I think we can all agree: the later years of life—those decades formerly known as “retirement”—are changing rapidly… and radically. The Baby Boom gifted 21st-century America with a graying population: there are 78 million Baby Boomers, the first of whom turned 65 in 2011. Today, we’re turning 65 at a rate of about 10,000 a day, and 65+-year-olds make up about 13% of the U.S. Population.
Meanwhile, traditional pensions are dwindling and Social Security is in trouble. The recession and painfully slow recovery mean that retirement savings are in short supply, while many near-retirees have also lost home equity or a job. And because the population is growing older so quickly, programs for the elderly are expected to consume an ever-larger percentage of federal dollars (the projected statistics for 2015 put federal spending for the elderly at nearly half the federal budget).
Pretty bleak, huh?
But then there’s the upside! Americans are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. My friend Bill Zinke of the Center for Productive Longevity calls it the “longevity bonus”: “The gift of the 20th century to the 21st,” he says, “was 30 extra years of life!” Quality of life is important to us, and we’re learning more and more about how to get healthy, stay healthy, and make our later years better than ever.
So where does that leave us? A huge chunk of the population is approaching (or surpassing) “retirement age,” but retirement—in the traditional sense—seems out of reach … and the economic situation means that we really can’t afford to have people just sitting around. But even though all people want is JOBS, a staggering 78.5% of businesses never hire employees. These businesses are one-person ventures. Meanwhile, however, even if there were jobs, getting one would be another thing entirely: rampant ageism in the workforce has left a disproportionately high percentage of workers aged 50 and older unemployed for the long-term, draining their savings and forced to rely on government services.
Oh, and don’t forget! We have three extra decades of health to enjoy our retirement … or lack thereof.
It seems like a frustrating bundle of insolvable puzzles and Catch 22s, doesn’t it?
The good new is that it doesn’t have to be. Introducing one of the most interesting trends in the business world: encore entrepreneurship.
- Someone who is 50+ and excited about their “next act”
- Part of the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce
The U.S. Small Business Administration has a whole campaign directed specifically at encores, and for good reason: among working Baby Boomers, more than five million run their own businesses or are otherwise self-employed.
Encore entrepreneurship solves a number of problems in one fell swoop: staying productive is a great way to stay healthy, and running a business (especially if it centers around something you love doing) is a great way to stay productive for those of us who can’t afford to spend our entire “next act” volunteering or pursuing a hobby. Furthermore, encore entrepreneurs can keep working without having to get all worked up about the JOBS issue … and that “keep working” bit is just what our economy needs right now (not to mention our wallets!)
In short, the encore trend is paving the way for an increasingly vibrant economy full of healthy people (and saving the government money on social services and elder care costs!)
Welcome to the Age of the Solopreneur.
Solopreneurs are entrepreneurs who work alone. They might be writers, coaches, consultants, or artists. They might be massage therapists or CPAs. They are outsourcing the help they need, treating their time as the precious commodity it is, and using their passion and talents to make a living (and a good one—successful solo businesses can make $100,000 or more a year). Whether they call themselves “freelancers,” “home-based businesses,” or “self-employed,” they are predicted to make up 50% of the labor force by the year 2020.
And yet everyone—from the highest-ranked politicians in the federal government to local Small Business Development Centers—is obsessed with the same old questions: Why aren’t there any jobs? How can we get more of them?
You see, I believe we’re measuring the wrong thing: we’re wasting our time talking about JOBS. What we need to be measuring is work. Given the huge percentage of solo ventures out there, we need to figure out how to teach solos to be successful, and stop agonizing about the lack of good old 9-5 JOB-jobs. My decades of working with small businesses have made me realize that traditional business wisdom, which focuses on the “pyramid model” of hiring employees, is simply not applicable to solo ventures. Solos need to BE the business and DO the work they love—not hire other people to do it for them. I’ve developed some tools to help solos on their path to financial success, and I’m convinced it’s possible for everyone.
But what brings this all full circle is that I’m convinced that it’s especially possible for Boomers and seniors. As we’ve already discussed, we’re seeing more and more encore entrepreneurs, and solopreneurship is the easiest way for encores to be in business because of its flexibility. So if the idea of starting a business makes you want to run the other way, hang on a second! The internet and all of the e-tools we have available have made solo businesses scalable; geography no longer matters. You can sell your product or service anywhere, anytime.
In addition, many encores already have the basic requirement, the very first principle for successful solopreneurship: they have a lifetime of learning in one particular area, meaning that they have a focused passion for a deep and narrow niche. Bill Zinke of the Center for Productive Longevity calls it “Double ESP”: Boomers and seniors have Experience, Expertise, Seasoned judgment, and Productivity. Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for a successful business?
Now, I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture: solopreneurship has it’s own unique set of challenges. But that, after all, is why I wrote my book, Better, Smarter, Richer: 7 Business Principles for Encore, Creative, and Solo Entrepreneurs … and started my own solo-encore venture! I would love to hear your entrepreneurial stories and help make your next act better, smarter, and richer—drop me a line or visit me on the web!