At the Aging in America conference in New Orleans last April, I was on a panel with journalist and author Kerry Hannon. She has written several well-known books on the topic, including her latest, “Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.”
I highly recommend it both for its fascinating stories of 20 midlife entrepreneurs and for its practical insights for the entrepreneur-in-waiting. Her thoughtful approach toward entrepreneurship is also valuable for anyone nearing or in retirement trying to think through their next act.
Hannon highlights a remarkable trend in society: The rise of the midlife entrepreneur. For example, the 55- to 64-year-old age cohort accounted for more than a quarter of new business startups in 2017, up from nearly 15% in 1996, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
“The variety of businesses people are starting in midlife is amazingly diverse,” Hannon wrote. “From a gin distiller to a moviemaker to a jewelry designer and a manufacturer of packaging, these in-depth testimonials offer encouragement and advice and prove that it’s possible to pursue your passion and build on your successful business at any age.”
Of course, most of us aren’t going to open our own gin distillery. Yet these entrepreneurs offer thoughtful insights about what to consider when starting a business in the second half of life. The format of the book works well. Hannon introduces the basic story of an entrepreneur; she interviews them about they lessons they have learned; and she includes practical tips and resources for further research.
There are many reasons why entrepreneurship appeals to older adults. Owning a business brings in an income while offering the opportunity to exercise creativity. Older adults have experience, skill and a network of contacts to tap. Financing for most startups is typically a bootstrap operation. The office is usually the home or a low-cost co-sharing workspace.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, of course. Yet when it comes to planning for the so-called retirement years, thinking about what kind of business you might start — freelance gig, small shop with a handful of experienced peers — is a good way to frame the key retirement question: What comes next? The exercise in contemplating entrepreneurship reinforces the desire for meaning and money in your next act. Hannon’s book is a good guide to consult during your exploration. Who knows? You may even decide to join the ranks of entrepreneurs.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” and commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.