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.—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.

Getting into Business

Emerging entrepreneurs can be a different breed. They are excited about their business ideas and are driven by their passion… but it may also blind them to some degree. How do people start a business with their eyes wide open and set themselves up for success right from the start?

start a business

Passion is essential

First, passion and conviction are essential. You need to know who you are and what you want to do. Then there is the choice of business model and knowing your product or service inside and out. You want to be ready to eat, drink and breathe business ownership… and wake up and do it again the very next day.

Know your market

Even if you have the best business idea and you are confident in your ability to make a product or provide a service and set up a successful business model, the great arbiter of success is the marketplace. Your business concept must be viable, not just to you, but to the people who will be your target market. How do you know your business expectations are not fiction? To get the answer, you must talk to people, survey potential customers or clients, and test your assumptions.

Test your concept

Once you have an idea of the marketplace, you want to test the concept. You can pop up in someone else’s space or test your product or service at a street fair or makers fair. You can get friends to hold events and sell your product in their living rooms. You can convince a friend who has a retail shop to let you set up a trunk show. If all goes well, the experience will make you feel more secure that your business idea is a good one and that you want to own and run a business.

Can you now say YES to these 5 key questions?

  1. Do I really enjoy being in business?
  2. Can I attract the customer or client who will appreciate my business and will pay for it?
  3. Am I good with customers and can I provide excellent service?
  4. Does my business model make money or will it at least break even “soon”?
  5. Can I envision myself persevering for the next 12 to 18 months to really establish my business?

Time for planning

Some degree of prior business planning is essential. To help guide you, you can take a class, read a book, or ask an experienced business owner for support. However you do it, the purpose of a plan is to define your business offerings, specify your market, outline the essential management skills needed, and create realistic financial projections with a well-timed series of action steps. Your final plan will be a useful document for potential investors, funders or business partners. But the primary purpose for writing a plan is for the process itself. It forces you to be objective and critical, identifying weaknesses, challenges and opportunities and setting benchmarks to track progress. Ultimately, it will give you confidence to get into and continue with the business.

Take the plunge

So you have made some initial sales, carved out time on weekends to work on the business and you are still excited about doing it. Actually, it is all you can think about. How do you take the plunge from part-time to all-in?

There are many different ways to do it.

  • Wait to launch until you have raised enough start -up capital – either through personal savings, bank loans or crowd fundraising.
  • Convince your friends and family to lend you money (perhaps with no interest) and agree that you do not have to pay them back for at least three years.
  • Approach your employer and negotiate to work only four days a week and use that extra day to work on your business.
  • Move from full-time employment to a contractual arrangement so that you can set your own hours and take time off when needed for the business.
  • Find an active or silent business partner with capital to invest in the new business and cover business expenses for the first year.
  • Marry well and/or use your future inheritance to support your entrepreneurship habit!
  • Quit your job and go all in right away, using credit cards to get you through the cash flow negative start-up period.

The path to small business ownership is unique for each entrepreneur. It depends on your tolerance for risk, your access to capital and cash flow, your skills and experience running/managing a similar enterprise, and your support systems.

Time, money and the prospect of failure are common hurdles for almost every small business owner starting out:

  • How do I find enough time to devote to my business?
  • Do I have enough funds to support myself while the business is developing/evolving in the first 6, 12 or 18 months?
  • Can I respond well to short-term failures as I navigate my way to long-term success?

You may struggle to find the right strategy to get your business off the ground but if you have passion for your business idea, some success from product or service testing, solid financial projections, and a strong support network… YOU CAN DO THIS!

Are entrepreneurs crazy? Sometimes yes. But that’s just what may be needed to jump in and swim! Some start in the shallow end of the pool and tip-toe down the stairs. Others lower themselves down the ladder until they are fully immersed but continue to hold onto the edge. And then there are the ones who leap off the diving board straight into the deep end. No matter your approach, just make sure you can see the edge and make your way back to solid ground as needed. But if you really want to swim in the world of small business ownership, you first just have to get into the water!

Good news for local small businesses

PTA clients and students have been in the press this month and we want to share their good news…

local small businesses

Judi Henderson-Townsend of Mannequin Madness

Judi Henderson-Townsend of Mannequin Madness was recently profiled in the New York Times about her goal to hit a million dollars in revenue.

local small businesses

Oxgut Hose Co. O-Type Chair

local small businesses

Oxgut Hose Co. Walsh Wood Carrier

LauraLe Wunsch of Oxgut Hose Co. was featured in San Francisco Magazine about her line of products made from recycled fire hoses.

local small businesses

Steve Fox of Urban Putt

Inside Scoop SF profiled Steve Fox of Urban Putt, the Mission District’s forthcoming indoor miniature golf course, restaurant and bar.

local small businesses

Kelsie Kerr

Inside Scoop SF also recently profiled local chef Kelsie Kerr, co-author of The Art of Simple Food and owner of Standard Fare, which will be opening in West Berkeley next month.

local small businesses

Wendy Lieu

And after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Wendy Lieu and her sister Susan are opening Socola Chocolatier’s first retail store on Folsom Street in San Francisco in early February.

Please join PTA in showing your support for local small businesses and these hard-working, passionate entrepreneurs!

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.


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 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 (

Show Me the Money


How do emerging and expanding business owners find the funding they need to start and expand?  It’s not easy and it takes time to prepare the “requests”, shop them to traditional sources and wait for approvals. For most people, it means using personal savings or credit cards. Others develop a simple promissory agreement and borrow funds from family and friends. As a new business or an emerging business without adequate capital, personal assets or a longer-term track record, it can be quite difficult to qualify for a traditional business loan.

In the SF Bay Area, there are a few non-profit organizations that can help small businesses and microenterprises. Working Solutions provides micro loans for small businesses from $5,000 to $50,000 and provides 5 years of post-loan support and advice. Opportunity Fund is a non-profit social enterprise that provides micro-loans for small businesses. They have a strong focus on supporting minority-owned small businesses. MEDA (Mission Economic Development Agency) is focused on the Mission and Excelsior Districts of San Francisco and works hard to make small loans more accessible to local businesses. The Mission Asset Fund is a non-profit based in SF that uses a Lending Circle Model to facilitate loans to members at little or no cost.

The City of San Francisco has also recently launched the Emerging Business Loan Fund. Eligible entrepreneurs can borrow up to $1,000,000 for a variety of needs, including equipment, working capital, physical improvements, real estate and expansion opportunities.

It is becoming more and more common for small businesses to use online tools to find and secure capital from their friends and the wider community. Kickstarter, the most well known, is a platform for funding creative projects, Indiegogo can be used to raise money for all types of campaigns, and there are a whole host of other crowdfunding platforms out there that entrepreneurs can use when looking for funds. For more information on the organizations and companies listed here (and many more), check out the Resources page of my website.

And don’t forget… for any business seeking capital, a business plan will be critical!  Paul Terry & Associates can help review funder proposals and business model assumptions, and can also help you develop an action plan—an essential step in securing the funding you’ll need.