In this episode of The Retirement Success in Maine Podcast, we are happy to be joined by Alison Lane, a Business Advisor for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI). We wanted to have Alison on the show for a couple of reasons. One, because not only does she help others achieve their entrepreneurial goals, but she has also founded, managed, and sold her own start-up restaurant in the area. Second, we wanted to hear her thoughts on various questions that an aspiring entrepreneur may have, like; What are the barriers to entry for starting a business that typical entrepreneurs face? How does the success rate of seniors starting a business compare to the success rates for the average entrepreneur? What sort of special considerations should an older entrepreneur take into account when starting a business? And more. Be sure to tune in and hear what Alison has to say, you may be surprised to hear that it’s never too late to start that “dream” business!To open the conversation, Alison spends some time sharing her background with us, from her education to her own path to Entrepreneurship. We talk about her love for Entrepreneurship and how she ended up starting and running a successful business. Alison also discusses the decision that she ultimately made to sell her business and move on to the next phase of her career.
Rotating the conversation to that next phase in her career, Alison discusses her role as a Business Advisor in the Greater Bangor Region and also shares some insight on CEI and how that organization works within the SBDC network. We spend some time discussing the services offered by CEI and the services that Alison personally offers both, aspiring and current business owners. Alison talks about the Business Advisory “process” and what the typical experience for one of her clients may be.
Continuing the conversation, we hone in on retirees looking to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. Alison addresses the common concern that “it’s too late now” and shares some insight on the importance of having a well-thought out succession plan as older individuals may start their own businesses. We also spend some time talking about how the success rates of retirees compare to those of the average entrepreneur. In our conclusion we rotate out of entrepreneurship and ask Alison our favorite question, what does Retirement Success look like for her? Make sure you hang around to hear how she plans, or has not planned for her own retirement.
What You'll Learn In This Podcast Episode:
Welcome, Alison! [2:17]
You have now started and exited a business, what’s next? [6:15]
What is CEI and what is the relationship with the SBDC? What services are provided? [7:57]
Can you explain the nontraditional financing offered by CEI? [13:12]
What does the CEI Mission mean to Alison? [15:32]
How does Alison work with entrepreneurs?[17:37]
Is it too late to start? [31:18]
The importance of succession planning. [35.32]
What are some common barriers entrepreneurs face?[44:04]
What does Alison see in regards to the success rates for Senior Entrepreneurs? [46:34}
What is Retirement Success for Alison? [49:46]
Ben and Curtis wrap up the episode.[53:22]
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Ben: Welcome everybody. My name is Ben Smith. I'm joined by my co-host, Curtis Worcester, the Starsky to my Hutch. How are you today Curtis?
Curtis: Alright. I'm well Ben, how are you?
Ben: I'm well. I'm well. I'm really excited about our show today. I'm always excited about our shows, but one conversation we have with a lot of clients is we're discovering purpose. And when people just talk about purpose, and you hear that there's this itch that they're entrepreneurial, right? And they've maybe worked a job or a career for a long period of time and they get to that point, they're like, "Hey, now I'm retired and I have some financial resources." Right? But you know-
Curtis: And time.
Ben: And time. And you know what? What do I want to do with my retirement? What do I do with those 8,000 days in retirement? And what would be fun? And you start hearing about, well, maybe they're known for their cooking, right? And they want to start a restaurant. They have a secret recipe or they can make things and they want to build a store or a business. And so it leads to this conversation about businesses. And well, but I'm retired, right. Is I'm getting older, when's an appropriate time to do that? And is it too late? So that was the concept we want to have today was, is it too late to start a business in retirement and is it ever too late? And that was, I think the conversation. So I've known tangentially Alison Lane, who's our guest here today. So Alison works for CEI and Small Business Development Center. So she is a small business advisor, is that right?
Ben: So Alison is coming on today to really help us wade through those questions. What resources are available and help us with our population that is really trying to tackle that decision. So Alison, welcome to the show. Appreciate coming on today.
Alison: Thank you for having me.
Ben: Yeah. So Alison, with all of our guests, when people come on, we like to always start with just a little bit about you. So would you just give us your background? Like where did you grow up and then what was your path to entrepreneurship?
Alison: Yeah, so I grew up right in Brewer Maine. I always knew growing up that I wanted to own my own small business but didn't really know what I wanted to do or why I wanted to do it. My plan was always go to college, get a job in corporate America, work for a decade or two and then start my own small business maybe in retirement, maybe sort of a mid-career shift. That was the internal plan. But what happened was through school, in college it sometimes seems like there's one path, and that's go to work for a big company. And so I started looking for work but wasn't really finding anything in the area that got me excited. And I knew I wanted to stay in the Bangor area. So I had this sort of epiphany after a job rejection from a job that I was actually a little bit excited about.
Alison: I had this epiphany that well, I've always wanted to own my own small business, so why not just do it now? Why not now? So out of stubbornness, I started planning. And so long story short, for about a year, I wrote a business plan, very textbook. I was still finishing business school. I actually did meet with a business advisor, the same woman that I share an office with today, Anne McAlhany. And so after about a year of planning, I opened up a small cafe and bakery right in my hometown in Brewer. And again, long story short, but after about three years, the business outgrew me and I decided it was time to go in a different direction. So sold the business, started looking for work in the economic development world.
Ben: Can I pause you for a second?
Ben: When you say it outgrew you, what does that mean? How did it outgrow you?
Alison: So it was, and I'll get to it a little bit later on, but ultimately I was more ... It was bigger than I wanted it to be. I learned that I really enjoy the element of control I had over my business. But as we got busier and it became pretty obvious, it needed to expand, I needed to hire on some more folks. It was harder to keep my finger on the pulse at all times. And it started to become more stressful. And my passion for it ran out because what I was really passionate about was the business development, looking at the numbers, planning, growing, not really the business operations and the management of personnel. So the passion ran out and it became a lot of work for something that I no longer was into. So I decided that if I could sell it to someone that was a better fit, that was better for myself personally, just on a lifestyle level. But also better for the business long-term.
Ben: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about what that business was? Right. And so like how did you find that what was the right business for you there? Because it could have been anything, right?
Alison: Right. Yeah. So like I said, growing up when I knew I wanted to own a small business, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Ultimately, what I wanted to do was run a small business. I didn't have the passion for the craft like so many entrepreneurs do. So I started thinking about what I was actually passionate about and decided I like to bake. I like baking and food is one of those things that will never be encompassed by Amazon. I never am going to have to compete with the online world because everybody eats. And I found a need in the Brewer area for a coffee shop type bakery made from scratch lunch counter type deal. So between my love for baking, the fact that coffee was not a danger, it wasn't an industry that was likely to be going anywhere anytime soon, and the need in my hometown, it all kind of came together into this small cafe and bakery setting.
Ben: Gotcha. So in terms of, we're going to kind of keep your progression here going. So you exited, you found a suitable buyer then for the business. So you found an exit. And how did you know what was the next thing you wanted to do after selling the business?
Alison: It's funny, I didn't. I started reaching out to my contacts and that was the one beautiful thing about owning a coffee shop and wanting the control to be at the front counter most days. I made a lot of contacts. So I started reaching out. I reached out to a customer that was in banking and I reached out to a few other industries that I knew there were jobs. But I knew my passion was in small business development, economic development, that entrepreneurship world. Didn't know what the job title was that I should be looking for. But fortunately, I reached back out to Anne McAlhany who's my colleague now and I said, "Anne, this is the sort of work I'm looking for. Can you just keep your ears open if there's something in the industry that pops up?" And ironically, she said, "Well actually my colleague in the next office over, she'd given her notice like within a matter of days of when I sent that email."
Alison: And so two months later after interview process, just proper timing, I ended up as a small business advisor. And it was exactly, it's funny when Anne reached out and said, "Yeah, you know we have an opening right in my office." I read the job description and was like jumping up and down in my living room because like I could not have written my dream job description better. I was actually worried during the interview process because I kept telling them how passionate about it I was and how perfect fit it was. I was like, "They're going to think that I'm just trying to suck up. But it was everything I was saying was absolutely true. So-
Ben: That's great. And then maybe for those that don't know, can we get into a little bit about what CEI, let's explain that acronym there a little bit too. Right? And so what is their history? What do they do? And then you also have this Small Business Development Center as well, and there's a relationship between the two enterprises. Can you walk us through that and then what your role is there?
Alison: Yes. Yeah. It can be a complicated relationship. It's taken me some time to wrap my head around. So the Small Business Development Center, which is a nationwide organization. The Maine Small Business Development Center has 12 full time business advisors across the state of Maine, divided up into four centers geographically. So because we are a government entity, we have to be hosted by either nonprofits or institutions of higher learning. So Coastal Enterprises or CEI is the host of six of those business advisors. So they hold the contract of the SBDC for six of us.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay.
Alison: And it's a complicated relationship and I'm still trying to wrap my head around who do I work for and we meet with folks from both organizations regularly from CEI who's technically my employer, but also the SBDC. But the important thing is that the missions align. And basically what the SBDC has are business advisors, which I think we'll dig into a little bit later about what we actually do. But what Coastal Enterprises does is a lot more extensive than just business advising services.
Ben: Okay. So can you explain what those services, like again, Coastal Enterprises Inc, right. So the name maybe doesn't give it away what that really is and coastal and here we are in Maine. And there's of course there's regions that are coastal, but some that are not. So can you just describe what those other services are?
Alison: Yes. Buckle up. So CEI is a CDFI or a community development financial institution and they focus on, their ultimate mission is to create a better economy for everyone or create an economy that works. And what that means is really what it sounds like, is that they approach the economy from multiple angles to help in more than just one way. So they do, they're a nontraditional lender. So they do, they finance big and small projects. They offer business development services, which is what the business advisors sort of fall under that umbrella. They also advocate for public policy on a federal and a state level. They cover a wide variety of economy assisting resources. So within, for example, within just the business development services sector of CEI, there are the Small Business Development Center business advisors, the women's business center advisors and both of those organizations offer no cost confidential business advising to startups and existing businesses.
Alison: CEI start smart program focuses on helping immigrants start and run businesses. And their workforce solutions program really hones in on creating quality jobs and helping finance those jobs. And I won't pretend to understand everything that CEI does. I think every time I go to a staff meeting, I learn of another resource or another sort of section. They even have some subsidiaries underneath the CEI umbrella that go as far as offering new market tax credits and really partnering with environmentally sustainable resources to provide funding. And like I said, I won't pretend to understand at all. Also within the CEI realm is credit and housing counseling. I think I mentioned the advocating for public policy. They really, the important thing is they cover a lot of areas of the economy. They aren't just offering advising services, but they're also lending and investing in those services and attacking it from a governmental level too.
Ben: So, and maybe just to what I'm hearing you say is it sounds like CEI is creating a bunch of these programs where they're saying, "Hey, there's pockets of need in our state of Maine economy, right." Whether it be small business where someone is trying to get off the ground and we know there's a lot of failures that happen in those very early stages, right. Is we make mistakes and then because those mistakes are there, we're trying to build it on them. We compound the issue and then we can fail. Or you have maybe women have other differences in terms of their gateway to get access to resources or other fundamental challenges that they have. Right. So sounds like to me that you're having these resources and programs that are helping maybe these pockets where there's maybe more difficulty, more challenges than maybe someone that has more resources or kind of already has a ... in the areas of the economy that it's actually doing pretty well.
Alison: Yes. And thank you for steering it back there because that's exactly what they're doing. They're helping level the playing field for underserved markets, whether it's women or folks with low to moderate income or startup businesses. They focus on aquaculture and agriculture in the areas that the state can really capitalize on and do well in. But you're right. It's those folks that just need a little extra boost.
Ben: So one thing you mentioned, I just want to ask a little bit more about some curious is so not just the counseling part, but you said there's also nontraditional financing and investing. Like what does that mean? So it means, so can I ... Maybe I fit into one of the programs in here. I may need some seed capital or I need money to get my business off the ground. How does that work? Like how does ... what sort of level, I guess this is a question of money, that happens from a financing and investing side.
Alison: Yes. So one of the myths about CEI is that they only lend small amounts of money to start up enterprises.
Ben: And small amount of money would be classified as like a thousand to 10,000 or what would be like a small amount of money?
Alison: I don't know. You tell me. I mean, I think it depends on the perspective. So I think some folks think under a million, others think half a million or under the 100,000 range. Ultimately what CEI does is significantly more. So their business loans go up to $3 million. And they're also, and this is the part of CEI for me that gets fuzzy, that I'm not as familiar with. Some of their subsidiaries are also involved in new market tax credits, funding for sustainable resource partnerships and community facility financing. And the dollar amounts of some of those products climb even higher, 10, 20, $30 million. What we typically deal with as far as CEI lending and financing is our small business clients will go to a traditional bank and the deal is just too risky for the traditional bank to finance. And that's where the bank will either partner with CEI or will take the deal completely to CEI to fund because they are a mission-based lender.
Alison: So their mission is another one of those complicated realms. But again, the underserved populations. So low to moderate income, women, projects revolving around agriculture or aquaculture. Ultimately, they lend primarily to folks within their target market and they pay less attention to, I shouldn't say less attention because it's not like they don't pay attention to the typical things like your credit score and what you have for a down payment and collateral. But they're more lenient because they can be because they're a CDFI and not a traditional lender. So those are the types of projects that they work on more so than a traditional lender.
Ben: Gotcha. I did want to switch here a little bit and one of the things that when we were researching CEI a little bit, we read the mission statement. And I wanted to read that to those that are listening here today because again, we just liked it and we thought it was a good kickoff to a question here. So CEI envisions a world in which communities are economically and environmentally healthy, enabling all people, especially those with low incomes to reach their full potential. So really this podcast is meant to be a bit of self-help anyway, right? It's kind of why we're doing this. And especially for those that are finding that mission for themselves, right? Is to try to figure out, well what's my purpose and what am I trying to do? So in terms of CEI's mission, right. So you talked about being very passionate about this job and what you're doing and who you're helping. What does the CEI mission mean to you Alison?
Alison: I think it really means, like I said earlier, it's leveling the playing field. So we all get so caught up in the day to day, go to school, get a job, raise a family, retire. We forget to be happy sometimes, which sounds silly. But you really get wrapped up in what you're doing and you think you're sort of checking all the boxes. You're paying your taxes, you're feeding your family and whatnot, but are you really happy with what you're doing? And so there's that internal barrier, but there's the money factor too. The well, I'd really love to do this, but I don't have the capital for it or I can't afford it.
Alison: So what CEI does isn't just give you money. But I think the fact that they offer such a range of services really helps with that internal battle as well, with the advising services. And nothing says, I have faith in your project more than here I'll help fund it. And we'll also back it with some advising services. So I think they really, they work to mitigate the capital barrier, but also mitigate that internal stop that voice in your head that says you can't do it because they really become more of a partner to your business than just a lender, for example.
Ben: Gotcha. And in regards to, now I want to go to your role, right? Is in your role really as a small business advisor. So how do you work with entrepreneurs, right? So someone comes to you and they say, "Hey, I have an idea for a business." And first of all, how do they find out about you is the first I guess question and then what can they expect when the process starts?
Alison: So the generic spiel that I give everyone is that we offer no cost, confidential, one-on-one advising to current and aspiring small business owners. And beyond that spiel, my work takes off in many directions. So as far as how people find us, if you Google small business resources in Maine, usually the SBDC's website is, I think it's the first thing to pop up. So a lot of people find us online. They'll go to our website and request advising services and depending on their geography, they'll be connected with an advisor in their region. People also find us through lenders. So maybe they've gone to a bank and the bank says, "Well, you're not quite ready. Or if you want a business loan, you need to have a business plan and financial projections." So then they connect us with the client to help better ready them for financing and then we send them back to the bank down the road.
Alison: The other resource partners in the area are often a good connection to us. So I'm actually part of an organization called the Business Resource Partners of Greater Bangor, which consists of ready for this, so it's six different nonprofits in the area. There's the SBDC, Score, Four Directions Financial, Four Directions Development Corporation, Eastern Maine Development Corporation, Maine Stream Finance and New Ventures Maine. So six organizations that ultimately people say, "I know there are resources out there. I know there are free resources, but which one is right for me?" So we formed this group to really target, we wanted to kind of figure out, okay, well first of all we don't want to step on each other's toes. We don't want to be offering the same workshop, week after week. Score are hosting a QuickBooks workshop. And then the following week, SBDC is hosting a quick ... we didn't want to do that.
Alison: It's a waste of everybody's time. So, but the main purpose of the group is to help clients in the area, help small businesses in the area, understand the differences between what we offer and really connect us, connect them to the right fit. So for example, if someone goes to New Ventures Maine, and they meet with folks over there and discuss that they're thinking about starting a business, they're not really sure how it fits in their lifestyle. Maybe it's a newly single mom that's feeling a little uncomfortable with her life decisions. And then she ultimately from meeting with them, decides, oh okay, I think I want to start a small business.
Alison: So then they would direct her to the Small Business Development Center or even Score to get some counseling about their business. And then from there, maybe they need financing, we send them over to Maine Stream Finance. So to come back to the original question, ultimately the resource partners direct folks to us that are a great fit. Our favorite source of referrals is our clients. So we'll have people come to us and say, "Oh, so-and-so owns a business down road from where I'd like to open up. And they said come talk to an advisor at the SBDC." So that's a great source of referral for us.
Ben: Can we talk about in terms of how many people you're helping? So what is a typical, I don't want to use caseload. I'm not sure what the client load would be to how you help people. But what's the typical experience? So someone comes to you and says, "Look, I had this really great idea for a business. And here's what I'm envisioning. Here's what I'm thinking about it." They're meeting with you for the first time. What is the arc there? So is it, well hey, I'm usually meeting with them once a month for 12 months, or here's the timeline. And they need a business plan. So what sort of things do they usually do? Is it before they've launched the business? Is it hey, I've actually launched the business, but I'm running into these roadblocks now. How do I unwind and repurpose or reconfigure? How does that work for you?
Alison: I'll start with big picture and then hone in on specific day to day. So CEI as a whole in 2019 deployed over $24 million to 120 businesses all across the state of Maine. We counseled a total of 1400 entrepreneurs and helped create and or retain 1,900 jobs. So it's pretty broad. It doesn't, of those 1400 folks that we helped, it's not all startups, it's not all existing businesses, and they definitely don't all have the same needs. So ultimately when someone makes it to me through one of those referral sources, I start off with an introductory phone call or an introductory meeting and really try to set the expectation is what is it you're looking to get out of this? Here, let me tell you what I do and I give them that generic spiel that I mentioned and what is it that you're hoping to get?
Alison: And sometimes people are a little off. Sometimes they think that we have a whole bucket of grant money that we can hand out and that sort of a thing. So there are some misconceptions there that we try to make sure people understand right off the bat what we do and what we don't do. Sometimes people want more legal advice or tax advice, in which case an attorney or an accountant would be a better fit for them. So the way I meet with people varies. So like I said, once I get past that generic spiel, it takes off in many directions. So sometimes I'll meet with someone one time and they'll have a series of questions and I'll answer them. Or we'll talk on the phone for an hour and I'll cover all the questions and then they go off and do their thing, whether it's starting a business or they are already running their business and just had questions.
Alison: And that's that. That's totally fine. Other times it'll be someone starting a business and they need to prepare a business plan and financial projections. So we'll meet regularly every two or three weeks. And in between those meetings, we'll be emailing and exchanging emails. And sometimes the hours that I'll put into these clients, especially the ones that are looking to get financing to start a business, we keep track of how many hours we spend. And there are people that I've spent 30, 40 hours total between time reviewing their documents and giving them feedback and time actually meeting with them face to face. As far as number of client load at a time, it really varies. I'd say as far as active clients, it varies so much. So I might have two or three that I'm really like in the weeds with. Like we're deep in their business plan. And then I've got another say six or seven that I'm just sort of touching base with.
Alison: And then I've got maybe another five or six that I meet with every six weeks or so just to touch base. I've got clients that we literally just meet every five or six weeks to set goals. So they might say, "Well, I'm trying to run my business and I really need to force myself out of the operations and think about working on the business." So they'll regularly want to schedule appointments, not to necessarily achieve any long-term goal, not to get financing, not to write a business plan, not to start a business, but just a variety of small goals that they want to accomplish on a regular basis. So I tend to flex and bend to whatever's best for the client. Do you want to just exchange a hundred emails? Do you want to send your business plan back and forth and you want me to critique it or do you want to meet face to face?
Alison: I've had meetings that almost feel more like a ... where I feel like a psychiatrist or a marriage counselor. And I think each business advisor across the state has different strategies. And depending on the region, I mean there are some down in Portland, their client load is so heavy. They've got people in and out just constantly. So I know they have to be a little bit more efficient. And depending on how busy I am at any given time, sometimes I really do have to be careful to make sure that I know what objectives I need to meet with clients. And I might not have as much time to spend on an emotional level, but if I've got time and I'm in a meeting with someone and they need someone to commiserate or just be an objective source of reason, it can really take the job in an interesting direction.
Alison: I had someone recently that was in, they were running a bakery and they were in a similar situation to what I had been in when I ran my business. And I said, "I think you've been connected with the right business advisor," because everything they were saying was something that I had felt because they were doing well, but they weren't happy. And so it was an interesting dilemma. And I was able to sort of commiserate with them and help talk them through it and see it from an outside perspective that you're often blinded to when you're really hot and heavy in the business. So it was fun to talk them through that.
Ben: Which is an interesting angle because I think with our practice and Curtis you and I as we've kind of been evolving our practice, which is part of this podcast is that we're doing more and more coaching, right? Is the coaching is really this, first of all, visualizing what does retirement look like for you, right? What does a successful retirement look like for you? Which is different for completely everybody. And sometimes retirement is just not doing something you did before, right? And which is okay, right? That's not a bad thing that you're stopping something. But in terms of the challenge that we try to ask people is this highest and best use. Is here you have money and resources and what's the best use of your time and your purpose and what's the thing that's going to really energize you in your day?
Ben: And what happens when 8:00 AM happens, right? That first day of retirement. And what happens after the first three months and the six months and the nine months is all sudden the vacation feeling starts wearing off. And you're like, "Well, what am I going to do?" And that's where we start asking this question of how much of your days are you doing something that leads you to purpose? How much are you spending things that you like to do and things that you don't like to do? How are your relationships in your life? So it's all about how you're spending your time and aligning that.
Alison: It's small business and retirement are similar in that way in that you really can't, it's hard to find that line between business and personal or money and personal because it all traces back to your personal life. And it really, you need to have that conversation with folks, even if it's not explicitly within your job description. It's what the client needs.
Ben: And Simon Sinek, his whole thing is start with why, right? Why are you doing what you're doing? Why are you kind of happy about things? Why are you unhappy about them? But why are you doing something instead of what do you do and how do you do it? And that's where getting to this why and in retirement is someone saying, "Hey, I've been entrepreneurial my whole life and people have always told me no, right? People have always told me that's a dumb idea. People have always told me that you can't do that because you can't risk A, B, C." Hey from our business, we started this thing Guidance Point and we had to be entrepreneurial to do it. So we get that. It's risky to start it and you're really turning over your life and there's a lot of risk to hey, all the things I've done in my life, if I start now and it doesn't work out, what sort of upheaval am I getting myself into?
Ben: So in regards to your role Alison, where you as a coach, how do you feel about, in terms of is that I think a fear that people have is that people are just going to continue telling me no. So if I come to you, how much does that happen that someone says to you, "Hey I have this great idea," and it might be a terrible idea. But what about, is there a kind of a flexibility to know and helping them to achieve their goals versus that's what you're aspiring to do is maybe unattainable and having that honest conversation.
Alison: I might be a little biased because I'm in the industry, but I'd like to think that society is becoming more accepting of the entrepreneurship lifestyle. That because people are recognizing how important small business is and how important innovation is, that when someone goes to them and says, "I want to start a small business," it's becoming more accepted and less you're crazy. But to get back to your question, my role is really to be, well I mean I know I said it earlier, an objective source of reason and a nonjudgmental objective source of reason. So I've had folks come to me with ideas that seem a bit crazy. And instead of judging them, which I mean you can't help it sometimes you're thinking inside-
Ben: It's going to happen. Yeah.
Alison: But I want them to feel open to explore the idea no matter how silly it is. And my job becomes to ask them the right questions. So to keep forcing them to dig into their idea. And sometimes they'll develop the idea, but then once you start pulling out some numbers, once you start saying, "How are you going to make money off of this," then the idea becomes non financially feasible. And that's usually where people, if their point of the business is just to run it as a passion project, they don't need the income, then it's great. Then just let them fly and then I just kind of bounce thoughts around with them. Again-
Ben: Because at that point it'd be avoiding like catastrophe. Right? So if it's a passion project that's fine, but then don't ruin yourself financially by going through something that's just a passion project.
Alison: Right. It's important to understand what the objective is. Is this going to be a full time business? Is this going to be your income? Sometimes even if someone's opening a business, they're still going to be keeping their job or maybe their spouse is working. So if their objective is this is going to be my living, maybe for the first year they've got a contingency plan that involves other income. But if the point is that this is going to be their sole source of income, then I do have to ... I mean, and you're forced to sort of run through the numbers anyway and do some projections and figure out how it's actually going to make money. But yeah, if it's just a passion project, then okay, roll with your idea. And as long as you're not losing money or investing your retirement savings, then okay, there's a balance there.
Ben: So I guess this is the part where I really want to just start shifting to this population we're talking about on this show today, right? Is again, the goal of the show is retirement success in Maine. Right? So you made a comment about, well, maybe not investing their retirement savings. I'd actually say, hey, if that lends you more purpose in your life, then maybe that's something that is completely worthwhile to do, right. And obviously that's what we're helping people counsel through is well, what's sustainable in terms of hey, you can invest this much but here's what you need for survivability for the next 30 years of your retirement. Right? But that sort of thing is we're not trying to be gatekeepers to know, right. Is they go, "No, you can't spend any money. You can't do this.
Ben: You can't do that." It's going to be gatekeeper to yes. Right. How do I get you to do that thing that leads you to fulfillment? So in regards to this whole idea of entrepreneurship, what we like about this idea is it's actually a really great thing for financial plans. Is that, hey, I'm retired, right? So I went cold turkey. I was making money. I was doing really well, usually at the peak of my career. In terms of what I've always made, I've done really well in my life because, again where even just inflation adjustments, I'm making more over my career than I was at 20 years old. So I get to this point and I'm done emotionally, physically, mentally with that.
Ben: But what's really great when we plan this out from a financial plan perspective is hey, any sort of income that is coming through the door is helping to relieve stress on your financial resources, right? It allows your financial resources to stay invested for longer, to help with compounding, to help to kind of maintain more years of retirement. So in a way, it's a really great thing from that end. So in regards to people that are retired that are being entrepreneurs, is there a certain age that doesn't mean they can't be an entrepreneur?
Alison: Is there a certain age that means-
Ben: Is it too late to start ever?
Alison: No, no, it's never too late to start. I think you just have to plan accordingly. So younger entrepreneurs, which I got into entrepreneurship very young, which I think stimulated a lot of you're crazy. And so I think the older you get, the more, almost maybe within a range, the more accepted it is because you've had a chance, you've had the life experience. People know that you're not just taking a crazy risk. It's more you tend to trust. If you see an older individual with a crazy idea, you tend to trust that crazy idea is backed with some experience and knowledge. So I'd say it's never too old to start as long as your plan has some sort of an exit strategy or succession plan. So it may sound obvious, but the older you are, the more succinct that exit strategy needs to be.
Alison: So when I started my business, I think someone did tell me that within my business plan I should have an exit strategy. And I was like, "I'm 23 years old. I'm just getting out of school. Like I'm just going to run this business." My goal was to beat the statistics. And I think that's what a lot of younger entrepreneurs are looking to do when they get into it. They just want to beat the statistics and network within the industry and figure out what they want to do next. They're not really sure. But as you're a senior entrepreneur or within your retirement, you need to have more of a specific plan for the first five years of your business or the first 10 years of your business. So what do you hope to achieve with it?
Alison: What sort of income do you need to pull from it? And looking at the financials, the projections forward, what can you realistically, and that's all about, it's all about being realistic with those numbers. And sometimes I do have to reel people in because they're so passionate or all of their friends and family are saying, "Yeah, this is a great idea. I'm going to frequent your business all the time and you're going to make a ton of money." And they hear all that and they forget that when you actually open the doors, do people actually put their money where their mouth is? And the answer is no. So I try to keep people grounded in that sense, but also grounded in the what happens if you fail? What happens if you succeed? So if you don't have an exit strategy, have a contingency plan, especially if there's debt involved that you need to pay off. What happens if all of those friends and family don't make on their promises?
Ben: But even deeper than that Alison, it seemed to me that look every year that I'm getting older, right? And we all have longevity risk of we're going to pass away some day. Right? So it would seem to me that as part of the exit strategy as well is this kind of concept of a living will. Or it is what happens when I'm 78 years old and I have a risk of a heart disease in my family, right? And my parents made it to 72 and 73 and I have risk factors in my health and bad genes with my family and I'm in a business, right? And it's year one and I'm getting going and I'm impassioned by it, right? I'm having fun. I'm a better person to be around because I'm more happy because I'm doing this.
Ben: So I don't want to stop doing it because it's making me a worse person. But this idea of, well if I ... maybe I'm employing three people, right? And I don't want to, something happens to me and their jobs go away overnight. The business just shuts. And so how did you counsel somebody like that that has this situation going on and how do they put in that exit strategy that allows succession to whatever party it is to keep it running?
Alison: I'd say I try to keep them focused on what they can control. So you can expect as you get up into your seventies and eighties that health issues could arise, but you can't possibly plan for them. You can't know that three months from now I'm going to have a heart attack and be out of business. When I ran my business within the first six months, I ended up in the hospital for two nights. And I was young and I was like, this, "What do I do? What's the plan?" And so I didn't have a plan for that. And you can't really plan for the unexpected, but you can sort of mitigate your risk by if you have three employees, maybe one of them is trained to take over if something happens to you.
Alison: Maybe you've got family that can kick in. As far as an exit strategy, I know I've had businesses that they are up in their seventies and they know their kids aren't interested and they have employees but they're not really satisfied. So what are some other options? Maybe when it's time for you to exit, you can sell to a competitor or maybe there's, if you're in the downtown, maybe there's another business owner in the area that's interested in taking over your space and running with things.
Ben: And that's where I think we've interviewed a few people and I know we've talked about Susan Ware Page's podcast that we had here and they have that kind of built into their business. But also David Jean who is a exit planner, that's one of the things he was saying was, "Look, people don't really address usually the exit planning part of hey, who's going to take over?" Or look my ... because look, I've sunk maybe retirement assets into this at this point and maybe it's considerable, right? Maybe it's a lot of money. Well maybe your spouse needs that back, right? It's hey, I don't want to just sell this. Well, something happened to my spouse who was running it and now I have to fire sale the thing because he got sick and passed away very quickly. And I have to sell it for 30 cents on the dollar, is that there's some structure in place that allows me to maybe get over that bridge.
Ben: I can maybe promote one of the employees to be the manager, help keep the stabilized operations and then I can find a willing buyer to help come in and take that over. Is that part of those conversations that you're seeing? Again, David Jean with exit planning, he was talking about very large enterprises, right? And they're doing the accounting work for them as well and helping out planning that. But from a small business side where I only have, maybe it's just me or maybe there's five employees or maybe there's 15 employees. It's pretty small. But again to them, the risk is you and if something happens to you is what happens to the overall structure in the organization?
Alison: And there's really no one size fits all solution, which is the tricky part. But I think it's as you're planning, it's being realistic and communicating with your family and with your spouse or your kids and getting everybody on the same page. Or even as you're writing your plan or writing a business plan, yeah what is the plan? Let's say there is no one to take it over and there's just no options. So what do you ... Are you going to liquidate the assets? How are you going to get some of that money back into it? I think what people often struggle the most with isn't what if I fail and lose all my money, it's what if I succeed? Which is sort of what happened to me is what if things are going well, what if I'm 85 and business is really taking off and I'm employing 10 people that I don't want them to lose their jobs, but all of a sudden physically I can't handle it anymore.
Ben: Okay, nice. I like that. On another question, can we talk a little bit about, maybe just zooming out a little bit for a second, what are you seeing with the retiree population entrepreneurship? Is it uncommon? Is it common you're seeing people do it? Because again, we're in the state of Maine, right? Which is a very old state nationally. We're an old country, but we're amongst the old country, we're kind of an older state. So are you seeing that this is a theme that's happening and to what extent?
Alison: I am. I feel like I get a lot of people that aren't quite there for retirement. Maybe they're in their early fifties and they know that it's sort of on the horizon. So they want to start a business now to help fund retirement. And they-
Ben: So a second career type thing, right?
Alison: Yeah. But they've given themselves enough time to plan accordingly to get the business off the ground before they're going to retire completely from their first career. Now that's not always the case because we all, I think it's human nature. We don't plan as well as we wish we did. So if you are very close to retirement or maybe even in retirement and deciding that this is the way to go, I think it's still for all entrepreneurs, I think it's about patience and proper planning. About not rushing into it, about running all the numbers to make sure it's a feasible investment before you invest your savings and really asking yourself the hard questions. Being realistic not only with what happens if it doesn't do well, but what happens if it's sort of in a downward spiral? How can I pick it back up again?
Alison: And sometimes I'll ask them to identify their three most likely challenges or their three most likely barriers to progress. And maybe one of them is health condition or maybe one of them is sales are slow, revenue is not coming in. And so I'll ask them to write, and sometimes this will be right within their business plan and their contingency plan, and answer those. What happens in this case? And they come up with the best possible answer. That doesn't mean that if there is ... maybe there is no perfect answer, but it's the best thing that they can do. And it might even identify some weaknesses that they could strengthen in other parts of the plan.
Ben: Yep. Okay. Can you talk a little bit about, in terms of barriers to entry, right? So if somebody wants to start a business, what are common barriers to entry for someone to do that? And is that different for the retiree population?
Alison: So for typical entrepreneurs, I see access to capital as being their biggest barrier. Maybe they're too young to have established a strong credit score or they haven't saved up enough cash for a down payment for a loan. So that is the biggest barrier for typical entrepreneurs. For older entrepreneurs, it's still an issue. And I'm speaking very generally.
Ben: True. Yeah. Yeah.
Alison: Everybody's different. But I'd say it's less of an issue because they've had time to save and had time over their lifespan to build a strong credit score. There's also, it comes back to the perception and the stigma. They might be to an investor or lender, you see an older person and you trust their life experience. Whereas you see someone fresh out of college and think they haven't had a chance to learn what it takes to succeed. So I'd say access to capital is less of an issue, but risk becomes more of an issue.
Alison: So if you're young and you start a business and you fail, you fail fast, fail cheap, you rebuild. You sell off your assets, you go get a job working for a big corporation, you start essentially a new career. If you're 30 years old, it's not that challenging to find a new career and you've got plenty of time left to figure it out. If you're a senior entrepreneur and things don't go well and you're 75, maybe now you're stuck with a monthly loan payment or stuck in a lease that you can't get out of. And as much as we employers are not supposed to discriminate based on age, we all know it tends to happen. So it's the perception of an older person walking into a job interview and you know, okay, well they're obviously, they're not going to work here for 40 years. So it's more of a challenge because of the risk of failure. Not because failure is more likely, if anything, I'd say with an older entrepreneur it's less likely, but it's a bigger fallout if things don't go well.
Alison: So it kind of comes back to that fear element of it. Maybe they've had more of their life to kind of get over their fears and understand. I think as you get older, you think less, you care less about what people think, you are more willing to take chances, you just kind of dive in. But if you acknowledge the fact that I don't have as much time left to recover if things don't go well, that internal barrier can really be the biggest barrier to entry.
Ben: Interesting. I like that. In terms of success rate, is there a difference that you, again, maybe it's just anecdotally that you see. But as you said, where you have this inexperience element or quotient of people that are younger is maybe there's this, you could be older and still have the inexperience, but you have a little more wisdom that comes along with that. So does that, would you say that the wisdom element kind of adds to a better success rate of businesses as they start?
Alison: Yeah, I would say, and this isn't backed by any statistics, but just by what I see. I would say senior entrepreneurs, they can get off the ground a little bit quicker because they have that life experience and wisdom. Unfortunately the barrier is time. So if you're a younger entrepreneur and you really are hot and heavy into this passion, you have many, many years to grow it. Whereas if you're a senior entrepreneur, you may get off the ground quickly and be doing okay financially. But unless you have a plan to pass it down, pass it on, pivot the style of the business so that it works for someone else. You could potentially ... the business could be stopped dead in its tracks if something happens to you or if you pass away.
Ben: Gotcha. And I do want to ask another question about in terms of are there other special considerations that ... So again, I'm sitting here and I want to start a business. What sort of things that maybe would be special to me in terms of this age demographic that I should be thinking about or I should be doing or steps I should be taking to allow myself to be more successful? Like what would you give for that level of advice? It's like, is there anything that's maybe different than just a normal, hey, anybody's just walking through doors. But if you saw that specifically, what would you be telling that person?
Alison: I urge all of my clients to approach business planning with realism and caution. And even more so for senior entrepreneurs, I think the realistic aspect of it, we're in denial that someday our health is going to slow us down. We like to think that up until the day we die, we're going to be able to climb the stairs or carry a box of Christmas ornaments down. And we get stubborn. We think we're always going to be able to do this, but I always urge them to be realistic and under the caveat that it could happen to anyone. It's more likely if you're older to run into debilitating health problems, but it's not impossible for younger folks too. So I guess I urge a more detailed contingency plan if things go wrong.
Ben: Yeah. And which and maybe it's from that end, it's not only just, again, they might have more resources at stake, right? So if they're able to put some of their own capital in or if they have other resources that they can lend to this business, then it's maybe more important that they get some of the resources back if things go well or they don't go well or it grows too much and we have to exit out because they don't have time anymore. Those sorts of things that we've talked about. So it just seems like there's maybe a little bit more at stake.
Alison: Yeah. Yeah.
Ben: Maybe earlier on than there would be for maybe the younger entrepreneur that is facing that. Yeah. This is all really kind of a really fun conversation to have Alison. I know we could kind of dig into this a lot, but I wanted to just ask maybe one final question to you. And we always like to wrap these conversations up with your stretch goal, right? So you're helping people with businesses, you've done your own business. What would you say would be retirement success for you? So you're fast forward in terms of your career, you get to retirement, what would be the things that maybe you've never done that you always wanted to do or how would you envision your retirement and finding your own success?
Alison: It's funny, I'm such a classic case that I have not thought of it. I haven't planned my exit strategy for my life. Which is just so telling because that's really what this is all about is that everyone is scared to plan in a sense. I'd say I've had people ask me too if I'd ever go back into business ownership. And when I first sold my business, the answer would have been like, "No way. I'm going to go back to working for someone else. This is just more my style. This is what I want to do. I really get to deal with a variety of industries now and not ... I don't have the attention span to focus on one thing all day." But so now that I've been helping more businesses that I could see that itch, that business ownership itch coming back.
Alison: And I'd like to think that with my job now and seeing, I mean I literally, I see everybody's problems. So I'd have such an edge starting a business, knowing what everyone else is struggling with from a wide variety of industries. And whether they're startup or they've been running their business for decades, I get to see what the hang ups are. And there are so many hang-ups in common. So I could see myself going back into business ownership. For now, I'm loving the resource partners side of the desk, just loving helping people. Like I said, the variety that I get. As far as things that I've always wanted to do, I had two things growing up. I wanted to own a small business and I wanted to travel.
Alison: And so I've checked one of those boxes. And although in hindsight, I see what I failed at and I see the mistakes that I made. So I could see myself wanting some redemption in retirement. It's like, well let's do this again. Let's see if I can not make the same mistakes again. But aside from the potential of going back into business ownership, the travel aspect is definitely ... And now that I don't have a baby, a business baby to raise, I have some more flexibility with my schedule that I'm hoping to be able to travel some more in the future.
Ben: So what's on the bucket list for you? Where would you go? Where's the place you always wanted to go that you never got to go and is it in the future? Might not be retirement. What's the one place?
Alison: Oh, South Africa.
Ben: South Africa. Okay.
Alison: South Africa. Yeah. And I went to Vietnam in college as part of the MBA program. So that really checked the start of it. And I'd love to get back to Asia. Thailand I've heard is a great sort of tourist friendly vacation destination with plenty of culture and unique. But South Africa has always been number one on the list. I think it's the safari and animals and little bit of danger. I knew, I talked to someone once that had stayed in a tent in the African jungle and they had a bell outside their door that if they heard a lion outside, they had to ring the bell and that sort of thing I was like, "Ooh yeah. That's what I want to do."
Ben: Okay. All right. Well too scary for me, but I appreciate you doing that. That's awesome. Well, Alison, thank you for coming on the show. It's been a lot of fun just kind of talking entrepreneurship with you. And again from a client side, I know people are very lucky to be working with you there. That must be a lot of fun. So, but appreciate you coming on, letting your expertise and sharing it with the listeners of the show.
Alison: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Ben: Thanks. So a bit of a different take on the show today, right? Is I think the majority of retirees don't ... they're usually exiting the idea of working. And it's something where I think you're going, "Well, I'm not going to exit one job and get into now working even harder than I ever have in my life to start something new." But we kind of run into enough people of, hey, I've always wanted to ... I've always had this business idea. I've always wanted to do something. And it might be something small. It might be just a craft or a hobby. Or it could be, I want to run a very full-fledged thing that I think has legs and could do some really cool stuff.
Ben: So we hear that enough. Right? And that's I think why we wanted to have this idea of starting a business and is it ever too late to start a business? And what sort of things should I need to know? So when we were seeking out people that could talk to that, we knew a CEI and Small Business Development Administration was the group because they're the ones really at the forefront. They're the ones ground level, right?
Curtis: It's what they do.
Ben: That's what they do. And in here if someone's in that position and they're expressing that to us, I think that's the first stop we're going to send them is there. Free counseling, help them figure stuff out, giving them the resources and have them come back and help them meet their goals. It's great, right?
Ben: There's funding for that to have them there. So Alison of course is in that role and we have two of these representatives in Bangor, but there's multiple across the state and they're helping people get off the ground. So with that, why was Alison a neat one today for us is she's actually started her own business.
Curtis: Yeah. And gotten out of her own business.
Ben: And gotten out of it. So she's seen both ends. And I really liked that of, well, what does it mean to actually start the business yourself? And what emotions are you going through and what fears do you have? And that was something where I think we wanted to have the listeners really hear that and help address those issues and that there is somebody to help you work through. Maybe we didn't cover all of those things because it can get very specific-
Curtis: Yeah, I think we made it, or Alison tried to make it clear that she was speaking very generally because you're right. I mean, no two businesses are the same. But in that sense, I think she did a great job telling our listeners really what's out there. And it certainly informed myself. I had no idea those resources were certainly right here. So that was really cool.
Ben: And one of the key points that I know she brought up, and we had a pretty good conversation about was this idea of when you start a business in your 20s that you might have some semblance of an idea of what an exit plan is, but you're going to conquer the world and it's just going to go well and you have not really thought that out. She was really impressing on us just how important that is when you start later, right? Is you start later in your thinking about that of what in a year when I want to cut bait, what does that look like? Where would I go? How would I transition the business to something else or to somebody else? Or what if something physically happens to me as I start the business and I need to rotate that to a family member and that's not their passion or might not be their passion.
Curtis: Right. You never know.
Ben: And now they are inheriting something of which they got to now be a manager and they got to ... And what if you're 80 or 82 and are they even capable of doing that? So having all those systems and structures in place is really important. So that's why I think going back to like what David Jean was saying with his episode is having that in place. And that was pretty important. So appreciate everybody listening today. In terms of more resources, again, we'll have more links to CEI, Small Business Development Association and some of the resources we brought today. So we are blog.guidancepointllc.com/14.
Ben: 14. Yeah, we're in the teens, right?
Curtis: We're getting up there.
Ben: Teenagers. So appreciate you for listening. If you have any questions, we'd love to hear from you, but we'll see you next time.