Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Retirement Business-What I've Learned Along the Way

Note:  As I type this blog post, I am also working on my budget.  As you may remember from the multiple downsizing posts I have shared, that budget was based on renting a small condo.  I'm now working on a budget that includes the sharing of a house and the attendant expenses-and expect to come out even better than my previous downsizing move.  More to come on that one soon..........

Sometime after I "retired", I decided to begin my own business. My reasons were many. Extra cash was certainly high on the list. Adventure, socialization, there were many other reasons as well.  I also figured that it wasn't really work if no one else was making me do it. That's generally been my philosophy of life as an at home spouse/hobbyist, and I still tend to think that way.  I'll say here that many folks work part time instead of starting a business. I could have gotten a part time retirement gig, and that would have been equally valuable on many levels. However, my knee damage does not allow me to do the typical kinds of "retiree" jobs. Working in retail, getting down on the floor with kids-these kind of things are out for me now. Where I once joked that my perfect job would be a Walmart greeter, I now know better. And frankly, I wanted to be on my own turf, on my own schedule. No matter how flexible a part time employer is, you are still on their schedule.

I could have chosen one or more businesses., and in fact I researched many.  I'm going to say here that if it's a choice of skill or interest, I would strongly suggest choosing the interest first, if it is planned to be a long term business vs a short term short fall situation. You can improve skills.  I had many interests including baking and canning and homemade gifts, making cards, travel, photography and sewing in all it's forms. My employment background was as an admin assistant and as a director of children's programming. My volunteer experience was in fundraising and activism.

 While the idea of kid's parties hit me at first, that would have taken me out of the house too much of the time, especially on evenings and weekends.  Hence my decision to move forward with custom sewing and crafts.  In the end, I chose to turn what was an enjoyable hobby into a small business.  While I'm still learning, I've learned more than a few things along the way about having what would call a "selfish business" in retirement-especially one that is more home based or flexible. My experience has been mainly with creative businesses, mine and others. What I'm learning though is that much of my experience is true of any business, small or otherwise:
  • You don't have to spend money to make money. Skills and knowledge should be the primary inventory. I would have been unwilling to invest much more than a thousand dollars. Again, this is where an established skill or interest pays off. This decision swayed me away from my secondary choices. with the new cottage business laws, I had thought of a custom baking/gift food business. The liability insurance was more than i was willing to invest in at that time-although I have since considered this as a one season business opportunity.
  • One must, of course, mention the whole social security thing.  I can earn up to a little over $14,000 without impacting my social security (that number changes as you get closer to full social security age). After that, your benefits are reduced by one dollar for every two dollars you earn. At this point it's not a problem for me, but it's something I have factored in-and keep an eye on.
  • I would suggest NOT including the business income in basic budgeting.    I've not included my quilt business income in my annual budget-that money is used for more luxurious travel or other extras but I don't count it into any of my basic fixed or more necessary varied expenses. I may decide next year I hate quilting-I may want to take a six month cruise hiatus.  Who knows?
  • I keep good records and I pay the taxman.  Enough said?
  • I was unwilling to turn a hobby I loved into a chore. I suppose different people have different methods for handling this one. After some experimentation, my solution has been pretty simple. I make what I like, and then I list items and show them. Most of the time it sells, if not, I still have an object I enjoy. I did not do serious market research on trends, and I am most comfortable in the box I am in. I'm not particularly concerned with what is on trend. As far as the sales end, I have a blog, a website and word of mouth-and I do a craft fair here and there. I don't spend every weekend sewing or selling at fairs. I do however, take (within reason) into account comments online or at craft fairs about my creations. My goal is to sell, after all!
  • In my case my sewing hobby business has no chance of taking over my life, because I have so much else going on, and because I have such a short attention span that I simply cannot spend days on end sewing. I do know people who started what was meant to be a part time business and no find themselves spending all of their waking hours in business mode. I have certain times of the year when I spend more hours than others sewing-but I have a life as well. I have no help on this one.
  • I, and most of the retired folks I know, ignore some of the traditional wisdom on small and at home businesses.  Most retirees choose business they enjoy and can incorporate into their lives.  As such, while I do keep finances separate, I don't have specific sewing hours. I do have a sewing room, but am just as likely to bring a project out into the living room in the evenings. People who have more difficulty setting boundaries or finding balance might have to make different choices, or compartmentalize more. I would suggest that, even if it is not used all the time, you have an assigned space for your writing/photography/sewing, cooking......
  • Just as in traditional business models, it takes time to get the word out. In my opinion this is simply  another good reason to do what you enjoy and use family and friends to get the word out.Also, this is another example of why huge investments or relying on this income are probably a bad idea.
  • When it comes to creative endeavours and businesses (as well as others), we need to put on our big girl clothes and realize not everyone likes what we do, how we write, and so on. Don't take it personally and use it as constructive criticism.  I've had people say "gee, I wish you had that, that would be really great". Sometimes I heed their suggestions, sometimes I go on my way. And in my case , when someone says, "gee, everything is just so BRIGHT", I take it as a complement and move on. In other words, there has to be a happy medium between the "making what I want" above and "making what people will buy". Sometimes the two mesh, sometimes they don't. Everyone has a different comfort level on this.
  • Your time is valuable. This is difficult for me to say, as most of the time when I write frugal do it yourself articles, my mantra is that it only matters how much you could be making if you WOULD be making that and had the opportunity to do so. When it comes to creative, artistic and other endeavors, you simply have to put some kind of value on your time. in my case, I now know now much time I spend in total on certain activities, and what is a reasonable (read happy medium between what I think I am worth and what the market will bear) hourly wage.
  • Finally, if this isn't the business for your (or your family/spouse) then quilt. Start another business. Do something else-that costs a thousand dollars or less-even if your experience is minimal. I've considered, and still consider the following: gourmet dog food, an errand business, an in home baking business, taking writing to another level...........the list goes on. All the things mentioned are fun, people would pay for them, and the start up cost is low 
I'm still learning as I go-especially the part about finding a happy medium between creating what I love and what will sell, and weather a second home business opportunity would be a blessing or a curse. For now though, I am doing what I like, getting paid to do so-and working when and where I want.  What more could a girl ask.


  1. I've never tried running my own business. But I have continued working part time in retirement -- consulting and freelance work -- and I find it's very helpful because:

    I enjoy what I'm doing
    It brings in some greatly appreciated extra money
    I can work at my own schedule
    It makes me feel useful

  2. Find out how THOUSAND of people like YOU are earning their LIVING online and are fulfilling their dreams right NOW.

  3. I am proud of those who learn throughout their life. Your ideas for business are certainly great! I have never though about running my own business.


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