I left corporate employment at age 62, 40 years after I started my career as an engineer. I was ready to retire, and I needed to be a full-time caregiver for my wife. Plus, I could collect Social Security payments. I was not ready, however, to give up working entirely. How could I turn my career as an engineer and manager into a part-time business?
I started a one-man consulting service to sell my expertise. A sole proprietorship can be established with very little effort. A little extra insurance, some business cards, a separate bank account, and few records to support schedule C on the tax form 1040, and I was in business.
In order to sell a service, the expertise needs to be very specific and something that the normal corporate structure may not include. A niche specialty in computers, graphics, engineering, etc. can be the basis for a business.
I found that selling a special expertise was possible because I have in-depth knowledge about welding and metals. Companies sometimes need extra advice or guidance on specific engineering or construction problems. I turned my knowledge into a service that could be provided for an hourly rate.
I don't own a fax machine, copier, scanner, web site, or multiple phone lines. I have limited my office equipment to one laptop computer, e-mail service, Internet connection, and mobile phone. I try to keep my overhead costs low.
I relied on word-of-mouth advertising through former colleagues and business contacts. Connections with people who know your work is the best way to get referrals for new business.
A separate bank account in the business name is a necessity. Most banks will accept a "Doing Business As" (DBA) account with your name and Social Security number. It is not a good idea to mix your private funds with the business; keep your business funds separate for good record-keeping. I loaned my business money from my personal funds to open this account.
Some home expenses can be taken off taxes as an office expense. The documents to support car mileage, home office, and business expenses change from year to year with the IRS tax form 1040 schedule C. A good tax professional is a key person to have on your side. Some cities may require a business license, but be careful because most R-1 zoned residences (areas of housing zoned for residences only by the city) cannot be used for a business.
I purchased added insurance for liability as an extension of my homeowner’s coverage. Not all policies are the same, so contact your homeowner’s insurer to determine if a "rider" can be applied to your policy. A separate insurance policy may be needed. This insurance is my biggest annual business expense.
Even with my small office and limited promotion, I have helped clients all over the country. I receive their problem in writing, follow up with phone calls or emails if needed, and, in rare cases, take a trip to their location. My business has provided a little bit of extra income, but a lot of satisfaction in retirement.
Richard Blaisdell is a retired engineer, part-time consultant, and full-time grandfather of four. He lives in the metropolitan area.
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