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.

Wendy’s Wisdom

As the coordinator and teacher of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center‘s Business Planning Class, I help small business entrepreneurs create solid business plans focused on management, marketing and money. Students learn, struggle and grow through the process… and many return to Renaissance to share their lessons learned as guest speakers, consultants and mentors.

At the last Business Planning Class graduation, Wendy Lieu, graduate of the Fall 2012 Business Planning Class, shared her wisdom. As of owner of Socola Chocolatier, Wendy Lieu handcrafts delicious artisanal confections.

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

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

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?

Business advice from the field

One of the most enjoyable moments during the Renaissance Business Planning Class is when we invite graduates back to the classroom to share their experiences and their business advice. They talk about their successes but also reveal their struggles and mistakes, and what they might have done differently. Their advice has a profound impact on the current students who are about to launch or expand enterprises of their own.

In that tradition, I asked some of my clients and past students to share their thoughts on a common growth challenge for small business owners: balancing business skills with the complexity of the business. I recently shared six key considerations on this topic. I was curious to hear from small business owners in the trenches.  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?

Here is one story…

Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollak
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

When Heidi and her partner Nate opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen they already had general business expertise, people management skills and financial management experience but they were new to the restaurant industry and lacked specific industry skills. Heidi and Nate’s approach was to be honest with themselves about their own abilities and get help. “We took a cold hard look at what we did and did not know how to do, and then we recruited advisers who could teach us, or hired staff who already had the skills we lacked.”

Heidi and Nate took a similar approach when opening their second location. They had never run a multi-unit operation before. They sought consulting from other multi-unit operators, and hired general managers for each store who had come from multi-unit backgrounds. “We tasked the managers in the stores with the responsibility of ensuring consistency across the stores, not just within their own. For us, hiring managers who brought experiences and skills to the table that we did not have ourselves was crucial.” With the added complexity of two locations, Heidi and Nate decided to outsource their bookkeeping, too. “We hired a bookkeeper who had deep experience with multi-unit restaurants, which brought more expertise to our operation and freed up our time to handle other issues.”

Just this month Heidi and Nate opened their third location and published a cookbook, Grilled Cheese Kitchen: Bread + Cheese + Everything in Between!

Heidi’s advice for other small business owners:


Be brutally honest about what you are good at and what you’re not.

For the things you are not good at, find a way to outsource them to someone who is good at them. This goes double for bookkeeping and accounting if you are in a high-volume, low-margin business.

Ask for help.

There are a lot of resources out there for growing business owners, including Renaissance, SBDC, ICA and most importantly, other business owners. People want to see you succeed and you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help.

Don’t skip financial forecasting.

Many small business owners underestimate their financial management needs and make mistakes with finances when starting or expanding a business. The worst-case scenario is running out of cash, and sometimes growing can really chew up cash. You’re in a much stronger position to secure financing before you run out of cash rather than waiting until you’re down to the wire. Take the time to forecast cash flow, accounting for your growth needs, and start investigating funding options early rather than late.

Check out these tips on balancing your business skills with your business’ complexity and stay tuned for more words of wisdom from small business owners!

Happy Entrepreneurship Month – Give Thanks!

Did you know that November is National Entrepreneurship Month? In celebration and recognition of entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country, President Barack Obama proclaimed November National Entrepreneurship Month.

This is a wonderful thing! It is important to recognize small businesses and their impact in our communities. Small business owners deserve our attention and our thanks because we all benefit from their passion, dedication, innovation and hard work.

I am thankful to all the small business owners that I teach and work with every day, and for the small businesses that improve life in my neighborhood. I am also thankful to the organizations and small business support professionals who make it possible for entrepreneurs to launch and to succeed.

Last month Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center gave awards to three remarkable women whom I had the pleasure to teach in Renaissance’s Business Planning Class. This video, which highlights their stories, illustrates why it is so important that we support the small businesses and small business owners around us.

Take a look, and be sure to thank the entrepreneurs in your life. They need and deserve our support and encouragement… not just this month but all year long!

Happy Thanksgiving.

In the news

PTA students and clients have been receiving great press over the past few months and we want to share some of their news…

This summer SF Chronicle included an interview with Andrea Kenner, owner of the Sebastopol boutique, Tamarind. Andrea took the first 14-week Business Planning Class offered at Renaissance Marin in the Fall of 2012. The article also plugged another Renaissance (SF) Business Planning Class graduate, Ali Golden, “Oakland’s It designer”.

bay area small business

Rusty Olson, Renaissance Business Planning Class graduate from Spring 2013, opened Rusty’s Southern in the Tenderloin this Spring and has received nice press from Inside Scoop SF and the San Francisco Chronicle about his delicious Carolina-style BBQ.

bay area small business

In August I opened the paper and saw the smiling face of Beth Vecchiarelli, BP Class graduate from Fall 2014 and owner of Preserved in Oakland. Beth teaches classes on traditional methods of food preservation and her store carries D.I.Y. supplies for everything from cheesemaking and fermenting to pickling and dehydrating.

bay area small business

Blake Joffe, BP Class grad from Winter 2011 and co-owner of Beauty’s Bagel Shop was mentioned in a New York Times article, “Why Is It So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?“. His co-owner and wife, Amy Remsen, was a featured guest on an early August episode of KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasney about the same topic. Also this year, Thrillist named Beauty’s Bagel one of the 12 most important restaurants in Oakland, and Blake and Amy were featured in the recipe section of the SF Chronicle.

bay area small business

This year PTA client and Renaissance graduate LauraLe Wunsch has been receiving some great press for her unique product business, Oxgut Hose Company, which creates beautiful hand-crafted products with recycled fire hose salvaged from US fire departments. The Culture Trip labeled LauraLe one of 10 contemporary designers in San Francisco you should know about, there was a nice article this month in Country Living Magazine, and the final issue of Anthology Magazine (issue 21, Fall 2015) includes a feature on the business.

bay area small business

The SF Chronicle Island Style Section in mid October include a nice feature on jeweler Luana Coonen, BP Class grad from Summer 2014, and the impact of nature in her jewelry.

bay area small business

The Dogwatch neighborhood in San Francisco has a new design destination – Industrious Life, co-founded by Renaissance BP Class grad from Winter 2012 – Patti Quill. Patti and her co-owner Patti Davidson opened the shop this year and were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle.

bay area small business

In October, PTA client The Good Life Grocery was honored with the San Francisco Examiner’s Reader’s Choice Award for the Best Grocery Stores! bay area small business

And last but not least, we are thrilled that PTA client Bay Area Medical Academy, founded by Simonida Cvejic, was one of just 20 Mission Main Street Grant recipients for 2015, chosen from applicants around the country to receive a $100,000 award from Chase! Congratulations!

bay area small business

Entrepreneurs of the Year

On Wednesday, October 7th, Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center will be honoring three graduates of Renaissance’s 14-week Business Planning class at their annual gala. The award winners are exemplary business owners who have minimized personal risks and were motivated to plan carefully in order to launch successful small businesses. It has been a pleasure to teach them, provide one-on-one support when needed, and watch their progress as they establish their businesses and positively impact their community.

Established Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Wendy Lieu, owner of Socola Chocolatier, had already been operating her chocolate business part-time with her sister for many years when she took the Business Planning class in 2012. With the business skills and confidence she gained in the class, she  was ready to take the business to the next level.  In early 2014 Wendy and her sister Susan opened their retail shop on Folsom Street in San Francisco. They now employ five people and also have a thriving wholesale business!

Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Antoinette Sanchez, owner of Endless Summer Sweets, was a long-time Renaissance employee who worked with me to coordinate the Business Planning Class at Renaissance SoMA. She took all the Renaissance classes, received access to financing support from Gwendolyn Wright of The Wright Consultants, and studied with La Cocina. She left Renaissance two years ago to focus full-time on bringing funnel cakes and kettle corn to parties, events and street festivals all over the Bay. She will soon open her own store on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley!

Angela Cain Memorial Award

A graduate of the Business Planning class and a long-time Renaissance business incubator tenant, Brigette Renee LeBlanc, owner of LeBlanc and Associates, LLC has used all her training, support and referrals to develop her own business providing full-service event consulting to Bay Area clients.

These three women were committed students, wrote great business plans and took what they learned and applied it to their businesses. We are so proud of them and what they have accomplished. Please join me in congratulating these amazing small business owners!

Join Renaissance at City View Metreon on Wednesday October 7 at 5:30pm to honor the Entrepreneurs of the Year and enjoy the Renaissance pop-up café, dessert bar and marketplace. Many  Business Planning Class graduates will be in attendance. Many graduates have generously donated their products and services to the auction, including Heidi Gibson of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, Seán Patrick of Calibur, Gail Lillian of Liba Falafel, Nick Hormuth of Pedal Inn Bike Tours and Provisions, and Steve Fox of Urban Putt. We invite you to attend the Gala, reconnect with business colleagues, and enjoy the program plus networking, food and music!

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


There are many small businesses that launch every month in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Each launch is proceeded by months (if not years) of hard work, detailed market research and fundraising before the new business owner can “open the doors”. A number of our business planning students at Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center launched their businesses in 2014.  Show your support by visiting them and spreading the word!


Sean Patrick and his business partner opened a new burger and fries place in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood featuring burgers, fries and milkshakes made from 100% organic ingredients sourced primarily from California. (They even have a veggie burger for me!) Check out their recent San Francisco Chronicle review.

Pinhole Coffee

JoEllen Depakakibo just opened a new coffee shop on Cortland Street in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. The curated space features a variety of coffee roasters and other locally made goodies. Check out this recent profile of JoEllen and her new business.

Kinda Fancy

Lindsey Hoell and her brother and sister have launched a line of surf bikinis! They are made in America of strong, stretchy material …and include zippered pockets. Check out their fun website and online store.

The Good Hop Bottle Shop

Melissa Myers opened her bottle shop and tasting room on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, offering hundreds of craft beers from around the world, with mostly local beers on tap. You can enjoy your brew on site or take away, and attend their classes and monthly events.

Hoi Polloi Brewpub and Beat Lounge


Viet Vu opened his brewpub with his brother and wife on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley. The pub features a variety of beers, including their own creations, and all beer comes with popcorn drizzled with truffle-oil. Check out this recent San Francisco Chronicle review.



Courtney Cummins has launched Rilla, an online style boutique featuring select clothing, accessories and textiles from independent designers, as well as highly curated vintage pieces.

Communitē Table

Michele LeProhn opened the doors to her neighborhood restaurant in Oakland’s Laurel district this December — seasonal American comfort food to eat there or to take home. Check out this recent article about Communitē Table in the East Bay Express.

The ReCrafting Co.


Andrine Smith opened The ReCrafting Co. as a crafter’s resource for quality recycled crafting materials, supplies and tools. The shop also offers crafters a convenient opportunity to recycle their surplus crafting material and supplies on consignment for cash.

Liquid Gold


Tim Lee’s bottle shop and tap room opened in lower Nob Hill the Fall of 2014. The  focus is on locally sourced beers and wines.  In November, Liquid Gold made Zagat’s list of the 12 hottest new bars in the United States!

Urban Putt


Steve Fox and his team have created Urban Putt, the City’s first and only indoor miniature golf course in San Francisco’s Mission district. It is a playground for people of all ages with organic and locally-sourced food and drink. Thrillist calls Urban Putt “quite possibly the best thing to happen to the Mission.”

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!