Finances & Advice AGE APPROPRIATE – Advice to would-be entrepreneurs: Ask questions

AGE APPROPRIATE – Advice to would-be entrepreneurs: Ask questions

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As I work on and develop my own business, Maine Senior Guide, I am impressed and amazed at the number of other entrepreneurs who also struck out on their own after 50.

From furniture consignment stores to specialty book publishing, from business coaching to assistance dog training, these people are starting over, often in businesses where they have lots of interest but not a lot of experience.

How can you take advantage of your skills and interests to redefine your career? Start with a plan.

Of course, the plan is different based on your incentive. If you’re employed, begin by setting a time frame, assessing your skills and deciding what you need to learn in order to be successful.

If you need marketing or business skills, there are several organizations that can help you – maybe an apprenticeship or internship is in order.

The Maine Small Business Development Authority, the Maine Association of Non-Profits, Women, Work & Community’s New Ventures program, Maine Technology Institute, and SCORE offer assistance.

Anyone who wants a career in the arts, has Maine College of Art as an option. It has community programs, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Most of the community colleges let you take a course at a time, if you’re trying to cement skills in a certain area.

If you’re unemployed (layoffs created a whole wave of entrepreneurs), then it depends on your cash flow. Do you have a skill (writing, web design, rock wall building, forestry management, administrative support) that people will pay for? You may have to pick up the business-related skills of marketing and accounting as you go along. Just remember to keep a file of every expense (write on the receipt what it was for).

The fastest way to get a basic handle on the information you need to be successful in your career choice is to ask someone who’s already doing it. Almost anyone in a position of success would be happy to talk for 10 or 15 minutes about what skills they needed to get where they are. If you want to start a flower shop, scout around for a small shop (preferably outside your competitive area) and give the owner a call.

Keep asking questions, because that’s the best way to find out what you don’t know. Simple questions, like, “What was your biggest challenge getting started?” or “What do you wish you knew back then?” will give you some direction.

Don’t forget your local library. Ask your reference librarian to suggest good career-change and small business books, but also ask for people to speak with.

If you’re switching careers, with or without the benefit of formal education, you’re now enrolled in school – the School of Hard Knocks. Try to glean something worthwhile from every experience. One of my favorite sayings is: Lessons are presented until they are learned. You don’t want to learn lessons the hard way if you can get the lesson plan from someone who’s already been there and done that. Even so, you will learn and stretch more than you ever imagined if you decide to embark on a new career.

One other thing. Find a friendly ear, someone who can listen to your fears and frustrations and joys. They will be the first to prod you if you complain about the same thing for too long, and the first to support you when you decide you need to go for it.

Deborah McLean is principal of MaineSeniorGuide.com. The company will sponsor its next Senior Expo, July 24 in Kennebunk. Reach her at dMcLean@maineseniorguide.com.

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