How realistic is it to start a business while working full time?
How to Start a Business Working with Seniors
Demographics are changing in many countries around the world, such as in the U.S. and Canada. Senior citizens are rapidly becoming a significant portion of the population, providing substantial opportunities for businesses that cater to seniors and their needs. To start a business working with seniors, you need to find a need you can fulfill, research the market thoroughly, and launch your brand appropriately so you can reach and appeal to the seniors you want to serve.
Finding Your Niche
Brainstorm general ideas.If you're not yet sure what kind of business you want to start or how you want to work with seniors, evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Figure out what you have to offer seniors and come up with several ideas that you think would work for your business.
- You also want to look at what's currently available so you can carve out a niche for your products and services in the market. If the market is already saturated with other businesses offering the same products or services, you'll have a difficult time getting established.
- On the other hand, if you find evidence of similar companies doing well in other cities or states offering localized products and services, but there isn't anyone offering the same thing in your area, you may have a strong market for what you want to provide.
Identify a need.Once you have a few ideas, you're ready to go more in-depth into your research. The most successful businesses are those that meet a need people have for a particular product or service. Choose the idea that most directly meets an important need seniors have.
- For example, many seniors living at home have a chronic medical condition. There may be a strong need for house or yard maintenance, pet sitting, or even running basic errands.
- Because many seniors have difficulty traveling, you can almost always find a need for various services that you can take to them at their home. For example, if you are an accountant, you might want to open an accounting business for seniors that makes house calls and does their financial work with them at their home.
- Visit the websites of senior organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to get good ideas of needs that are currently being unmet or desires that many seniors have.
Conduct market research.If you're preparing a formal business plan, expect market research and analysis to be a major section. Even if you're not planning on drafting a formal business plan, market research is an important part of your planning if you want your business to succeed.
- Try to identify a particular subset of seniors who would be particularly interested in your products or services. Then you can better figure out how to reach those people through your marketing and promotions.
- For example, suppose you've decided to start a handyman business to help seniors with home improvement projects. Your target market is not people who have a severe chronic illness, or who are unable to care for themselves. Rather, you want younger, active seniors who are still able to do basic tasks and want to take on improvement projects, but need a little help.
Choose your location.Even if house calls are part of your business plan, you still may want a brick-and-mortar office. Since you're catering to seniors, this location should be easy to find and accessible to all people.
- Try to find office space near places where seniors would go to do other tasks, such as getting a store front in a plaza next to a grocery store. This way your potential customers can do several errands at once.
- Ideally, you want a store front that is on the first floor. Both stairs and elevators can be difficult for many seniors.
- Make sure your location is convenient to public transportation, and also has ample parking. Having your office in a house in a historic neighborhood zoned for both business and residential may seem nice, but seniors likely will go elsewhere if they have to circle the block looking for a place to park.
Determine your start-up costs.To hit the ground running with your business, you need a good idea of how much your start-up costs will be and whether you have enough money to fund it yourself or will have to seek outside financing.
- Make a good estimate of the assets, such as furniture and office equipment, your business will need to get started. Then figure out what your basic daily and monthly expenses will be.
- Project your expenses out at least six months, including any spending you'll need to make to acquire business assets, and you'll have a basic idea of the amount of money you'll need to start up your business.
Evaluate your resources.Once you have a good idea of what your start-up costs will be, evaluate the money and assets you have available to commit to your business. You may want to consult a professional before you take drastic measures such as refinancing your home or cashing in a retirement account, so you can make sure you've considered all the consequences.
- With some types of businesses, your start-up expenses will be minimal. For example, if you're planning on traveling to seniors' homes to work on their taxes and finances for them, you won't have many start-up expenses apart from buying a dedicated computer for your business and whatever software or applications you'll need.
- Others will require more investment. If you plan to seek outside financing, you may want to work with a business planner or business attorney to determine the best way to structure this financing for your business.
Prepare a business plan.If you want to seek funding from outside investors, or plan on applying for a traditional business loan with a bank, you'll need a formal business plan. This document summarizes your background and experience along with your business start-up proposal, including budget, operations, and projections.
- Your business plan generally projects the profit and growth for your business three to five years from the date you first open your doors.
- If you decide you need a formal business plan, check online for sample business plans created for businesses similar to yours, so you can get a good idea of what should be included.
Building Your Brand
Choose a name for your business.Many small business owners simply use their own name or the name of the city in which they are located. However, if you want to take your business to the next level, you need to choose a name that will attract the seniors with whom you want to work.
- You may want to lean on your market research here. Your business name should be something that will appeal to the people you think will most benefit from your products or services, and won't turn them off or intimidate them.
- Since you're targeting seniors, you may want to include words like "seniors" or "retirees" somewhere in your business name.
Discuss your new business with local seniors.In-depth research is essential if you want your business to succeed. Talking to people near you who are potential customers can help you fine-tune your idea before you launch your business.
- Talking to seniors can be a good way to test your business name as well as how the products or services you plan to offer are received.
- You can hire a marketing company to conduct this research for you, or you can create a basic quiz yourself with five or six questions for local seniors to answer. Talk to seniors attending local events, or at the meeting of a seniors' organization.
- You also want to ask them about prices, so you can get a good idea of how to price your products or services and what kinds of sales or promotions would interest your target market.
Plan your marketing strategy.Marketing your new business to seniors will involve different concerns than if you were targeting a broader segment of the population. If you want customers, you need to ensure that your advertising will be seen by the people who need your services, and that they will understand the services you provide.
- For example, if you're offering in-home services to seniors, you probably don't want to run cable television commercials on MTV, nor would you want to run them at 1:00 a.m., when seniors are likely to be asleep.
- If you decide to run television commercials, you're generally most likely to hit your target audience if you run them during the day on basic networks.
- Just because you want to start a business working with seniors doesn't mean you should skip internet advertising. There are plenty of grandparents with social media accounts, and many seniors are highly internet savvy.
Provide incentives for word-of-mouth marketing.Many seniors find new businesses because a close friend or family member recommends them. This is especially important if you plan to make house calls, because people typically won't invite people into their homes unless they have some reason to trust them.
- One standard option is to provide repeat customers with a small discount, say 10 or 15 percent, on return purchases if they recommend your products or services to at least one person.
- In turn, you also can provide a small discount to the person who tries your products based on the recommendation of a prior customer.
- Incentives for recommendations also may affect your marketing strategy. For example, you may target the middle-aged children of seniors to encourage them to send their parents to you, or to buy your products or services for their parents as a gift.
Meeting Legal Requirements
Choose a business structure.In the United States and many other countries, you have the choice of organizing your business as a corporation or a limited liability company (LLC), or running it as a sole proprietorship.
- Which structure you choose typically depends on how big you want your business to be and how many people you expect will be involved.
- In most cases, an LLC will be your best option. It gives you the same limited liability protection of a corporation, so it shields your personal assets from being reached by business creditors. But it doesn't have as many formal requirements as a corporation does, and you don't have to have a lot of other people involved in the running of the business.
- If you're starting your business smaller, or plan on running it as a side business while you work full time, you may simply want to operate as a sole proprietorship. This generally means that your business isn't separate from your personal assets, however, so if you own your own home or have significant assets, you may prefer the protection of an LLC even if the business itself is relatively small.
Register your business name.In the United States and many other countries, you must register the name of any business you want to establish in a given area. Registration ensures you have a unique name that can't be confused with any other business operating in the same general area.
- In the U.S., you typically will register your business name in the state where you plan to operate your business. You'll pay a fee, typically less than 0, to gain exclusive access to the name you've chosen.
- Depending on the creativity of the name you've chosen, you also might want to consider getting it trademarked.
Get a tax ID number.In most countries, including the United States, you must get a tax ID number for your business so you can pay the business's taxes. In the U.S., this number is called an employer identification number (EIN), but you must get one regardless of whether you have any employees.
- To get an EIN for a U.S. company, all you have to do is go to the IRS website at irs.gov and answer a few questions. Your EIN will be issued immediately at no cost to you.
- If you're located in another country, contact your country's tax agency to determine how to get a tax ID for your business so you can meet the appropriate tax responsibilities.
- Once you have your tax ID number, you'll be able to open business bank accounts, as well as apply for credit cards if you want or think you'll need them.
Apply for all necessary licenses and permits.You'll typically need various licenses and permits to operate your business legally. What you need will depend on where your business is located and what kinds of goods or services you're providing.
- For example, if you want to work with seniors on their home improvements, you may need a general contractor's license or similar state permits. If you plan to pay house calls to help seniors with financial matters, you may need an accounting certification or other professional licensing.
- Your local small business association typically will have the information you need regarding any required licenses or permits and the fees you must pay to get them.
- In the United States, you can get information regarding required licenses and permits for businesses in all 50 states by visiting the website of the federal Small Business Association (SBA) at www.sba.gov. You'll also find links to the state agencies that provide these licenses and permits.
Consult an attorney or accountant.In most cases, accounting and tax preparation software will be all you need during the first few years of your business. However, it may be worth talking to a professional if you anticipate things could bet complicated, or if you have difficulty handling financial and legal matters.
- It can be difficult to know exactly when you need to keep a legal or financial professional on retainer until it's too late and you're already in over your head. For this reason, it's a good idea to consult someone while you're still in the planning stages of your business.
- An attorney or accountant can advise you on what kinds of things you can do yourself, and whether you require continued assistance. This also helps you establish a good working relationship with a professional you trust.
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