Is It Crazy to Start a Business Now?

OnYourOwn Startup-1018514_1920In my last post, I talked about a potential strategy for getting your life back, and I proposed a three-part plan: Re-enter, Re-evaluate and Re-trench. I believe the three "re's" represent a practical, measured way to emerge from the pandemic with a set course of action.

As part of the "Re-evaluate" phase, you may be considering what your current and future work life should look like. If you have been laid off, you are certainly not alone -- but as a Boomer, you are more vulnerable than most other workers. It should come as no surprise that Boomers face significant age discrimination when it comes to being re-hired by a previous employer or getting a position with a new employer. While it is often a short-sighted strategy, the harsh reality is that employers often opt for younger employees who simply cost less than Boomers, despite our experience and work longevity.

One way to "re-trench" is to start your own business. Even under the best of economic conditions starting a business can be risky, so a legitimate question becomes, "Is it crazy to start a business now?" The answer is not the same for everyone. If you have specialized expertise, business contacts, financial security and an independent spirit, this could be an ideal time to start your own business.

Writing for Entrepreneur, Rick Terrien makes a strong case for older workers to be proactive about their future by launching a 1-person business now. He writes:

"Being proactive allows you to grow your networks and put the building blocks in place to work and contribute as long as you want. For most people, it is easy and inexpensive to launch one-person Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). Creating a professional business shell around yourself gives you an independent  economic platform to experiment with as you test and grow your business model.  

Having your own small-business shell around yourself does not guarantee success, but it does give you access to tools you will need to succeed."

The statistics are both encouraging and daunting. Terrien points out that 25 million of the 32 million businesses in the U.S. are actually 1-person businesses. A study cited in Inc. magazine indicates that a 60-year old who starts a business is three times more likely than a 30-year old to start a successful business. On the other hand, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 50 percent of small businesses fail in five years.

Terrien is largely optimistic about self-employment for older workers, which he calls an "ageless startup." The numerous benefits he lists include the low cost of planning and launching a 1-person business, pursuing something you are passionate about, working as much or as little as you want, and working from home.

There are lots of information sources available if you are interested in starting a business, including Rick Terrien's book, Ageless Startup: Start a Business at Any Age.

For a little extra encouragement, an eGuide I wrote about starting a 1-person business is available free to Happily Rewired readers until May 31. To get your free eGuide, simply visit https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/177376. Use the code AG100 at checkout and you will be able to download the eGuide in the format of your choice, including EPUB, Mobi (Kindle) or PDF. Be sure to take advantage of this free offer by May 31.

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The Three "Re's"

Musings Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 1.49.46 PMI've been considering the breakneck speed at which things have changed. The fact is, we may never see what we thought of as "normal" again. At the risk of preaching to a Boomer choir, here's one way to plan for getting our lives back. I call it the three "re's."

Re-enter

Most of the states in our country are starting to re-open, so now is the time to consider how you will re-enter society. This is a very personal decision. Older Boomers and those with underlying conditions will likely be more conservative when thinking about getting back to everyday life outside the home. Should you go to the supermarket? Should you go to a dentist or doctor appointment? Should you go back into a work environment? You may be in a position to re-enter gradually and, over time, increase your external exposure. Every decision will take into account your health and the health of those living with you. You'll obviously consider the risks and rewards of what you do. For example, you may feel comfortable taking a short road trip, but you probably won't feel comfortable getting on an airplane for a long time.

Re-evaluate

As you plan your re-entry, you may also want to re-evaluate your whole situation. You need to consider all aspects of life -- health, job, volunteering, recreation, home, retirement, financial condition and so on -- in the context of a new normal. What short- and long-term consequences will the pandemic have on the way you live your life? What are the implications of the economic impact? What changes will you find it necessary to make? How has the pandemic affected how you think about your future plans?

Re-trench

Your re-evaluation may result in an unanticipated, unpleasant fact: You will be forced to re-trench. You may have to make new decisions about working, retiring, investing or just getting on with your life. You may have to modify some of your life goals or re-set your expectations. Some things may have to change just for a while and other things may change permanently. You'll probably have to find new ways to cope with a different reality.

The three "re's" is just one approach to facing adversity and rebuilding our lives. Those of us who see life's challenges as opportunities instead of problems will be in the best position to succeed.

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Something is NOT Rotten in the State of Denmark

Musings Flag-667467_1920In Shakespeare's Hamlet, a guard who sees the ghost of Hamlet's father proclaims, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." Something is definitely NOT rotten in the state of Denmark: That diminutive Scandinavian country puts America to shame in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a recent Opinion piece for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof does an admirable job of proving the point. Kristof wrote:

"Denmark lowered new infections so successfully that last month it reopened elementary schools and day care centers as well as barber shops and physical therapy centers. ... Moreover, Danes kept their jobs. ... America's unemployment rate last month was 14.7 percent, but Denmark's is hovering in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent."

How did Denmark accomplish what America could not? Detractors say it's because Denmark practices something evil known as "democratic socialism." But in Denmark's case, democratic socialism seems to create a government that is a lot more empathetic toward the population than the American government. For example:

  • Instead of allowing companies to lay off workers and throw everyone onto unemployment, as we did in the U.S., Denmark paid its employers to keep their workers on the payroll. The country reimbursed up to 90 percent of workers' wages to keep them employed.
  • Instead of instituting a terribly managed and inequitable business loan and grant system, as we did in the U.S., Denmark simply helped companies pay fixed costs such as their rent, as long as the companies agreed to suspend dividends, not buy back stock, and not use foreign tax havens to evade taxes.
  • Instead of low-wage workers suffering the catastrophic loss of wages and health insurance by being laid off in the U.S., Denmark, because of its democratic socialism, protected its workers: McDonald's workers in Denmark, for example, earn around $22 per hour, which includes pay supplements -- AND they get universal medical insurance, paid sick leave, six weeks of paid vacation annually, one year of paid maternity leave, life insurance and a pension plan.

Danes are generally regarded as some of the happiest people in the world. They should be, if even a McDonald's worker is treated so well. In fact, everyone in Danish society is treated well. About 80 percent of Danes ages 16 to 64 work (a higher percentage than in the U.S.) and they work an average of 22 percent fewer hours than Americans. More than 80 percent of Danish workers are under collective bargaining contracts because Danish unions are strong. This is the kind of system that can sustain itself during something as devastating as a pandemic. 

Danish Labor Minister Peter Hummelgaard told Kristof, "Danes love America, but there's no admiration for the level of inequality in America, for the lack of job security, for the lack of health security, for all those things that normally can create a good society."

Well, well. Maybe this pandemic should give us pause to seriously consider why a great country like ours cannot come close to the social safety net provided by a country like Denmark. It certainly doesn't seem "rotten" to me.

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Reader Comment: Without getting political, I've written a few blogs on how Scandinavian countries - despite frigid arctic temperatures and months of darkness, have the happiest people on the planet. This fact has always fascinated me. After all, we all do well to learn from other cultures. They do have a better handle on the coronavirus and are well-known for providing basic necessities including free university education, social security, universal health care, efficient infrastructure, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation a year. But I also think we can learn a few lessons from the Norwegians and the way they live. They practice "hygge" which requires being present in a moment – whether the moment is simple, soothing, or special – that brings comfort, contentment, or pleasure. Norwegians have proven to be less materialistic than other cultures, appreciating low-cost activities and simple things in life. Working overtime or on weekends? Unheard of! These countries have harsh weather, but these people are a hearty bunch who show their appreciation for nature and the great outdoors year round. In winter, most Norwegians aren’t sitting in their houses all depressed. They can be found skiing, dog-sledding, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, and enjoying the spectacular northern lights. During summer months, they take advantage of the warmer weather to hike, swim, cycle, and sail. I think these happiness reports confirm that happiness has less to do with money and success and more to do with spirituality, our relationship with others, gratitude, a giving attitude, and being present and mindful. And maybe adding a little more hygge to our lives.

- Julie Gorges, https://babyboomerbliss.net/

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An Uncomfortable Reality

MusingsAs Boomers, we might very well be conflicted about reopening the country after what, for most of us, has been two months or less of staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those of us who have been conscientious about self-isolation have probably figured out how to cope with a new way of carrying on our daily lives. Maybe it has involved lots more online ordering and grocery delivery, lots less face-to-face contact with family and friends, and lots of fun or frustration dealing with digital technologies such as Zoom.

No doubt we're feeling like we want to get back to something resembling "normal" behavior, especially with the advent of spring and summer weather. But I'm guessing you're cautiously optimistic, if not downright anxious, about what "reopening" will mean. You are not alone: A recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll shows a large majority of Americans are concerned about it. Check out the results of the poll below:

Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 12.17.21 PM

Clearly, we are all facing an uncomfortable reality. Thankfully, Boomers are wise enough to know that most choices in life have a risk/reward ratio associated with them. But this choice is a particularly difficult one: How long should we or can we cloister ourselves away, vs. when are we ready to take some risks and jump back into the stream of everyday life?

The decision may be more obvious for some of us than for others. For example, if you have health conditions that may compromise your immunity, or you take care of an elderly parent, you are far more likely to adopt a very conservative approach to reentry. If, on the other hand, you need to return to work and you cannot work from home, you may very well believe the reward is greater than the risk.

This is one of those times when no one has an easy answer. The decision will, in fact, be very different for everyone. Hopefully, each of us will make the right one.

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A Lesson in Resiliency

Musings Resilient-4899283_1920There are many notable stories emerging from the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps an under-reported aspect is the remarkable resilience of some older citizens, as evidenced in this New York Times article, "Why So Many Older People Thrive in Lockdown."

Writer John Leland spoke with three New Yorkers, ages 99, 85 and 88. All of them were not only surviving the pandemic but finding ways to thrive during it.

  • The 99-year old Sterling Lord, a literary agent who once represented Jack Kerouac and today represents Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is able to work in relative isolation. He says the virus lockdown "has been an inconvenience" because Lord wants to start yet another literary agency and "he cannot hire assistants to get the new agency going."
  • Historian Janet Wasserman, 85, is doing research via the Internet. She has a healthy perspective on the situation, telling Leland, "If you haven't lived as long as I have you might think this was the worst thing that ever happened. But people who know history know the difference."
  • Theater professor and director Gordon Rogoff, 88, is happily catching up on his reading. He says, "I’m recovering some sense of space and time that’s been lost in the hectic arrangements in which we live on a daily basis."

In the article, Leland quotes Gary M. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Kennedy says "pessimism and anxiety tend to abate with age. [Older people are] no longer striving for material achievements, so what matters to them now is what's emotionally satisfying. They're more likely to say, I've been through this before."

I find it encouraging that these elders have adopted such a positive outlook during a time of global crisis. While the pandemic has turned life upside down for all of us, they seem to be far better at coping with the effects of this virus than others. In contrast, younger folks are very anxious and upset. They are impatient to restart their lives. Of course, their anxiety is totally justified, but one gets the feeling that many of them may not take the social distancing precautions necessary when restrictions are eased. We've already seen a flagrant disregard by some people for guidelines intended to protect all of us.

Nothing can beat the wisdom of experience and the perspective of age. It's sad that our society generally derides elders instead of honoring them. Sterling Lord, Janet Wasserman and Gordon Rogoff offer us a much-needed lesson in resiliency.

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Advice for Recovery

OnaWhim Directory-466935_1920As difficult as it is to believe right now, we must all have hope that the United States and the world will eventually recover from this global pandemic. We will, however, likely be living under very different conditions in the near future -- what many are referring to as the "new normal." One can foresee, for example, an increased emphasis on social distancing, mask-wearing in public and the inevitable demise of the familiar handshake.

How will our lives as Boomers be different? Older Boomers who collect Social Security and are already on Medicare were probably relieved to have those safety nets in place during the pandemic. Still, their retirement savings have no doubt been battered. It could take years to rebuild the value of those investments.

Older and younger Boomers alike have been affected. If you were employed previously, you may have been laid off from your job. Post-pandemic, you may lose your job permanently. If you owned a small business or were part of the gig economy, you may have seen your income dry up or even had to shutter your business.

The hard truth is many of us had finally recovered financially from the 2008-2009 recession. We were probably on pretty solid ground until the coronavirus crisis hit. Suddenly, it obliterated our security.

So how do you find a way to pick up the pieces now? I don't claim to have any easy answers. I won't flood you with platitudes that you may find elsewhere.

But I do believe that given our collective experience, Boomers are generally better at facing and overcoming life's challenges. Why? Because age provides perspective... and we are generally a very resilient bunch. We have lived through downturns and upheavals and survived. Many of us have learned important lessons as we age: Being able to live below our means, valuing the little things in life, expressing gratitude for family and friends. Even in the midst of the global meltdown, I'm grateful for what I have.

So we will cope. We will stay positive. We will find a silver lining in this crisis. We will not allow it to steal our vitality and our exuberance for life. We will recover and prevail.

The road to recovery may be long. Some things in our country will need to fundamentally change for the better. But we have only to look at the selflessness of front-line workers and the countless acts of kindness displayed during this pandemic to recognize that the human spirit is alive and well. That will carry us forward.

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Coronavirus Revelations

Musings Man-4957154_1920The coronavirus pandemic affects everyone on the planet one way or another. For one thing, many of us now have a lot of isolation-inspired time on our hands. In my case, it has given me time to ponder what this unprecedented event really means. It has made me see our own country's priorities and challenges through a very different lens.
 
I remember our country going through such trying times as President Kennedy's assassination, the war in Vietnam, Watergate/Nixon's resignation, 9/11 and the 2008 financial meltdown. As a nation, we have always managed to recover from adversity. Still, for decades, underlying chronic problems have lingered, and when we have an unimaginable crisis like this one, they become painfully obvious. For me, coronavirus has revealed three glaring weaknesses: 
 
The incompetence of our federal government. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that our political leaders have been emphasizing all the wrong priorities while failing to do the one basic thing for which they are responsible — protecting citizens. There is growing evidence that our government was unprepared for this pandemic even though it should have been. Important public health functions were eliminated, experts were let go and concerns that were raised were ignored or not taken seriously. Leadership at the national level is non-existent. The petty, combative, ignorant political leaders who "run the country" lack the empathy, honesty, cooperative spirit and moral fiber to intelligently deal with something of this magnitude. Fortunately, many governors have stepped up and done their best to fill the void.
 
The fragility of our systems. Only when such a crisis occurs can we see first-hand how inter-dependent we are. Local restaurants are just one small example. I took it for granted that we could walk into a restaurant any time we wanted and get great local cuisine served by friendly staff. Having them suddenly close made me understand what that means for restaurant owners who live on thin margins, for restaurant workers who struggle, and for the entire supply chain of farmers, fishermen, truck drivers and others whose livelihoods have been instantly obliterated. It is likely many small independently run restaurants will never re-open. This same scenario applies more broadly across many aspects of modern life in America. Every industry in the country, every product we buy and every service we use is inter-related on some level. When any part of our system fails, it’s like pulling out the Joker from a house of cards.
 
The inequity of our society. It is startling that a tiny virus can make so obvious the huge gap between the haves and have nots. Somehow the rich and famous manage to get tested and enjoy the very best care if they get sick. At the same time, others who are less fortunate are told to avoid getting tested and come to a hospital only if they are having trouble breathing. Everyone is told to stay at home; some of us can work for home, but others who cannot are abruptly laid off. As a result millions of people lose their jobs and have no health insurance and no savings. Here's how the federal government "fixes" the problem: It authorizes payments that cannot be made in a timely manner, unemployment benefits that are impossible to obtain because of overwhelmed state bureaucracies, and small business loans that banks are not prepared to fulfill. Once again, our systems fail the middle class and poor people who need the most help.
 
Front-line workers risk their lives to save others but are not provided the basic protective gear they need. The sobering fact is that these very dedicated people are paid less than a living wage and receive meager benefits. I saw one story about a poorly paid EMT worker in New York who was terrified because all of his emergency calls were related to coronavirus, yet he himself had no health insurance. Compare that with millionaire politicians who have the best health care in the country. How can we as a society allow that?
 
My apologies if I may have depressed you with my outrage, but a pandemic has a way of revealing the cracks in our country that we might otherwise ignore.
 

The Old Fogey Freelancer

OnYourOwn Multi-tasking-2840792_1920When you were growing up, you probably remember the nasty term "old fogey." Some of us may have even used it to deride our elders. Nowadays, you may not hear that specific term much, but its meaning still exists. That's because ageism is alive and well in American society.

Ageism is particularly evident in the workplace. In the March 2020 issue of the AARP Bulletin, CEO Jo Ann Jenkins cited a new AARP study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit that indicated "the U.S. economy missed out on $850 billion in 2018 from the loss of 50-plus workers' contributions." The loss was due to "biases against older workers" and was attributed to a combination of involuntary retirement, under-employment, and unemployment.

American companies certainly don't help matters when they arbitrarily toss out more expensive but more experienced older workers. Meanwhile the current law against age discrimination is empty and virtually unenforceable. It is no surprise, then, that some seniors who want to earn an income turn to menial, low-wage jobs. Others, however, have discovered the benefits of self-employment through freelancing. This is one reason the "gig economy" is a legitimate and growing sector (despite the fact that it has been battered of late by the coronavirus pandemic, just like the rest of the economy).

Generally speaking, as a freelancer, experience (which often equates with age) is an asset, not a liability. Ironically, the same companies that find it expedient to fire older workers seem to be perfectly willing to contract older freelancers. Bonnie Nichols, writing for The Freelancer by Contently, says she began freelancing when she was laid off from a corporate job at age 50. She has applied her journalism background and experience as a corporate communicator to obtain freelance assignments that take advantage of her skills. Nichols writes, "I’ve learned to recognize a good client from a bad one. Over time, I’ve been able to raise my rates. The good ones hire me for my experience, and they’re willing to pay for it."

Nichols admits to facing such challenges as learning about new subjects and wrestling with new technologies such as video conferencing, but these things haven't impeded her ability to get work. In fact, she has had opportunities to return to the traditional workplace since she began freelancing full time in 2014 but she says "I have no desire to return to corporate life. ...My goal for the past two years is to do work I love and give the rest away. So far, I’ve been pretty good at that.

"Freelancing just fits my lifestyle. It allows me the flexibility to take longer vacations with my spouse, be on call for my aging mother, and indulge my hobbies of playing in a band, swing dancing, and volunteering. It’s also the most reliable way to support myself as I head into 60."

Bonnie is just one of scores of mature workers who have leveraged their professional experience into freelance work. Nowadays, freelancing is a viable income opportunity in many fields, not just creative endeavors.

During the coronavirus crisis, freelancing can be an even more attractive option since you can work from home. Maybe this would be a good time for you to consider becoming an "old fogey freelancer."

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Do You Need to (or Just Want to) Continue to Work as You Age?

OntheClock Hands-545394_1920There is no telling how the current global coronavirus crisis will impact every Boomer's retirement plan and income. Regardless, the notion of working past retirement age is already a fact for Boomers, many of whom don't even agree on the definition of "retirement age." The traditional retirement age of 65 seems all but ridiculously outdated. So the question really isn't whether or not Boomers need to or want to work past retirement age, but rather how long they are able to generate some sort of income.

I've previously written about the various ways Boomers can do that, from full-time employment (often in businesses they own), to working side jobs, to working part-time. I personally know some Boomers who fully intend to work in one form or another, based on financial need or just to stay active, until they simply cannot physically and mentally do it anymore. There are plenty of stories about people in their 70s and 80s -- and a few rare cases in their 90s -- who continue to work.

Planning for late-stage work is something you can do before you get there, as my colleague Nancy Collamer points out in an article for Forbes. Nancy poses six excellent questions (along with helpful commentary) that you should ask yourself if you need to or want to work as you age:

  1. Does your employer offer a phased retirement program?
    While these types of program are rare, you might be able to negotiate a phase-out with your employer, perhaps working on a part-time basis and mentoring other employees.
  2. What are your income goals?
    The more income you need to or want to earn, the more likely it is that your professional career or past work experience will need to be leveraged in a new income-generating role.
  3. Beyond earning an income, why do you want to work in retirement?
    Nancy suggests making a list of three to five reasons why you want to continue to work -- maybe its community, routine or sense of purpose. Your key motivators will help you pursue the best options moving forward.
  4. What's on your "chuck-it" list?
    You've no doubt heard of the "bucket" list, but the "chuck-it" list is comprised of the things about work you'd be happy to leave behind. Here again, Nancy suggests listing your top three to five non-negotiable work factors -- so you know what you'd like to avoid.
  5. What type of job flexibility do you seek in semi-retirement?
    Understand your lifestyle goals so you can define the type of job that is the best fit for you. Do you need a flexible work schedule? How many days per week do you want to work? Do you want summers off? 
  6. What is your appetite for risk?
    Think about how much risk you are willing to take. Maybe you are in a situation where volunteering will be fulfilling enough and you can risk not generating work-related income. On the other hand, maybe you are ready to take a financial risk by starting your own business, which may involve an investment.

These six questions are an excellent start in framing the answer to the ultimate questions of why and how you will continue to work as you age.

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Coping with High Anxiety

Musings Covid-19-4939288_1920As a boomer blogger during this time of crisis, I'm sheltering in place as much as possible and trying not to obsess over the bleak news. I'm certain I am not alone -- everyone is surely having to cope with the high anxiety created by this unprecedented global event.

Still, I find it encouraging and inspiring to see what people and businesses are doing at a time like this. In the Asheville area where I live, clever and creative things are springing up. Some examples: The "Quarantine Concert Series," is a free series of nightly online concerts performed by local musicians in an empty venue (you can donate online to support your favorite musician). "Asheville Strong" is a website that allows any local restaurant or merchant to link to gift cards that can be purchased online and used later, since all restaurants and merchants are closed for now, except for delivery and pick-up. I would bet similar things are happening in your area, wherever you live.

Boomers are old and wise enough to know that challenges and crises are a part of life that tend to make us wiser and more resilient. In that spirit, I'm sharing a link below to one of the more helpful, positive resources I've found:

Greater Good's Guide to Well-Being During Coronavirus

This free online guide contains lots of practices, articles and resources, including "How to Keep the Greater Good in Mind During the Coronavirus Outbreak," "How Can We Stop Prejudice in a Pandemic?" and "Eight Acts of Goodness Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak."

Be smart and stay safe. We will prevail.

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Check out the new book featuring 156 best and worst brands of the 50s and 60s!