Retired to Work: Successful New Businesses Started by Retirees

For some Americans, retirement involves moving somewhere sunny, enjoying afternoon tee times, and relaxing by the pool. After a few months of this permanent vacation, some of us might feel the need to get back into business. Other American retirees, feeling the pinch of a slumping stock market, may simply want to generate some extra income. Either way, the small business market is ripe for retirees who want to launch new careers or simply convert their life experience into a lucrative, new company.

A 70-year-old retiree usually doesn’t have the same tolerance for risk as the typical young founders of startup technology companies. Even retirees with substantial nest eggs should learn to bootstrap their companies with minimal investments, according to experienced small business advisors. An ideal small business for a retiree to launch should:
connect passion with profits by involving an activity you already love,
require no more than 40 hours a week of your time,
launch with under $5,000-10,000 of working capital,
operate from home or from flexible, short-term office space, and
either be a small practice that you can run on your own or a larger business that can quickly begin operating without your daily presence.

Although these conditions might constrain a typical entrepreneur, you can leverage your work history, your connections, and your dreams to build a business with just a small amount of cash or time at risk. This way, if your business fails, you can move on to a new one or simply return to retirement with no fears for the future. Small business experts highlight five success stories that represent the types of companies that retirees can start without exposure to their nest eggs.

Crafting and Hobby Businesses

In a recent profile by AARP Bulletin, Miriam Acard and Barbara Russell shared the story of how their needlepoint circle evolved into a fully-fledged craft shop. Leasing retail space large enough to accommodate live classes was a risk for the ladies, especially during a turbulent economy. But the community of passionate crafters they cultivated keeps the duo passionate and profitable.

While websites such as Etsy offer online sales tools to beginners, more advanced e-commerce solutions can help craft companies sell everything from finished goods to class subscriptions. Web design professionals can help you post event schedules or showcase videos, while credit card processing systems remove the burden of accepting customer payments.

Real Estate Sales and Brokerages

Today’s economy might not seem ideal to launch a full-time real estate sales practice. However, retirees such as Ed Judy have discovered that selling property part time can keep you active in the community while generating extra income. Although working full time as a real estate professional during a market slump can be challenging, a retiree with less pressure for regular income can often provide higher quality customer service than the typical agent.

Recently profiled by his hometown newspaper, Judy combined the communication skills he developed as a law enforcement officer with the practical knowledge he learned during real estate training courses. As an independent sales executive, he can set his own schedule. Under the umbrella of a regional agency, he can trade a portion of his commission for Web design and marketing assistance.

Online Information Services

After more than three decades in the publishing industry, Ric Cox asked SCORE advisors for help combining his passion for real estate with his experience as a researcher. Instead of working as a broker, Cox decided to launch a subscription-based website for Chicago area real estate investors. An e-commerce solution deposits subscriber payments directly to Cox’s account, allowing him to pay staff members and freelancers that help generate high-value content for the site.

While some writers test the waters with ad-supported blogs, Cox’s targeting of high-value information led to faster profits. Professional Web design often means the difference between a site that looks like someone’s hobby and a strong Web presence that generates income. Adding individual coaching or live seminars to an online information service can create more revenue streams for retirees that enjoy personal interaction with clients.

Successful Retiree-Run Small Businesses Thrive on Low Overhead

Small business advisors often caution retirees to avoid franchises and other association programs that require hefty startup fees. Free advice from other retired business professionals through organizations such as SCORE can prevent you from falling victim to investment schemes and fly-by-night operations. By limiting startup business ideas to companies that can be launched with minimal training and low overhead, you can focus on the kinds of activities you enjoy doing without putting your nest egg at risk.