Be Your Best Boss FeaturedWritten by William R. Seagraves
Why Older (or Retired) Employees are Well Positioned to Reinvent Themselves as Entrepreneurs
“How much runway does this guy have left, at 62?” That was the unspoken question in the interview room as Don Rollins sought new employment after losing his job at an arms manufacturer as a result of sequestering.
“They saw my grey hair and read my resume with my 30 years’ experience,” Don recalls, knowing then he’d hear nothing more. But the extroverted Florida engineer wasn’t ready to stop making stuff, and he sure didn’t want to stay home and miss out being with people every day
The lack of job offers, not uncommon in an era of ‘ageism’ in the workforce, gave Don the push he needed to start his own business. (His wife Kathy’s job was also cut as the result of sequestering. Just after they bought a franchise, she was reinstated as a teacher.) The Rollins settled on a Signworld franchise after Don visited other franchisees. "They told me how much money they're making and how cool it is with the high-tech digital artwork” for sign making. Don felt it matched his personal interest and skill set; “I was excited about being able to stay in the realm of manufacturing.”
The Rollins bought the franchise in Sarasota, Florida for $145,000 using a financing technique known as the Self-Directed 401(k) – rolling over some of Don’s retirement plan into his newly created C-corporation, working with a financial advisor experienced in the rollover process.
It’s My Money
"I haven't borrowed any money, and I never will," Don says empathically of the business he’s named Great Blue Images. “It’s my money, it’s my deal – I can make decisions as I see fit.”
Most people share Don’s sentiment; they’re not interested in re-mortgaging the house or other personal assets. Tapping into their retirement dollars is a way to avoid debt servicing which would negatively impact their cash flow. The Self-Directed 401(k) – also known as Rollover for Business Startup _ yields a substantial return on investment (25% or more), when compared to investment in Wall Street where they might get 6% to 8%.
Business is good for Don, whose passion and energy has translated into a loyal customer base. “There isn't a customer of mine who wouldn't stand at the side of a road with a sign about us if I asked them to," Don says. He’d like to add a couple more employees, expand his 2,500 sq. ft. facility, and add a CNC machine – when profits allow, of course. But he’s content to stay with a single location, and he knows his exit strategy is in the not-too-distant future.
Retired but Inspired
Max Steiner is the latter case. The 57-year-old took early retirement after working three decades for a private mining company. He found himself with a lot of free time on his hands – kids away at college, his wife working part-time. It didn’t turn out to be what he wanted.
“I wasn’t ready to donothing," Max says. "Plus, it would have been a stretch – financially – to make it" on a fixed income the rest of his life, and he knew it wasn’t realistic to rely on the stock market to grow any real financial security.
However, Max was not looking for a full-time job, he was looking for a business investment. He reviewed a multi-unit concept called Sola Salon Studios, whose business model is to lease space to individual hairdressers. He could play landlord and, as long as the spaces were filled, he'd just collect checks each month. No employees, no inventory, and no need to be there every day.
Then came the issue of start-up capital.
“The investment in multiple units was considerably more than I was prepared for," Max says. "I probably could’ve gotten a loan, but it’s not what I wanted to do at this stage of my life. I didn’t want to get tied down to a huge commitment that way.”
The strategy between multiple units of franchising is that you’re effectively buying options on units 2 through 5. Costs are really only for the first unit, and once that unit is profitable, it’s easier to get bank loans for the rest of the units. You don’t even have to open the remaining units. But if you do, any loans may be covered by your cash flow from the first two units.
Max opened his first Sola Salon Studios location in Little Rock, Arkansas in February of 2014, and he’s on track to open a second location.
Max Steiner and Don Rollins are both grateful they stopped working for other people and started working for themselves. As Don says, "I sure as hell don't miss the corporate world!" Max says, “I’m investing in myself… I have a hand in what happens.”
Isn’t that what we all want – control over our destiny, money, and the kind of sunset we ride into, that is, when we decide to stop participating in the work world?
William R. (Bill) Seagraves, president and founder of CatchFire Funding, of Parker, CO, is the author of the Penguin Random House book, Be Your Best Boss: Reinvent Yourself From Employee to Entrepreneur, released in February 2016. Himself a serial entrepreneur, Bill coaches mid-career Americans on the best route to successful entrepreneurship. Learn more atyourbestboss.com.
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