At this week’s “Dirigo Speaks: The Next Act” event at the Bangor Public Library, three Mainers shared their stories about starting a business after the age of 50.
Inspired by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Bangor educator Patti Rapaport has invented and patented a wearable silent alert early warning system for schools, which will enable school employees to silently communicate warnings, hazards, lockdowns and other emergencies. Rappaport and her partners are seeking funding to develop a working prototype.
After a career in pharmaceutical sales, Cheryl Michaud opened West Market Square Artisan Coffee House in Bangor in 2016. In doing so, she has realized a longstanding dream and created a “third space” for the community to gather.
At 64, Stan Makara is about to retire from his job as a commercial airline pilot. He has been preparing by developing a lobster boat tourism business. He doesn’t want to sit back, and has traveled globally and frequently for work, so now he’s looking forward to letting the travelers come to him.
Despite these wide ranging past careers and new businesses, Rapaport, Michaud and Makara shared with moderator Meg Haskell that they have learned surprisingly similar lessons. This list isn’t comprehensive by any stretch, but it holds good advice for anyone thinking about starting a business, no matter how old you are or what kind of business you want to have.
1) Get versed in the state licensing rules before you get started. This information is easy to find on the Maine Professional and Financial Regulation website.
2) Don’t neglect or undervalue networking. The people you know and the people you meet can connect you with the right location, a manufacturer, a partner, etc. And you’ll never know if you aren’t out there talking with people.
3) If you go the crowdfunding route, choose the right one. They are all a little different, and finding the right match for your project and your audience matters. (For example, if you don’t raise enough money to meet your goal, Kickstarter makes you give the money back. Indiegogo does not.)
4) Find the deals. Buying new adds up quickly.
5) Have a plan when you start talking with an attorney – their fees add up quickly, too. It is a good idea to work with an attorney for choosing a name (and running an incorporated names search to make sure no one else is using it), deciding on the structure of your company, getting a tax ID, procuring a lease, filing a patent and other paperwork, etc.
6) Choosing how to advertise depends on who you are trying to reach. And the answers can be surprising. Be creative, and don’t leave this up to chance. In-theater pre-movie advertising is surprisingly affordable, memorable and effective.
7) Get a checklist. Use one from a resource center, make one yourself, however you do it. But make one and use it.
8) Even if you aren’t opening a nonprofit business, you can find grant support. Grant writing is its own skillset, and don’t be afraid to look for help from a professional grant writer.
9) The same goes for a business plan. If you want anyone to invest in you, you need one. If you haven’t written one before, get some help with it. Don’t go in blind. A business plan is all about your story: Who are you, what are you trying to do, and how are you going to do it?
10) And last but not least, there are a wealth of resources to help people start businesses right here in Maine — use them! Here are just a few, namechecked by our panelists.
— Maine Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is a comprehensive resource center for new businesses, offering checklists, templates for business plans and financial plans, Maine-specific information and more.
— Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) can help on a wide range of issues, from loans to hiring needs, networking, workshops and on the job training.
— SCORE Maine connects people planning a new business with mentors who have a wide range of expertise, and provides free assistance on everything from writing a business plan to financial planning and market testing.
— The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) can help you find grants and other funding sources, write a business plan, and more.
— The University of Maine Office of Innovation and Economic Development offers a “business gateway” online with information people starting a new business need, as well as guidance for growing a business, and information about licensable UMaine-developed technologies as well as facilities and equipment that can be used.
— Husson’s Dyke Center for Family Business has a range of resources available for family-owned businesses.
— The Bangor Public Library offers a semi-regular Legal Services Day.
— If you aren’t sure that you want to hire a lawyer, or want to handle the legal items yourself, Legal Zoom has a wide array of legal services online (not free).
— Many community colleges, including Eastern Maine Community College, have small business programs and resource centers.
— The Bangor Public Library’s Business Center has many of the perks of any coworking space, with private rooms, meeting rooms, in-demand software, and staff knowledgeable about a range of resources for people starting businesses.
Dirigo Speaks is sponsored by AARP Maine and is a project of AARP Maine and the Bangor Daily News. Dirigo Speaks Presents: The Next Act – Starting A Business Over 50 was also sponsored in part by SCORE Maine. Follow BDN Events at facebook.com/BDNEvents/