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More older Americans starting their own businesses to supplement incomes, pursue passion projects

Last modified: 11/10/2014 1:04:15 AM
At “52 years young,” Pattie Hayes considers herself a well-seasoned professional in the elder-care industry.

With the youngest of her three children about to graduate college and her husband in a steady career with health insurance for the two of them, she set out last year on a new adventure: the life of a self-employed entrepreneur.

“I’ve had the good fortune and the experience to take a moment to step back and say, ‘What is it I want out of the next half of my life? What is the legacy I want to leave? What is the impact I want to make?’ ” Hayes said.

She’s not alone. Nationally, the ranks of the self-employed are swelling with newly adventurous baby boomers turning passion projects into second careers as entrepreneurs. In 2003, Americans older than 55 made up only 23 percent of the self-employed workforce. Last year, they were more than 37 percent.

Between a third and half of the people Jamie Coughlin has met running business incubators in Manchester and Hanover have been in or nearing retirement, he said.

“The essence of retirement is changing. There is a need for additional income, and that sector of the population has the time to think about how can they marry a passion or interest with a potential generation of even part-time income,” said Coughlin, now director of New Venture Incubator Programs at Dartmouth.

Most older entrepreneurs are looking to start small operations, perhaps turning a woodworking hobby into a small business. Others are following successful business careers by becoming angel investors, advising younger people who are starting technology companies, he said.

User-friendly technology has helped older Americans adapt quickly to doing business online, making research easier and opening up new markets for customers, he said.

The recent recession may have sped some seniors along that decision path, said Todd Fahey, state director of AARP New Hampshire.

“The statistics nationwide are stark in showing that people are not saving enough for retirement,” and traditional support through pensions and Social Security aren’t always enough to make up the difference, he said.

Hayes is up front about what she considers her good fortune: She’s not looking to be “a kabillionaire,” and she doesn’t need her new venture – Care Compass Family Solutions – to support her and her husband all on its own.

“It was a risk, but it was a calculated risk. I prepared as much as you could without having a crystal ball,” she said.

She first started thinking about leaving her full-time job last spring. She found her work as a community relations manager for area senior care, assisted living and hospice organizations was most fulfilling when she met with families and helped them make an appropriate choice for their loved one.

Families often don’t think about senior care until it’s necessary. When it is necessary, they’re stressed, scared and suddenly dropped into an industry full of its own unique and strange vocabulary. Every year, more friends and friends of friends were calling Hayes at home for advice about helping their own parents or older family members.

She realized there’s a need for an independent consultant who can help families evaluate all of their options – ideally cementing a plan years before it’s urgently needed.

The very first step was to quiet the nagging voice of doubt in her own mind.

“Of course I went through an internal debate when I started. One voice would say, ‘You should do something about this,’ and then the other voice would say, ‘Who are you to think you can launch and run your own business?’ ” she said. “Really the first step was to quell that by confirming my own talents and strengths and passions.”

She sat down with her resumes and evaluated herself honestly. What has she most enjoyed about her previous jobs? What are her strengths and weaknesses?

“Being at this age, I’ve come to a good understanding of who I am and what I’m about,” she said. “There’s a certain self-confidence that comes from having been a seasoned professional in this industry and from feeling a calling, a responsibility to address an unmet need.”

Once she made up her mind, she acted quickly.

She used business plan templates and financial organization software available online for free. She attended seminars by local organizations and hired a professional business coach as a mentor.

By last September, she had formed her LLC and taken on a first client in a soft launch.

She was able to “call in some chips” from the kids, some favors earned after shuttling them around to school and activities, and helping pay for college. Between the three of them, her children have helped design her website and logo and start her social media presence.

“It’s been really great to have them validate me as a person, and not just as Mom,” Hayes said. “With them being young professionals, to have them say, ‘You know what, that takes guts, Mom. That takes a lot of spunk to take off and do what you’re doing.’ ”

She’s not surprised more people nearing retirement are striking out on their own.

“People living to 90-plus is no longer a stretch. People are taking care of themselves, and they want to remain a real vital component of society,” she said. “I may be 52 years young, but there’s still a lot of rock-and-roll left in this gal.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)


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