When I asked the 44,000 members of the Sixty and Me community what was preventing them from starting a business, by far the most common response was “I don’t have a business idea.” As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, the first step to take when starting a business is to examine your own strengths. But, what next?
How can you convert your passions, experience and skills into profitable work? How can you find a business idea that is right for you?
Part of the reason that people have so much trouble thinking of a business idea is that their definition of “business” is too narrow. They think that starting a business involves inventing a new product or investing significant amounts of money in a retail business. While both of these can be valid options, they are far from the only opportunities that are available to older entrepreneurs.
A business is anything that you do to make money. It’s that simple. From dog walking to soap making, freelance consulting to internet marketing, there are almost no limits to how you can put your skills to productive use. Strictly speaking, you don’t even need to have a company to have a business, although you might want to for tax and legal reasons. Let’s look at some of the most common categories that you can investigate as you look for your own business idea:
Freelancing – This is a huge category, covering self-employed work that you do for others in the fields of writing, software development, gardening, design, engineering, marketing, business and many others.
Product creation – This category involves creating a physical or virtual product in response to a need that you see in the market.
Retail – You don’t have to open a shop to build a successful retail business. Coffee shops, smoothie bars and cake shops are all examples of retail opportunities.
Franchises – When you buy a franchise, you are purchasing someone else’s successful business model. McDonalds, Easy Hotel and Subway are all examples of franchises.
Online businesses – This category is closely related to the “product creation” category, but, since it has several unique attributes, it deserves to be called out separately.
The important thing to remember is that every business opportunity has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you have marketable skills and don’t want to invest a lot of money in starting your business, freelancing can be a great option. On the other hand, if you are more interested in passive income, and don’t mind putting in the work, starting an online business may be a good option.
Not all of us want to create a big company, but, almost all of us would like to earn a little extra money, on our own terms. So, let’s start by looking at the many freelancing opportunities that are available. Then, we’ll take a look at how to generate ideas in the other business categories.
If, like many older entrepreneurs, you are not interested in starting a physical business or simply don’t have a lot of money to invest, freelancing can be a great option. The trick is to find an established freelancing category that matches your skills, passions and experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Let’s make this more practical. Following is a list of freelancing categories, each of which already has significant demand. If you have already completed the exercises in part 1 of this series, you can print this page and put a star next to the ones that you are interested in exploring in more detail.
With so many freelancing opportunities available, there is sure to be one that matches your unique combination of skills and experience. But, what about passion? By the time we reach our 50s, don’t we deserve to do something we love, not just something that we know how to do? The answer is a qualified “yes.”
The hard truth is that “doing what you love” isn’t enough to ensure your success as a freelancer. At the beginning, you will need to make plenty of compromises as you build your reputation and your client list. But, as you become more established, your options will increase.
I know plenty of successful business people who started out as freelancers and went on to build online courses or physical products, based on their passions.
The great thing about freelancing is that it gives you the opportunity to start making money right away. It may not be a path to instant riches, but, it can put you on the path to long-term financial success.
Freelancing provides almost unlimited options for making money after 50. But, what if you have your heart set on creating a business around a product or retail idea?
As Yahoo! Small Business Advisor points out, there have been plenty of examples of people starting successful product or retail companies, well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s. For example, Colonel Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65 and Jeanne Dowell started Green Buddha clothing at age 80.
If you already have a specific idea, you’re ready to move on to part 3 of this series and research your competition and other market factors. If, on the other hand, you know what you love, but, don’t have a product idea, here are a few questions that you can ask yourself:
What are other companies making money from related to your passions or skills?
What frustrates you most about the activities that you love to do? Could you fit it?
Could you make a small improvement to an existing product or retail model?
What do you hear people in your target market asking for?
Unlike starting a freelancing business, coming up with a retail or product idea can be a long process and there is no way to know when inspiration will hit. Perhaps the best advice that I can give is to dedicate a few minutes every day to brainstorming, without judgment. Not only will this give you the opportunity to come up with ideas during the brainstorming process, but, it will also prime your brain to be on the lookout for ideas throughout the day.
What do Subway, the UPS Store, Dairy Queen, Easy Hotel, Dunkin Donuts and Super 8 Motel have in common? They’re all franchises. It may not seem particularly exciting to buy someone else’s idea, but, that’s exactly the point. Franchise ownership shouldn’t be “exciting.” It should be “predictable” and, hopefully, profitable. Entrepreneur.com has an excellent section on franchises, if you want to dig into this topic in detail.
Selecting a franchise replaces the process of idea generation with idea filtering; your main goal is to find a franchise that meets your lifestyle and income goals. Don’t forget that franchises provide much more than an idea. They also provide training, marketing materials, support and a recognizable brand. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself as you begin the process of evaluating franchise ideas.
What practical requirements do you have? For example, what hours are you willing to work?
What types of businesses are you most interested in?
What is the reputation and brand strength of each franchise?
What level of support do they provide to new franchisees?
Which option gives you the best potential reward-to-investment ratio?
A word or warning: don’t let anyone tell you that owning a franchise is easy. Franchises may be more predictable than the average new business, but, they still require a great deal of effort.
Of all of the potential business ideas out there, starting an online business sounds like the easiest. Just set up a website, post an e-book or two, sit back and watch the cash to come rolling in. If only it were that simple! The truth is that, while setting up a website is easy, establishing a profitable online business takes time, discipline and creativity. There are plenty of people out there who will be happy to take your money in exchange for teaching you how to build an online business. The problem is that most of them haven’t done it themselves!
Those caveats out of the way, starting a profitable online business is still possible, especially if you have a specific skill to teach and are comfortable with technology. Here are a few questions to consider as you brainstorm ideas for your online business:
Do you have specific skills that you want to teach?
Can you find a targeted niche within a larger category? For example, “chair yoga for seniors” instead of just “yoga”.
Could you present old concepts in a new way? For example, if everyone is writing articles in your niche, could you use video?
What do you wish you had known when you were getting started with your skill or hobby?
Can you present existing concepts in a more entertaining way? Plenty of successful YouTube stars started this way.
Regardless of whether you choose to go the freelancing route, or to start a more traditional business, it’s important to get started as soon as you can. Starting a business is not a linear process. You will almost certainly change course, several times, as you learn about your target market.
Once you have an idea that you like, start researching. You will have plenty of opportunities to change course, before you invest significant time or money in your new venture.
Have you ever tried to brainstorm ideas for a new business? How did you find the process? What other idea generation suggestions would you offer to the other members of our community? Please add your thoughts in the comments section below.
Read Next: How to Start a Business After 50 (Part 3): Refining Your Idea
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