Baby boomer basics for starting a business

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If you are older than 50 and think business ownership may be for you, you're not alone. According to the nonprofit AARP Public Policy Institute, 21 percent of the self-employed were between 55 and 64, while 10 percent were 65 and older. A volatile economic climate and massive layoffs, as well as retired-but-healthy seniors with time on their hands, have changed the traditional starting age for start-ups.

Hedy Ratner, co-founder and co-president of the Women's Business Development Center (WBDC), the nation's oldest and largest small-business assistance center serving women, is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the economic independence and satisfaction that comes with business ownership.

"It takes an enormous amount of time, energy and effort to launch a business," she stated. "But the results can be extremely rewarding. My advice is find your niche, a business idea you are passionate about, and listen and learn, then go for it."

Feeling motivated? Here are some tips to get you started.

1) Look carefully at your skill set.
At a recent WBDC seminar for age 50-plus prospective and established business owners, retired journalist Joanne Cleaver said she re-started her career several times before launching her current business. "I decided to base my latest transition on my skills," she said. "As a certified media trainer and coach, I now apply my skills to a different set of clients. I've transitioned from being self-employed to being a job-creator with a contract staff of specialists. My biggest challenge? In realizing my value. The biggest obstacle? Myself."

2) Make sure you have a minimum amount of technology knowledge and skills.
The older generation may be latecomers to the digital revolution, but they are beginning to close their gadget and social media gap with their younger counterparts. For example, among younger boomers (ages 46-55), fully half now use social networks, compared with 20 percent in 2008. That rate of growth is more rapid than for younger generations. In addition, more than half (55 percent) of older boomers (ages 56-64) now watch online video, compared with 30 percent in 2008.

3) Have a concise business plan.
Tory Johnson advises prospective business owners to skip the 40-page business plan and write a one-page plan that addresses only what you need to know and do. If raising capital is your goal, however, you may need a more elaborate business plan. Many organizations offer workshops and business counseling to walk you through the steps of creating a plan.

4) Seek out mentors and advisors.
Thankfully, you don't need to go it alone. Many resources are available through organizations such as the WBDC, SBA, SCORE and others. The WBDC now offers a mentorship program, pairing emerging business owners with successful established ones. Peer mentoring with others in your profession is another option.

Merri Dee, the retired TV personality who now runs her own consulting business and moderated the recent WBDC seminar, summarized it this way: "All you need are three things: passion, purpose - and a paycheck!"