News Column

SBA and AARP Want to Help Older Entrepreneurs

June 11, 2012

Jim Meenan

Have you ever kicked around the idea of starting your own business? Ever had a business idea you believed in? Now could be your time to put it to the test.

Especially if you're older than 50.

The U.S. Small Business Administration and AARP are teaming up to provide counseling and training to entrepreneurs older than age 50.

The plus-45 crowd is the segment of the population that is getting more and more involved with starting their own companies, said Michael Chodos, associate administrator for entrepreneurial development at the Small Business Administration (SBA) in Washington.

"Entrepreneurship rates have increased among those above age 45 and have actually decreased a little bit for those in the 20 to 34 range," Chodos said. "So we have the aging of America and a healthier state of Americans as they enter their encore careers leading to a boom in entrepreneurship among that age group.

"We want to be able to support them to succeed."

Their goal is to train as many as 100,000 people.

And the help is all free.

"Whether you are 20-something or 50-something and starting a new business, you need to know how to plan, how to think about all the things that are required for business success," said Michael Chodos, associate administrator for entrepreneurial development at the Small Business Administration (SBA) in Washington.

"You need to know how to make sure you have a mentor or coaching in place so that you can learn the lessons without having to repeat them yourselves."

The goal of the program is to get the many tools of the SBA with the aid of AARP to the 50 and older crowd. Most are not staying with one career anyway, noted Chodos.

Those interested in starting a business start with a self assessment offered at www.sba.gov/content/50-entrepreneurs. Mentors and online courses, most of which don't take a whole lot of time, also are available to arm potential entrepreneurs with knowledge.

"We are in the business of helping people pursue their dreams, but we want to make sure they do it with both eyes open and do it with the tools to know what has to be in place in order to succeed," Chodos said.

The thorough online assessment will certainly get people thinking and knowing that they have a few things to learn before they set off on the journey of starting a business.

But the assessment is not meant to discourage as much as to let them know areas where they might lack knowledge so they can go forward with both their mentor and online class offerings.

"The first thing you need is a dream, and an idea and something you want to sell," Chodos said. "But from that point forward you need to think about your financing and capital. You need to think about your employees. You need to think about all the rules and regulations you need to comply with.

"You need to think about your marketing plan and sales strategy and your technology platform."

That's a lot to think about. And Chodos strongly suggests you talk to a counselor very soon.

"We actually have online courses and counselors across the country, over 14,000 of them, who are ready and waiting to help small businesses navigate through all of that in order to succeed," Chodos said.

The online courses, listed under the small business network, are all free and run the gamut from financial literacy to basics of business marketing to how to use online tools, he said.

Whether it's one of 1,000 Small Business Development centers, or 110 Women's Business Centers, most offices are located within 45 minutes of most people in the U.S., Chodos said.

But what about the person who takes the assessment, maybe even an online class, but realizes the timing is not right.

"The first thing I would say is don't give up," Chodos said. "Call up one of our mentors and have a real conversation with them about what your idea is, what your dream is and what you need to do to get there.

"Because even if you are not ready to go today, at least you will know what you need to have in place in order to pursue it over time and to succeed.

"Once you know what you need, you can make a good and informed decision on what's best for you and your family."

The SBA believes teaming with AARP can get results.

"We are going to be working with AARP to make sure that all of their members know about the resources available at SBA," Chodos said.



Source: (c) 2012 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)