News Column

Older Entrepreneurs Own Business to Avoid Being Laid Off

Feb 25, 2013
Older Entrepreneurs

Calling the shots isn't always all it's cracked up to be. But for people older than 50, it's become a more popular choice.

Tony Uzzi knows all about that.

After 30 years in traditional jobs, at age 52, he accepted a buyout from a pharmaceutical company and went into business for himself. Now instead of having a fairly predictable schedule as a pharmaceutical salesman, work can interrupt just about anything - even dinners out.

On one occasion, Uzzi was sitting in a restaurant with his wife and their bottle of wine was being uncorked. The next minute, he was dashing off to make sure an elderly client of his Nurse Next Door senior care franchise was OK.

"It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Uzzi says. "It's a challenge."

For most Americans, exiting the rat race to start their own business is a passing thought. And then, as people get older, building a pension or a 401(k) plan with an employer match is too comfortable to let go.

During the Great Recession and its aftermath, however, the number of people older than 50 who started their own companies grew. Often it was because of the stiff job market. Sometimes family or personal circumstances necessitated a change to something more flexible. Almost always, running a business after decades of working for someone else is turning out to be an adjustment.

Uzzi's Nurse Next Door franchise is the second business he started after taking the buyout in 2010. Uzzi first launched an executive coaching business that drew on his experience as a manager. But he was bored and not making the money he wanted. He began looking for a franchise and settled on Nurse Next Door because of his background in health care.

Interruptions aren't the only challenge he encounters. Running the franchise comes with a myriad of duties: Drumming up sales and hiring among them.

"The constant drive to get clients, the constant sales calls. It's finding good caregivers," says, Uzzi who runs the franchise in Orange County, Calif.

He is continually looking for new contacts - local attorneys and churches, for example - who can refer clients to him. He has 15 clients and is hoping for more.

Many people older than 50 are making the same adjustments as Uzzi. Research by the Kauffman Foundation, which studies trends in entrepreneurship, shows that more people ages 55 to 64 turned to business ownership during and after the Great Recession. The foundation's index of entrepreneurial activity among people in that age group rose from 2007 to 2009 and logged a scant decline in 2010.

Some older entrepreneurs keep working in the industry where they've spent their entire careers. That was a big confidence booster for Lori Ames, who started her public relations company, The PR Freelancer, in 2010.

"Being 53 and having enough work and life experience made me go into this in a smart way," says Ames, who launched her business after her 22-year-old son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She decided that running her own company would give her the flexibility to care for her son and allow her to work near her Babylon, N.Y., home.

What was daunting was the prospect of becoming an employer for the first time.

Ames' business grew so much that nine months after she started the company she was able to hire the first of her two staffers.

That was great news, but the responsibility that comes with being responsible for someone else's salary was stressful.

"That was more nerve wracking than starting a business," she says.



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