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Amy Lindgren: Business startup as a career ramp-down

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Friday, May 12, 2017 12:01 am

Second in a series of 4 for National Small Business MonthIn honor of National Small Business Month, I’m devoting my May columns to topics of interest to entrepreneurs. Last week I provided tips for business starters in the first half of their careers. Next week and the week after I’ll explore the concept of side hustles and an overview of business startup basics.

And today’s topic? This week I’m looking at small business startup as a career strategy for Baby Boomers.

In particular, I’m thinking of business ownership for this generation as a tool for career ramp-downs, but really, the business could be used as a career accelerator for a professional trying to build credibility, or as an end in itself. As Freud is supposed to have said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” – and sometimes, a business is just a business: Something fun and profitable for its own sake, with no need to lead anywhere else.

Let’s start with a definition of career ramp-down. The term is also used for concepts such as parents who stop out of work to raise children, so it will be helpful to establish the context for our topic today.

Career ramp-down would be that window of time between a full-time job or career and a full retirement without paid work. Some employers ease soon-to-retire staff into part-time assignments, but more commonly the ramp-down is orchestrated by the worker. Ideally, the ramp-down would be planned strategically, but unexpected demands such as caretaking duties or illness can also trigger the process.

So what makes a business startup for Boomers different than one for Millennials? Every situation is unique but as a rule you can expect Boomer business starters to fit some or all of these criteria:

-gifted (or encumbered) with assets, such as a home or a retirement account

-already established in at least one career area

-able to network effectively, given the strength and length of relationships

-motivated to accommodate the demands on their time from multiple sources, including elderly parents

-anticipating or already experiencing a change in their own physical and mental abilities

When the purpose of a business is to provide a smooth exit from a paid position, the startup process necessarily overlaps with that job. The trick is to continue giving full value to the employer, while also providing enough attention to the business to actually get it launched.

For this reason alone, startups that require intense focus initially, such as restaurants or day care centers, would be poor choices. Not to mention, they’re not terrific businesses to grow old in, which is key for this group of entrepreneurs.

Better options for a ramp-down business would include services that leverage expertise or skills the entrepreneur is already known for. Best yet are businesses that can thrive with part-time attention, allowing the owner to slowly decrease hours on the job while building the business, but not requiring full-time commitment once the job has been phased out entirely.

If you’re considering a business for your later years, or as a ramp between full-time work and retirement, you have a lot of planning to do. The following five tips may barely scratch the surface, but they’ll give you a starting point.

1. Make a timeline. You need a visual of the years you’re planning to work, in any capacity, including when you hope to be finished working altogether.

2. Count your resources. Which assets will you allocate to this business, which do you want to protect? Would you be better off selling or upgrading your home for something more accommodating to the business? Are your financial assets liquid enough to be helpful?

3. “Frontload” steps strategically. For example, mortgage refinancing to lower your monthly expenses is best done while you’re employed full-time, not when you’ve left paid employment entirely.

4. Work with your employer if possible. Ideally, a supportive employer would reallocate your workload as you ramp down. But even without this cooperation, you can try to lobby for assignments that will best suit your overall plans.

5. Be creative in selecting your business. Try not to rush this step – even a year or more at this stage would not be too long if it avoids false starts later. Starting with an internet search makes sense, but plan to elevate the process to in-person conversations, conferences and networking meetings as soon as you can. Not only will this approach be more effective, it’s a lot of fun as well. You may be surprised by how quickly your entrepreneurial spark grows into a full-fledged campfire, with others on board to help you succeed.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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