Are you ready for your encore?

The traditional idea of retirement is increasingly becoming an old notion—either because people need to keep working as a financial necessity or because they still want to work. Instead of retiring, many people are looking to do something on their own terms, and do work that really matters.

encore career

The term “encore career” is being used to describe a new career later in life—one that is focused not just on making a living but on making a difference. Encore.org—a San Francisco non-profit that helps people pursue “second acts for the greater good”—defines encore careers as jobs that combine personal meaning, continued income and social impact in the second half of life. And according to the organization, the idea is catching on. As many as 9 million people ages 44 to 70 are already in encore careers, with 31 million more interested in the idea but not sure how to make the transition.

For many, the encore career most appealing is starting a business. In 2012, nearly one quarter of all new businesses were started by people ages 55 to 64.  According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, business creation by older Americans grew more than 60% between 1996 and 2012.

So if you are interested in starting your own business as an encore career, where do you begin?

1. Follow your passion! Your business will only succeed if you love what you do. As Steve Jobs says, “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

2. Know yourself well. Assess your strengths and weaknesses to determine if you have what it takes. Do you have some of the traits common to successful entrepreneurs? What are your existing skills?  Older entrepreneurs have an advantage — at this point you probably have a good sense of what you love to do and what you can do well. Now, instead of doing that work for an employer, you can do it for yourself.

3. Get out there to connect and learn. There is so much to learn from others in the field. Read, take classes, join small business groups of like-minded people, find organizations focused on the issues you are passionate about, as well as organizations focused on senior entrepreneurs. Starting a business can be a risky endeavor but much less so when you have relevant skills, a sense of the marketplace, and an understanding of what others have tried already and what has succeeded or failed.

4. Don’t do it alone. Starting a new business can be a significant undertaking. You need a strong network to help you navigate through the rough patches and mentors who will share sound guidance. It is important to surround yourself with supportive and insightful people.  As someone with life and career experience, there is a good chance you have a strong network of contacts already — people you can turn to as a support system and people who might eventually be customers or clients.

5. Use all the business tools you can find. There are many non-profit organizations and government agencies committed to helping people start their own small businesses. In San Francisco, the Office of Small Business is a great resource and there is a San Francisco Business Portal for finding all the licenses and permits you’ll need. Check out our website for more resources.

6. Money, money, money. There are many small and home-based businesses that can be launched without much start-up capital. No matter your size, knowing the resources you have and projecting what you may be able to earn is critical. How much do you need to make each month to cover expenses and make a profit? What are your start-up costs and how will you fund your transition? There are many ways to fund your business, with crowdfunding platforms becoming an increasingly popular strategy.

7. Make a plan! Your plan doesn’t need to be lengthy but it’s helpful to give some thought to marketing, money and management before you begin. A business plan can force you to clarify your idea, understand the external conditions that might affect your business, and set realistic goals with benchmarks to track your progress. Doing the research, talking to people and creating realistic financial projections will give you confidence to get your business started and keep it going. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center offers a 12-week Business Planning Class to help you through the process.

Above all, what’s most important is to get out there and keep learning. Starting a small business is tough but it can be so rewarding both for the people you serve and the person you become. You are never too old to learn something new and make a difference.

Taking Action

At Paul Terry & Associates we help small business owners build successful and sustainable enterprises. Our consulting process is focused on clear assessments, careful advice and taking action. Central to our approach is business action planning.

taking action

Your passion and a strong vision for your enterprise may have launched you into small business ownership. However, a great idea alone won’t make you a successful business owner. You must turn your initial ideas into realistic goals with a specific plan for action.

Whether you are an emerging entrepreneur or an experienced business owner entrenched in the complexities of running a business, business action planning can help you identify measurable goals and create specific steps to reach your desired outcomes.

Every area of your business – customer/client relations, business operations, ownership expansion, and your eventual exit from the business – can benefit from action planning. So how do you begin?

DEFINE YOUR GOAL

Put it in writing. Writing down exactly where you are today and where you want to be in the future will force you to think concretely. Taking the time to write down your goals may spark some new ideas, too.

Be S.M.A.R.T. – that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely/time-bound. You need to be able to clearly state what you want to achieve and your goal needs to be concrete and doable. Initially, steer clear of goals that might take you three to five years to achieve. Once you get comfortable with the action planning process, you can use it to tackle bigger, longer-term goals. For now, stay focused on something you can attain within a year’s time, or even less.

SET YOUR ACTION STEPS

Take it one step at a time. You are much more likely to attain your goal when you identify specific steps to reach it. Each step needs a realistic deadline and an estimate of how much it will cost you—not just in dollars but in your time and other resources.

Taking Action5

GET SUPPORT

Everyone needs someone to lean on. Trusted advisors and people in your business support network are essential during this process. They can be a sounding board while you create your plan and they can keep you accountable once you have a plan… every step of the way.

USE YOUR PLAN

Long and pretty isn’t necessary. A business action plan isn’t a fancy document—it’s a usable one. It needs to be accessible and referred to frequently. It might help to set reminders on your calendar to review it so that you can stay on track and make adjustments if necessary.

Still feeling daunted by action planning? We support clients through the action planning process every day –helping them create relevant goals, identify specific action steps, measure results and stay on track. How can we help you build a successful outcome?

Business skills and lessons learned

As a small business owner, you bring your know-how from past successes and failures to your business.  As the business grows, you continue to build on lessons learned and hone your business skills.  For many small business owners, “learning from doing” is the primary teacher.

Do your business skills match your business’ complexity?

I recently shared six tips on this topic and asked other small business owners about their experiences.  How did their business skills match the complexity of their business when they first opened?  How have they dealt with this tension throughout their business’ evolution?  What advice would they want to share with others?

In previous posts Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen and Rachel Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit shared their stories with us.  Here are two more business owners tackling complex issues and leveraging their management skills.

Elizabeth Leu
Fiddlesticks

business skills

When Elizabeth Leu started Fiddlesticks, a children’s boutique in Hayes Valley, she thought she was prepared.  She first worked for someone else and learned as much as she could about the retail business.  Elizabeth also took the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center Business Planning class.

She started her business with a solid foundation of hands-on experience, working for others, and thoughtful planning. Yet she couldn’t prepare herself for what it would actually feel like when she was completely responsible for her own business and all its complexities.

“As a small business owner you have to be the master of all in everything you do, and that’s not easy.  You have to wear ALL the hats and ideally, they should all fit.  I think management capacity is finding the correct fit with all those hats — and that’s hard!  It takes a lot of time and experience to get them all to fit.”

Elizabeth’s advice:

Learn as much as you can about every role in your business.

“You may love only a few of those hats but you have to figure out, master and tolerate them all — at least in the beginning until you can outsource.  Once you get strong enough to outsource, you still need to understand how it all works to keep a watchful eye on the whole operation.”

Stay positive and just keep going.

“I have worked very hard to grow my business and I have had some significant setbacks.  With every setback I can either choose to learn from it or become bitter and harbor frustrations.  I have worked hard to learn from them.  All of the setbacks were complex and difficult, especially because it was uncharted territory for me.  But I learned and I am still learning.  What is it they say, ‘two steps forward, one step back’? As long as you move forward, business complexity feels easier because you keep breaking it down, tackling it piece by piece.”

Claire Keane
Clairesquares

business skills

Claire Keane, owner of the artisan, handcrafted sweet treats company Clairesquares, says that her business skills did not match the complexity of her business when she started.  She had a steep learning curve.  But Claire gained the skills she needed by seeking out specific business knowledge and support and her daily experiences in business brought many lessons learned.

Claire’s key steps for developing core business skills:

Write a business plan.

Claire took the 14-week Business Planning Class at the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center and wrote a business plan.  “To this day, I frequently remember key pointers from each class.”

Join an incubator.

Claire joined La Cocina’s Incubator Kitchen and received the help of that community and all their support services.

Attend lots of workshops.

Claire learned from others to increase her skills.  “Whenever there was a workshop relevant to my lack of skills, I made sure to attend it.  I was able to take tips from each training and apply it to my business immediately.”

Develop a support team.

Claire knew that she could not do it all alone.  “It was very helpful to have a business mentor, new business friends with similar start-up business pains and other friends and family to lean on for advice to get me through the learning curve.”

Keep at it, even through failure.

Ultimately it has been Claire’s tenacity and her perseverance that has made her business a success.  “No amount of workshops can prepare you for real world experience.  In the end, I learned from trying, failing, and trying again.”


Check out these additional tips on balancing business skills with business complexity.  What has worked for you and your business?

Small Business Week!

small business week

Don’t miss it! Small Business Week begins and ends with Sidewalk Sales in 20 neighborhoods throughout the city, Saturday, May 16th and Saturday, May 23rd.

The kick-off event on Monday night, May 18th is not to be missed (tickets mandatory, but only $20). Flavors of San Francisco is a great opportunity to network with small business owners and small business resource organizations and eat delicious food from San Francisco restaurants. (Other mixers are taking place throughout the week, too.)

Friday, May 22nd will be the heart of it all — the Small Business Conference includes over 50 workshops jam-packed with info on a variety of topics relevant to small business. (Workshops are FREE but space is limited.)

Please participate!  Small Business Week is a great opportunity to network, gather good information and celebrate the small business community in San Francisco!

I’m proud to see Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center graduates featured on the Small Business Week website: Pinkie’s Bakery, Frisco Fried, Socola Chocolatier and Van Meter Williams Pollack.

small business week

Unplug!

unplugPersonal technology has completely transformed our work and home lives… and in most ways for the better. For many small business owners, technology is an the essential part of business operations. Our computers and smart phones are lifelines to our businesses.

We call, we email, we text, we tweet, we Skype. We check on orders, follow-up with vendors, employees, customers or clients, and stay on top of what’s happening in our industry.

All important. But what about when the technology starts to become an obsession? We don’t dare turn off our phones lest we miss something really important. We grab the phone as soon as we wake up and it is on our chest as we fall asleep. We check our email constantly without even realizing we are doing it.

How do we find the right balance between being attentive to our businesses and attuned to other aspects of our lives and the world around us? Is it possible to manage a business well without being “always on” and “always available”?

I think it is, but stepping away from personal technology takes a conscious effort. The first step: make a specific commitment. You can commit to “unplug” for one hour a day, one day a week, or just one day a month. Perhaps you can create a new tradition of staying away from the phone or computer until you have been awake for 30 minutes, or no phone at the table during meals. Hopefully, whatever your commitment, the end result is that you will feel renewed, refreshed and open to new possibilities. Unplugging may allow for new business insights.

If this sounds appealing, a good time to start is now! (Like time management strategies, it is always good to just start right away.) You can “unplug” with others by participating in the National Day of Unplugging in March.

Or you can plan your own “unplugging” tradition. The idea is to decide what is important to you. What are your reasons for disconnecting from technology? What would you like to do with that time (however long it is)?

On this year’s National Day of Unplugging, I plan to take a long walk without my phone, take my grandchild to the playground and have a family meal filled with good conversation.

If you unplug, what will you do?

Tiffany Schlain, filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards made this short film with her husband Ken Goldberg that lampoons the technological addictions of this generation. She and her family have been observing a weekly uplug for the past few years.

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream?

TeleSmart Communications founder Josiane Feigon understands the benefits of a great business plan… and that plan set her on the path to success in business.

entrepreneurial dream

“When it came to launching my own business, I needed a plan. I couldn’t just work it out on a cocktail napkin. I needed time to think it through. I might be brave and adventurous, but I’m also very methodical.

An entrepreneurial friend told me that she’d registered for a Business Planning Class at the San Francisco Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. They offered a 14-week planning session to help entrepreneurs work on their business plan and give their idea wings.

So I decided to register… I worked on firming up my idea, looking at it from all angles, and finally creating a robust business plan that would set me up for success.

I can’t recommend the RenCenter enough. Today it has offices in SF, the Peninsula, and Marin, with more small business incubators for new entrepreneurs. Sharon Miller is an amazing CEO and visionary. Their instructors are brilliant (special shout out to my mentor, Paul Terry) and the support is amazing. They are not your Shark Tanks.”

(thanks for the shout-out, Josiane!)

Now, Josiane wants to encourage others who are passionate about a business idea and ready to take the plunge. TeleSmart Communications is offering a scholarship to one lucky person who would like to register for Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center’s 14-week business planning class in 2015.

Do you have an entrepreneurial dream? Click here to learn more about TeleSmart’s scholarship opportunity!

Small Business Week is here!

san francisco small business week

It is going to be a big week for small business in San Francisco. Small Business Week 2014 kicked off this morning with a gathering at Twitter headquarters with speeches from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration.  There were also speakers from Twitter, Kiva and local businesses discussing the impact of social media on small business. Tonight’s gala, Flavors of San Francisco, will be a chance to mingle with over 1,200 small business owners and community leaders (and it’s already sold out).

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are packed with workshops TED-style talks for entrepreneurs on a variety of topics, including identifying your target market, running your business in the cloud, accessing capital for growth, and business law. Check out the schedule and sign up for workshops – they are free but space is limited!

As a part of Small Business Week, I was interviewed by my colleague Ken Stram of 2Bridge Communications for the Small Business Week SF YouTube channel. I was asked to comment on staying in business for the long-term, and you can check it out here.

Small business has a tremendous impact on our neighborhoods, city and our local economy. There are over 80,000 small businesses and start-ups in San Francisco and small businesses create two out of every three jobs.  Check out Small Business Week 2014 and share what you learn!

Elements of effective mentoring

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image,
but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

– Steven Spielberg

January is National Mentoring Month so it feels like the right time to be talking about small business mentoring — a key ingredient to success for every entrepreneur.

At some point, we all need guidance, a sounding board and a cheerleader to navigate through changes, growth and challenges in our business. Guidance can come in many forms — from a business “buddy”, through a peer support group, or directly from a trusted business adviser or a team of advisers. No matter the form, what is most important is that our mentors encourage us to look closely at issues and opportunities, and to maximize our potential. With their support, we can develop our business skills, take risks, and be successful.

mentoring

Our support system must include people who have been in our shoes.  We must surround ourselves with subject-matter experts and experienced small business owners who have dealt with similar challenges first-hand and can help us make sense of the clutter and make decisions with relevant, timely advice.

Though we believe that the best small business mentors are other small businesses owners, success in business does not qualify someone as a good mentor.  That person must also be a skillful listener and motivator, know how to ask questions, and know when and how to give honest advice. In addition, the best mentors open doors to a wider network that can support us and our business.

To sum it up, we believe that effective mentors…

  • Listen carefully to what you say (and don’t say)
  • Understand your needs and respect your point of view
  • Ask questions and challenge assumptions
  • Guide based on their own experience/expertise
  • Share relevant and immediately actionable advice, and
  • Are accessible and supportive over the longer term.

Above all, the mentor-mentee relationship should be a partnership, based on mutual respect and trust.

Strength In Numbers

Raising money for an emerging or expanding small business is usually a necessity and “bootstrapping” (pulling yourself up from your personal resources only) is often not possible after the initial launch stage. Finding money has typically meant visiting banks, knocking on every friendly door you can think of, and asking your family for help.

In a recent post I mentioned some local funding resources and a couple of online tools for raising capital. These days, using internet tools to solicit funds from the community or find potential investors is a popular (and often quite successful) alternative to the traditional means of raising small business capital. New business owners can now secure start-up or expansion capital with a little bit of support from a lot of people. “Crowdfunding” is really a strength in numbers strategy.

money

There are many online crowdfunding platforms to choose from and sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are just the tip of the iceberg. Each one is different and some may only be a good fit if you meet certain criteria.

Many of these platforms can’t be used to solicit loans or offer financial returns or equity to supporters. They are essentially tools to get “grants” from friends, family and your wider community. You can offer small thank you gifts or perks in exchange for their financial support (such as a t-shirt branded with your company logo or an invite to a “members-only” event related to your business). These little offerings can inspire people to give, even in small amounts.

With the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act), which President Obama signed into law last year, there may soon be changes to the crowd-funding landscape. The Securities and Exchange Commission is in the process of finalizing and implementing rules on a provision of the Act that could make it possible for people to use crowd-funding platforms to raise investment capital from “Main Street” investors.

In the meantime, there are a number of online sites that can be used to target accredited investors or to secure a loan. Fundable is geared toward small business start-ups who can choose to offer rewards to their backers or equity to accredited investors in exchange for funding. CircleUp is an equity-based crowd-funding platform that focuses on angel investments in consumer product and retail companies. EquityNet, which calls itself “the original crowd-funding platform,” is specifically designed for entrepreneurs seeking equity capital or who are looking for loans, grants and access to a network of business supporters. Prosper and more recently, Kiva Zip, make it possible for entrepreneurs and small business owners to secure peer-to-peer loans.

Pay-in-advance is another strategy for raising a little capital from a lot of people. Similar to the CSA concept where eaters pay a farmer in the spring for a season of vegetables, Slow Money has created a service called Credibles, specifically designed for small, sustainable food-related businesses, which enables supporters to pre-pay for goods and services.

With all of the crowdfunding sites out there (according to industry estimates there are currently over 500 active crowdfunding platforms!), how do you figure out the right option for you?  To start, Inc Magazine has a great flow chart to help you find the best fit among 22 crowdfunding platforms and this Forbes.com blog post gives a quick break-down on the pros and cons of the top six crowdfunding sites.

A crowd-funding campaign is not only about getting the money you need for a small business start-up or expansion, it’s about the opportunity to grow your customer or client base. Through the crowd-funding process you are developing a community of ambassadors for your business—people who like your business or business idea, who support your campaign, and who will spread the word to their friends.  The crowd-funding approach can strengthen your business in more ways than just your bottom line.

photo credit: Arkansas Community Foundation (http://www.arcf.org)

Planning for Business Success

Many people start small businesses and many seem to fail.  Risks always exist in business.planning

You can reduce those risks if you set aside time to plan in advance. This means defining your business offerings, doing specific market research, recognizing the essential management skills you need, and projecting realistic financial expectations… in short, you can reduce risks when you write and use a business plan.

Small business owners often say they don’t have time to write a business plan. There is too much to do and they want to get on with running the business. (Or, they may be intimidated by the planning process or simply be procrastinating.)

It’s true that some small businesses start without planning and do very well. However, once a business is launched and things get complicated, it can be confusing to figure out next steps. A good business plan helps sort out your options and can help you focus.

Business experts disagree about the importance of writing a business plan. Though some research has found that writing a plan greatly increases the chances that a person actually goes into business, there are business school professors out there, like Steve Blank, who say that real entrepreneurs don’t write business plans.

Although it may not sound like it, I actually agree with Blank’s approach. In his Lean LaunchPad classes, he’s pushing students to constantly talk to people and test their theories as they plan. A hands-on, real world approach is central to how I teach entrepreneurship, too. You cannot write a business plan in a vacuum and expect it to serve you well. You must get out there, connect with people, and constantly test your assumptions.

Writing, implementing and maintaining a business plan is hard work. Planning means learning to take the pulse of your business — over and over again. You have to be open to new ideas and be willing to learn from your mistakes. There is a reward for all that hard work, though. You end up with an operational management tool, a marketing plan, financial projections, and a means of communicating your business to others.

The primary purpose for writing a plan, though, is for the process itself. It forces you to be objective and critical, identifying weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and setting benchmarks to track progress. Doing research, talking to people, and analyzing your operation will give you confidence to continue with the business.

It’s really important that the plan reflects your unique owner perspective. The plan is a foundation from which each owner’s business judgment, personal feelings and intuition are measured. You should write it in such a way that you can use it, in a format that is easy to update. To be truly useful, a business plan should be a dynamic document — current, accessible and appropriate for the business. Don’t spend a lot of time making a pretty document unless a formal plan is needed to present to a bank or other investor. It doesn’t have to be perfect looking; the key is that it is useful for you and your business.

A business plan doesn’t guarantee success but it can help prevent serious mistakes. It is a great way to stay attentive to the important details of your business, to industry trends and competitors, and to new directions and business growth. A good business plan will help you maintain profitability, acknowledge and minimize potential risks, and develop confidence for future opportunities.

So how do you find the time to write a business plan? As Tim Berry says, “You don’t. You are always planning. Your plan is never done but your planning process is your key to good management.”

So, write that plan (or revisit your old one). It will be well worth your effort!