning money in a time when people want to make time for their loved ones, grandchildren and caring for relatives with health challenges.