The Baby Boomer Path to Starting a Business

Baby boomers start businesses and second careersWe’ve all heard the predictions. Baby boomers won’t retire — they’ll start second careers. And many of them will become entrepreneurs.

What does that really mean? In many cases, they’ll be sole proprietors — people who set up one-person shops that leverage the expertise and contacts built up over several decades of corporate employment.

Sole proprietorships are by far the most common form of startup: 85 percent of all business tax returns are filed by companies with no employees, according to the National Association for the Self-Employed.

Often, these businesses don’t require much start-up financing. Empowered by the Internet, Boomer entrepreneurs often keep overhead low by setting up shop in their homes. And rather than take on the responsibility of hiring employees, they strike up relationships with other sole proprietors to provide key services, such as bookkeeping and marketing.


In many cases, the goal is to generate enough income to replace a salary that’s been left behind. Al Brown, a 20-year veteran of corporate purchasing jobs, quit his fulltime job just before his 50th birthday and started SupplyMex, a one-man consulting firm in Naperville that helps American companies find and manage product suppliers south of the border.

He was aiming to replace 80 percent of his previous salary with consulting income within 18 months of starting SupplyMex. His business is now about a year old, and he’s already 60 percent of the way there.

Still, leaving the world of fulltime employment can be a huge — and frightening — leap into the unknown. It’s important to plot your course carefully, make sure you’ve got a good financial safety net and put together the right team to support your venture.

Whenever possible, start planning while you’re still employed fulltime. “You can do a lot to get ready before you strike out on your own — while you’re still getting a paycheck,” says Terri Mauer, an Akron, Ohio-based interior designer and industry consultant who has operated as a sole proprietor for many years. “Do your business planning and market research. Is the business you want to go into something that will be viable?”

One way to jump-start the process is to hire a business coach. Al Brown worked with start-up coach Jeff Williams of Arlington Heights-based Bizstarters. Together, they sifted through several concepts. “One idea was to buy an existing business that fit my interests and capabilities,” Brown recalled. “Another was general purchasing management and consulting and global sourcing. The third was Mexico.”

Supply management in Mexico won out because of Brown’s extensive experience working there over the years, his relationships in government and industry and because he speaks Spanish.

Gordon Miller followed a more impetuous path to entrepreneurship. After a 25-year career in sales and marketing positions at large office product and information technology companies, Miller woke up one morning bored with work — and dying to scratch an entrepreneurial itch he’d had since boyhood. “When I look back, I always had this entrepreneurial spirit in me. My dad owned a small-town diner for many years back in Iowa where I grew up. I always had that spirit and drive inside of me, and was always asking myself, ‘Why not do your own thing?’

“I sat down with my wife in the living room and laid out what I was thinking. She said, ‘Why don’t you just take 90 days and just go out and test the waters — talk to a bunch of people and see what gets you excited.’ ”

Miller — who is based in Denver — spent a summer networking, focusing exclusively on people in businesses far from his own background. “We all have this tendency to stay within our own small sphere of influence,” he says. “I wanted to meet people I didn’t know and find out what they were up to, and their vision for the future.”

Ultimately, he decided that he liked the idea of being an executive coach, helping other business people manage the same life transitions that he’d been navigating. Today, at age 59, he does small business consulting, writing, speaking and coaching.

Still, Miller advises his clients to be a little less impetuous. “Do what I say, not what I do,” he says with a laugh.

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Mark Miller Mark Miller writes Retire Smart, a weekly syndicated column that appears in more than 30 newspapers. He also publishes RetirementRevised, which covers careers, personal finance, health, travel and lifestyle topics. Mark is president of 50+Digital LLC, a multimedia publishing company dedicated to serving the information needs of the Baby Boom generation.


10 Reactions
  1. Mark Miller: How many sole proprietorship companies are there in the United States? What’s the percentage of all companies? Here is Sweden many starts “enskild firma” (“individual / private firm”) because it is pretty easy to start. Your organisational number is the same as your “personal number” (yy/mm/dd/+4 control numbers) and you file taxes as private person, adding a document for the business. The downside is that many people outside the regular workforce don’t dare to start their own business due to the risk social benefits like work compensation, unemployment handout, pension money, etc.

    Our company is registered as an economic / incorporated association. You could say it is a Ltd. / Inc. light company without the huge amount of share capital, but the same security. You have a board of directors and a set up rules and regulations (constitution) for the company. The company is “open” for the public, so if someone is adhering to the rules, he / she could join the company. You put in time and money into the company.

    The other types of companies have certain negative aspects, e.g. a “trading company” with two co-owners there you are “loyal responsibility”, so if one of owners can’t pay a bill, the other person has to do it. An aktiebolag (limited company / inc.) has to have at least SEK 100,000 in share capital when you start and you can’t use more than 50% of it due to accounting rules.

    An new interesting form between an employment and your own firm has sprung up in Sweden. You “rent” your employer and a specialized company take care of all the paperwork, paying taxes and social fees. They take a cut (a percentage around 10%) of your invoices. Here is one example:

    How many Limited Liability Companies do you have in America?

    All the Best,

    Martin Lindeskog – American in Spirit.
    Gothenburg, Sweden.

  2. Martin, thanks for your note. While I don’t have all the statistics you asked for, I do have this bit of information: About 85 percent of all business tax returns in the U.S. are filed by businesses with no employees, according to the National Association for the Self-Employed.

  3. I have seen a rise in baby boomer clients in my business. Lots of them are going the entrepreneur route!

  4. That’s exactly why I started a small business with Avon Products – the opportunities are limitless and I can start part-time while still employed, gaining residual income for retirement, using products I need anyway! The relationships I’m creating are priceless. For only $10 you can start your own buisness with Avon Products!!! – check out the “opportunity” tab for yourself.

  5. Mark,

    Wow, that’s quite a number. I would never have guessed it would be as high as 85%. With the constant rising cost of living it doesn’t surprise me that retiring will become a thing of the past. Not too many couples can make it just on a pension.

  6. Teresa,

    Good for you! I know many people who have success with home show type businesses. Sounds like a good investment for the small upfront cost.

  7. Hi Martin, Limited liability companies are one of the most popular forms of business entity today. Basically the LLC form lets you pass through expenses to your personal tax return, and you avoid some double taxation that might come from your company being taxed and you as the business owner being taxed. Plus, you don’t have as much paperwork as with a traditional corporation, don’t have to hold shareholder meetings, and so on.

    I like the idea of “renting” an employer. It’s kind of like “reverse outsourcing.” I think there’s something similar here in the States, called a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). You pay XX dollars per employee per month, usually.


  8. Mark & Anita: Thanks for the information. It is a huge percentage of small businesses in the USA. It was interesting to hear about LLC. I bought a book on LLC during my time in America. Title: A Legal Road Map For Consultants. Author: Judy Gedge.

    Teresa Woolson: Home based business is a growing industry. For one example, check out Talk Fusion video email. Click on my name for more information. I think you could use this service in your Avon business.

  9. I am a baby boomer who left my corporate job 6 years ago to start my own marketing company. Little did I know I was on the edge of a major trend, but in hindsight it was the best thing I could have done. I love what I do, have less stress, more freedom, engaging clients and a lifestyle that is far better for me and the ecology (I don’t drive 40 miles to work and back every day). Because I was ahead of the curve, I have been approached by others considering this move to help them get their business and marketing plan in place while they are still working and can afford to spend a bit of money to do the job right. Then when they make the leap or get pushed into their own business, they can hit the ground running.