By H. Michael Hervey

The best way for seniors to stay vibrant and healthy during their Golden Years is doing something they love. It also helps if they can combine doing something they love with something in which they have a high level of knowledge or experience. Starting a business and exploiting your expertise is a great way to go. That combination is the sought-after Retirement Goldilocks Zone.

Few people get to choose how they’ll make a living during their career advancement years. We start working right after high school or graduate from college to work in industries that offer the best opportunities to make a living. Unless they’re pro athletes or movie stars, people seldom work in jobs they really like, but rather in jobs they need to make ends meet. Making mortgage payments, putting food on the table, and pushing the kids through college often dictate when and where we work.

Being retired (or semi-retired), however, gives seniors like you a second lease on life because those important issues were resolved long ago. Take advantage of this freedom by starting a business that operates in that Goldilocks Zone. Then you’ll love getting out of bed in the morning. Then you’ll love dealing with people and solving problems again. In other words, it’s a new dawn so just do it.

The only big question that remains is what kind of business to start. Once that’s decided, the rest is relatively easy to nail down. Since this is the most critical item on the agenda, take your time and noodle it. Review your business/work experiences and skills; think about what you like doing; review your strengths and weaknesses (be honest); and consider your finances, available time, and health.

Action Item: Create a simple checklist of the points outlined above. This gives you some needed perspective and a nice bird’s eye view of the project. If you like what you see, proceed to the next step. If not, go sit on the porch and have some wine.

older couple standing with open sign

Image via US News

The Time for Choosing

OK, you’ve decided that starting a business is a great idea based on your checklist. Now it’s time to determine what kind of company you want to build. Think hard about this because your business should align closely with your checklist. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, to coin a phrase. Don’t open a restaurant just because you can read a three-page menu. Remember that old joke: How do you get $1 Million; start with $2 Million and open a restaurant.

In today’s web-based economy, starting a new business doesn’t have to be the brick-and-mortar type. It can also mean starting a new career. Consider doing consulting work, or selling your artwork online, or creating a travel website. Being a freelance writer, however, is reserved for only the brightest, most talented, and most beautiful people so don’t even think about doing down that road. 🙂

Action Item: Based on your checklist and due consideration, distill your possible new business or career options down to three of the most promising choices. Chew on those for a few days. Consult with your significant other or children.  Speak to some experts, friends, and relatives who know those businesses. Take your time and don’t rush it.

It’s All in the Plan, Baby

Now comes the fun part of this wonderful process: writing a good Business Plan (BP). Aside from deciding which type of business to start, crafting a solid BP is a crucial aspect of this entire adventure because it helps determine if your concept is viable.

Writing a BP forces you to consider all elements of the business. This exercise requires you to investigate, research, and examine your idea, top-to-bottom and end-to-end, from an investor’s standpoint. Remember, you are the main investor since it’s your time, blood, sweat, and tears that are being expended.

Writing a solid BP also exposes obvious flaws in your idea because it forces you to answer some important questions. How will the business will operate?  What market does it serve? What problem does your product/service solve? What does it cost to start and operate? How much cash is generated and how long will it take to break even or make a profit?

The real value in writing a BP is that it might force you to concede your idea is not viable in the first place. But it’s always better to learn that painful lesson BEFORE spending a lot of time and treasure on a new business that goes splat in six months. If the BP shows promise and answers the key questions, then you have a great blueprint to step smartly into the future.

If the answers are unsatisfactory, however, then you’ve only lost a little time and a few bucks. Again, it’s much cheaper and less painful to fail fast on paper rather than in reality. In addition, this process will help fix the flaws in your original plan or change directions entirely once all the pros and cons are understood.

No matter the size, market niche or complexity (or simplicity) of a new company, all good Business Plans have four key elements:

  • Executive Summary: Encapsulates the entire business in three concise paragraphs. If you can’t explain it on paper, you won’t be able to manage it in the real world.
  • Operations Plan: Explains how the company will conduct business and serve customers.
  • Market Data: Identifies the target customers and why your product/service will appeal to them relative to competitors.
  • Income Statement: Itemizes expected revenues sources when compared to expected costs on a monthly basis for the first two years. An Income Statement is essential because it shows projected Profit/Loss which is that feared “Bottom Line” under which all companies operate.

Action Item: Write a simple Business Plan. Don’t start a new business without one. Contingent on the scope of your idea, you can find all types of plans online.


Important Tips and Suggestions

Get help from friends and relatives. They’ll appreciate the chance to support you and may be able to contribute expertise like creating an Excel spreadsheet (Income Statement) or writing other parts of the BP.

Don’t go into debt to start a business. Don’t put a second mortgage on the house or borrow large sums from the bank. Young hotshots in their twenties have the rest of their lives to recover if their venture goes bust. You don’t have that luxury as a senior.

Don’t raid more than 10% from your piggy bank. Those savings are your backstop against all types of life-issues and emergencies.

NEVER borrow money from relatives because that adds another level of anxiety you don’t want or need. Trust me; their money will turn into heavy boat anchors around your neck when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Look for non-family investors if your start-up requires more cash than you can afford (no debt). That’s another value to crafting a good BP because potential investors will realize you’ve covered all the bases. Angel Investors and online funding websites can be helpful.


Learn to love Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Those amazing search tools can be of great value when looking for help, instructions, and information about any business. If you can’t find what you need with those search tools, it doesn’t exist in this solar system.

Most Important Tip: Don’t be afraid to fail. Following the steps outlined above mitigate failure because most of the key elements of starting a business have been reviewed and considered.

“It’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.”

~William F. O’Brien

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