By Stan Gornicz, Next Avenue Contributor
I was a small business owner building sound systems and providing DJ entertainment. Then, after a decade and a half, I dove into the 9 to 5 corporate world, managing databases, developing websites and creating corporate communications. These days, after a layoff and with my kids almost through college, I’ve begun my second act as an entrepreneur, using my writing skills to help clients form creative communications strategies.
This time around, I have a firm grasp on the number of hours I’ll be putting in — and I’m ready. And I’m far from alone. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, entrepreneurs over 50 are one of America’s fastest growing groups of business owners. In fact, the Kauffman Foundation, which studies entrepreneurship, says Americans age 55 to 64 start businesses at a higher rate than those in their 20s and 30s.
If you’re thinking of joining me among the ranks of the self-employed in midlife, here are six steps you’ll want to take:
Step 1: Search your soul.
Why do you want to strike out on your own? Some workers report feeling drained from years of never-ending corporate politics and structure; others are newly displaced with a desire to continue working, but on their own terms
What did you love about past jobs? Your well-honed organizational, problem solving or analytical skills could be quite marketable.
Maybe you have a passion or hobby that can be transformed into a business idea. The only requirement is filling an urgent need for your customers.
Step 2: Develop a plan.
Get your business ideas and strategy down on paper. Creating a business plan is your first step toward outlining the framework for your operation. The U.S. Small Business Administration website has tips on writing a winning business plan and offers additional startup advice.
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Next, enlist the help of professionals. An attorney specializing in small business development can suggest the business structure that works best for you: sole proprietorship, limited liability company or S corp. An accountant can help with ways to finance start-up costs.
Once you’re up and running, hire a web guru to help develop your website and a Twitter tutor to establish a social media presence. Surround yourself with the experts you’ll need to get started.
Step 3: Give yourself a skills check-up.
Keeping your technical abilities sharp can be challenging in today’s business climate. The trick is keeping up. But there’s help. Adult education courses covering topics such as computer skills, social media and web-deve lopment tools are available in most communities. Many colleges now also offer workshops to guide business newbies in the areas of entrepreneurship, leadership and marketing.
You can also attend local workshops or view live and prerecorded webinars presented by SCORE, the nonprofit that provides small-business education and mentoring from its network of over 11,000 volunteer professionals.
Step 4: Use your expertise.
With 20 to 30 years of experience under your belt, you’ve gained the maturity and know-how to manage relationships — critical in operating an exciting new venture. Use this to your advantage.
You can also tap your long list of contacts to cultivate leads.
Step 5: Create loyalty.
Make customer service your top priority. Satisfied customers become loyal customers, and the referrals they provide will fuel the growth of your enterprise.
Step 6: Get ready to have fun.
Being the boss requires a lot of hard wo rk, but the rewards and benefits can be life-changing. Start by following these steps, and you’ll be on your way to success.