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Start up a status symbol

By Jennie L. Phipps · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Posted: 1 pm ET

We went to a party the other night with other residents of our Florida condominium association. I was amused by what appeared to me to be the latest status symbol: a small entrepreneurial business that keeps the retirement bank account plumper and the schedule full of something other than making tee times.

The businesses among our neighbors included:

  • Occasional consulting for a defense contractor who needs someone with good Russian language skills.
  • Book publishing for a variety of writers eager to try their hands at writing fiction and see their work in print.
  • Teaching part-time courses, including one guy who is pulling in lots of would-be fishermen for his monthly classes, in which he distributes handouts labeling the best spots to catch, based on last year's successes.
  • A seamstress who custom-designs eventwear -- like mother-of-the-bride dresses -- for women who have trouble finding something they like off the rack.

Based on the conversation, here are some things to think about if you intend to include entrepreneurship in your retirement planning:

Is this how you want to spend your time? Small businesses take up lots of time. Our neighborhood novelist says he gets up at 6 a.m. to write until noon, then spends the afternoon handling the business aspects of authorship -- like promotion. In the evening he goes to the library to do research. His wife complains that he has no time for fun.

Don't spend too much of your nest egg. Many businesses can be started with very little cash. If you need a bigger nut, explore the Small Business Administration's loans and grants program.

Promotion is important. Don't bet on the theory, "If you build it, they will come." Figure out a concrete plan for getting the word out to potential customers.

Be good at what you do. Nothing puts the kibosh on a business faster than dissatisfied customers.

Be dependable. Keep regular work hours. If you say you'll do something, get it done in a timely fashion, even if you don't feel like it.

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