Whether you were downsized out of a decades-long corporate career, or you still hold a high-powered position (but see the writing on the wall), you've finally decided it's time to strike out on your own. You want to become an entrepreneur, silver hair and all. Now what?
"It's about reinvention, understanding what to take forward and what to leave behind," said George Schofield, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist, author and founder of San Francisco, Calif.-based organizational consulting firm The Clarity Group.
How do you reinvent yourself and build a company of your own if you have always relied on a corporate structure?
Here are 10 expert tips on how to start over with your own business and bring new meaning to the Golden Years.
1) Start early. Don't wait until the day you retire (or receive that dreaded pink slip) to think about your entrepreneurial aspirations. The time to act is now. Start having a conversation with your spouse and closest circle of friends.
"If you only know corporate folks, then go to your Rotary Club or local golf club," Schofield suggests.
2) Be clear about what you want. It's important to understand why you're starting a business. Do you just want to stave off boredom or do you really need the income? What type of business would you like to run? Answering those seemingly simple, yet critical, questions will help define what you really want. Then, write it down.
3) Consider your lifestyle. Make sure to choose a business that fits the lifestyle you need in this stage of your life. Be honest with yourself about how much time and energy you are willing to invest.
For example, if you're still driven to work 10-hour-plus days, then buying a small business to turn it around and grow it makes sense. But if, say, you're an avid golfer looking to work a handful of hours a day, then perhaps a small mail-order business is more suitable to your lifestyle.
4) Reevaluate your strengths. Even with decades of business experience under your belt, not all of it will transfer over into your new business.
"Yes, you have a lot of life and work experience, but you have to do the painful work of finding out what's still true and what won't work any more," Schofield said. "It's a difficult starting process, but that's part of pioneering."
5) Expand your network. Join networking organizations for entrepreneurs. Look for contacts you will need to get your business off the ground— such as bankers, marketing experts, attorneys and suppliers — and invite them to lunch or dinner.
"A lot of corporate folks have never had to do any of this because they had whole departments to do it," Schofield said. Not anymore. At this point, you represent every department of your new business.
6) Do your homework. When you meet other successful entrepreneurs, always be prepared to ask the right questions. Find out how they built their business, what mistakes they made (so you don't make them), and what they learned in hindsight.
"And make sure you're talking to people who are in a situation as close as possible to the one you want," Schofield said.
7) Be flexible. As you move forward, determine what is — and isn't — working, then adapt.
"Have a plan, but don't expect life to go according to plan," Schofield said. Remember, you're no longer in the plan-driven corporate world. Know that you'll likely have to make adjustments along the way; the success of your new business will depend on it.
8) Allow time to grieve. If you spent decades building a career in the corporate world, you may feel a bit lost without the prestige of a fancy title and corner office. And it's all perfectly normal, Schofield said.
"A hugely painful thing for people in their 60s is the external validation of a job title goes away, and it's not coming back," he said. "But there's nothing wrong with you, you're supposed to be grieving these losses."
9) Find alternatives to isolation. If you decide to start your business out of your home office, don't allow yourself to slip into isolation. Instead, look for ways to escape the four walls.
"Find interests that are outside your entrepreneurial endeavors," Schofield suggested. "And make sure to replenish your personal network of friends. So many people in their 60s stick to their same group of friends and then wonder why they're increasingly isolated in their 80s."
10) Keep a positive, yet realistic, outlook. Remember, attitude counts.
"If you keep telling the story that you're old, then that becomes your reality," Schofield warns. "Yes, you may have wrinkles, but you also may actually be more energetic and productive than you were in your 30s."