It's never too late: How to start a business as a baby boomer

You don't have to be a tech-savvy millennial to tap into your entrepreneurial spirit. Here are five businesses perfect for baby boomers. 

Solvej Schou/AP/File
A small business owner displays her spools of thread used to tailor customers' clothing.

The passion that spurs someone to dream of starting a business isn’t reserved for the techie millennial in the torn jeans and hoodie. Even the person in the relaxed-fit khakis and reading glasses can feel the zeal.

Research shows baby boomers may have a greater passion for entrepreneurship than younger generations. One report showed that, in 2014, those ages 55 to 64 had a higher rate of new entrepreneurial activity than the stereotypical risk-taking 20 to 34 age group.

Even more boomers might take the leap, but they can become intimidated “by that word ‘entrepreneurial,’” says Elizabeth Isele, CEO of the Global Institute of Experienced Entrepreneurship.

There are many factors to consider, including how to finance a business. But perhaps the biggest challenge, Isele says, “is having the confidence to do it.”

What if you have the dream and the drive but can’t decide what avenue to take?

Experts say there are many opportunities in the current economy. Here are some growing industries and useful strategies to get you started.

1. Services for seniors

An aging population has created business opportunities for jobs and businesses that “ride the age wave,” says Kerry Hannon, a career expert who focuses on clients in their 40s and 50s.

“These are businesses and services that are geared toward people in their 70s and 80s that can be done by people in their 50s and 60s.”

One example: patient advocacy services for seniors who need assistance with health care-related issues, such as tackling billing mistakes or sorting out insurance coverage. There’s also a need for home-modification professionals, fitness trainers for seniors and personal finance planners.

“There’s a huge demand for things even as basic as bill-paying services,” says Hannon, who also serves as a jobs expert for AARP. “We’re living longer, and people really are seeking out advice on how to manage their accounts.”

2. Consulting

You may have acquired a depth of knowledge in a specific field by the time you’re 50 — and that could serve as the foundation for building a business.

That’s what David Finke of South Mills, N.C.,  discovered. After having worked more than 30 years in the maritime industry, Finke and his wife, Jolene, started Eagle Crest Enterprises, which offers training and consulting services to other businesses in the industry.

After a slow start, he says, business picked up to the point where he was making more money on his own than he’d ever been paid by someone else.

The key, Finke says, was having a niche market: “Find something that people need. If you fill a need, the revenue follows.”

3. Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is another promising field for a post-50 entrepreneur, says Edward Castaño of BlueVine, a California-based invoice factoring company, which offers financing to small businesses.

“Millions of people are starting businesses every year, and people are intimidated by bookkeeping,” he said. “The barriers to opening a bookkeeping business are incredibly low. You just need to be comfortable with numbers and not be intimidated by basic concepts.”

A bookkeeping business also offers flexibility in terms of choosing your work schedule and clients, Castaño adds.

4. A Web-based business

Tony Warren was struggling with sleep apnea when he came across research that helped remedy his illness. That gave him the idea for a Web-based business called BreatheSimple, which is developing an app for breathing techniques to deal with sleep apnea, asthma and other illnesses.

The center of operations is his home, a horse farm in the middle of Pennsylvania. Warren, a former investor, consultant and academic, works long distance with software developers, Web designers and others helping to build his company. Warren relies on online tools to keep the business humming, such as Skype and Web-based project management applications.

One advantage of starting a business over 50, he said, is the “network of people you can tap into.”

“I knew people I could get guidance from,” he said. “That’s real value.”

5. Pick your passion

Following your passion may be a cliché, but it should be a guiding principle in starting a business after 50 — or at any age.

In the early ’90s, Claudia and Eric Sarnow opened a restaurant in Spring Mills, Pa. The Hummingbird Room became so successful that the couple eventually burned out.

“It took all the joy out of us,” Claudia Sarnow says. The couple moved to Florida, where they worked as chefs in the yachting business in Fort Lauderdale.

Now, they’re back home in Pennsylvania. The Sarnows reopened the Hummingbird Room last year but made sure it wouldn’t be the hyper-busy restaurant that exhausted them 20 years ago.

This time, they provide catering and operate a pop-up restaurant out of their 1840s-era Gothic Revival-style home twice a month. They send an email for each event to a list of customers, who pay $85 each for a seven- to nine-course dinner.

“It’s kind of like a miracle situation where you have a do-over of a concept you had,” Claudia Sarnow said.

Opportunities based on a personal passion abound. Hannon, the AARP jobs coach, says she’s worked with people who started businesses based on interests as varied as sewing, gardening and dog grooming.

“There are ways to tap into your passion and what you love to start your own business at over 50.”

Benjamin Pimentel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email:bpimentel@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @benpimentel.

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

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