Self-Employment at Any Age

Self-Employment at Any Age

For many people at mid-career or later, being self-employed begins to look very attractive after years in a corporate or municipal workplace. For some, it's a way to escape. But for others, after a layoff, extended illness or other life-altering event, self-employment is often a way to reenter the job market.

Older workers frequently take on at least one "bridge job" between their career employment and complete retirement. Historically, the incidence of self-employment rises with age among American workers, spiking around age 65, the traditional retirement age. With layoffs continuing, periods of self-employment are now an option or even a necessity for much younger workers.

Not Your Mother's Self-Employment

Self-employment success boils down to matching what you know how to do with finding a customer or customers willing to pay you for your time and knowledge. Women have been doing this informally for years, often on a barter basis. They now make up the fastest-growing segment in small business, starting two out of three new small ventures.

Gender, though, is not a predictor of success. Your results will depend on many factors, including your entrepreneurial ability (read: creativity and self-motivation) and your capacity to respond to certain societal or environmental aspects of self-employment.

For some, self-employment may mean setting up a traditional storefront, buying equipment or tackling a franchise. But if these options don't interest you or are beyond your reach financially, there are other options.

Pick a Niche

To help discover how to turn a passion into a self-employment niche, career expert Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? asks:

  • What kinds of problems do you most like to solve? What questions do you most like to help people find answers to? 
  • What knowledge of yours do you most like to display to other people? 
  • What are your favorite hobbies or interests?

Two Creative Examples

A professional cameraman for a leading international television network, well-traveled to global hot spots, helped a friend set up his record-keeping in an unrelated startup in exchange for trips to Las Vegas to attend trade shows. When faced with early retirement but not ready to leave the workforce, the former cameraman stepped in to help grow his friend's business and created a new job and career for himself.

Opting for early retirement after 30 years of municipal employment, a woman immersed herself in creative pursuits. To support one burgeoning habit, she worked out an arrangement with a local quilt shop. In exchange for time spent running the machine to complete other's quilts, she gets supplies to make her own.

With ingenuity, perseverance and a bit of luck, you can figure out how to turn your passions and interests into something that brings in cash as well as personal satisfaction.

For more about self-employment, visit the AARP's Self Employment site.

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