N.H.’s Change Workforce: Taking the opportunity to reinvent yourself

After a series of layoffs at a Boston area high-tech company left Dave Bastien without a job after 25 years in the industry he, like many displaced workers, decided to launch his own company. So, armed with a solid business idea and the drive to bring it to fruition, the Londonderry resident set out on his entrepreneurial adventure at the age of 51.

Bastien is only one example of the growing number of workers over the age of 50 leaving long-standing careers to reinvent themselves professionally.

Today’s changing economy and its accompanying layoffs as well as a desire to try something new are among the reasons older workers now make up nearly 40 percent of today’s self-employed workforce.

“Often it’s just time for a change,” said Mary Collins, state director of the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center. “For many, it’s a very welcome change. It’s an opportunity to take what they did in the workplace or a hobby or passion and turn it into a career opportunity.” (The New Hampshire SBDC is an outreach program of the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business & Economics and a cooperative venture with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the state Department of Resources and Economic Development, and the private sector.)

For Bastien, who has a love for music, it was the latter.

“I have always been the type of person that, when presented with an obstacle, I’ll find a way to turn it into an advantage,” said Bastien, founder of Musicians for a Cause, a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to using music to raise funds and awareness for nonprofit organizations and the causes they support. “I had a passion and a plan.”

According to Collins, Bastien demonstrates the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur — at any age.

“The person who is going to succeed with their own business is one who has that entrepreneurial spirit. It’s the person who tends to overlook obstacles.” Collins said. “Also, self-awareness is so important. It’s the individual who knows what his or her capabilities are and is willing to commit the time and the energy.”

Looking for support

Knowing the market and a willingness to look for and accept help is also important when starting a new business, Collins said. Both proved beneficial for Bastien when he chose to pursue his dream.

“I researched the nonprofit industry, music industry and the promotional products industry, and I reached out to the people and organizations that I knew could help me,” said Bastien.

That was three years ago. Today Bastien’s company now boasts a growing list of talented volunteers — including music industry professionals and well-established and up-and-coming musicians and songwriters.

His most recent project, “Life in the Years,” is a joint initiative of Musicians for a Cause and Moore Center Services in Manchester. It includes two CDs of original music from songwriters and musicians from across the country — including a song written and recorded by Natalie Merchant and a duet by Livingston Taylor and Carly Simon.

Although originally conceived as a way of raising funds and awareness for the Moore Center’s Moore Options for Seniors program, “Life in the Years” is now being heralded as a tool to bring the agency’s innovative foster care program for seniors to states across the nation.

“This has really taken on a life of its own. It’s like I tell my kids, ‘Tell others your dreams and they’ll help them come true,'” said Bastien.

Fortunately, he was able to rely on a severance package to help support the creation of Musicians for a Cause. That’s not the case for many of today’s would-be entrepreneurs.

“In the early ’90s, when we were seeing so many layoffs in the high-tech industry, many displaced workers had that golden parachute to help finance the startup of their new company,” said Collins. “Today, their access to capital in many cases is diminished.”

Knowing where to look for financial support and advice can often be the difference between success and failure.

While the entrepreneur over the age of 50 may have the advantage of years of experience and numerous contacts thanks to a well-established career, knowing where to turn for additional guidance and assistance is still critical.

Organizations like the U.S. Small Business Administration can offer the financial assistance needed. In addition to advice and guidance, the SBA has a number of financial small business assistance programs, including its loan programs and Small Business Investment Company program.

Other organizations, such as the New Hampshire Business Development Center, SCORE and the Women’s Business Center, are well-versed in guiding the would-be entrepreneur through all aspects of the start-up process.

At the SBDC, the list of resources for would-be entrepreneurs continues to grow. In addition to its in-house counseling service, the organization has introduced e-Learning for Entrepreneurs, a series of 21 online classes for small-business owners. The courses in finances, business management and marketing are offered free. Each runs between two and three hours and all are available 24 hours a day.

More than 1,100 online classes have been taken through the SBDC since they became available in October 2008.

Visitors to the organization’s Web site, nhsbdc.org, also can create a business plan online, take part in the newly introduced “Coffee Break Chat,” the organization’s online blog for new small-business owners, and learn about sustainability and countless other topics relating to starting a business.

AARP also offers numerous resources for individuals interested in venturing into business ownership.

“Small-business owners or people thinking about starting a small business can go to aarp.org and just type in ‘entrepreneurship,'” said Jamie Bulen, associate state director for communications for AARP New Hampshire. “For those wishing to reinvent themselves professionally after the age of 50 — or any age for that matter — the support, assistance and information is there. Taking advantage of it can really be the key to success for any new business.”

N.H.’s Changing workforce series is a partnership between NHBR and AARP New Hampshire