“Working” in Retirement

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Working and retirement would seem to be contradictory terms, but today’s retirees, especially early retirees, know that isn’t so.

CNN Money reports that “70% to 80% of preretirees plan to include part-time or some other type of work in their retirement routine.”

Modern “retirement” is more about having the financial freedom to do the meaningful work that you choose, with income as a secondary concern, than it is about full-time leisure.

Working in retirement has priceless emotional, social, and, yes, financial benefits. Creating a product or providing a service that is genuinely useful to others is a proven route to meaning and purpose in life. It can also help you forge rewarding new relationships that are different from those you had when climbing a career ladder. Lastly, having control over a small extra income stream in retirement is possibly the best tool at your disposal for coping with our personal and collective uncertain futures: surprise expenses, inflation, recession, market gyrations, and so on.

Having a modest retirement “job” represents learning how to fish, whereas having a fixed retirement income represents getting a fish. Past history has shown us that knowing how to fish is more valuable than just having a store of fish. And I expect the future will be the same.

Two of the best and most prominent early retirement blogs – Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache — advise acquiring a diverse, in-demand skill set that will be useful to you, personally. Then, being aware and proactive about opportunities to use those skills for pay. I think this is a more prudent and predictable path for most retirees than putting all your eggs in one basket by, for instance, spending on specialized training, or buying into a franchise.

So I’m going to talk now about the retirement business that I chose – blogging. I’ll offer a little behind-the-scenes peek at how Can I Retire Yet? came to be, and how it’s doing. I also review the pluses and minuses, and other lessons that might apply to finding work in your own retirement. What follows is a snapshot of what I’ve learned from building an online blogging business over the past year. I’ll conclude with some general thoughts, and references to other resources for retirement jobs.

When I retired about two years ago I had a sense that I wanted to resume “writing,” which I’d done off and on since college, but – other than a brief stint as a technical writer — never managed to turn into a career.

In the runup to my own retirement, I was helped and influenced by other personal finance blogs in making my own retirement decision. Then, a brief personal finance autobiography I posted on the web was picked up by a national magazine, and I realized I had the opportunity to start my own blog.

One of the first things I learned was that huge national publicity does not necessarily translate into a viable business. My story was in about 5 million households, but that never translated into significant web traffic. I had to build my blog slowly, month by month, post by post, link by link, like everyone else.

And blogging is certainly not the fastest or easiest way to wealth! First you need a core competency in something that is of interest to others, and then you’ve got to enjoy writing about it enough to keep up regular posting for probably 6 months before you’ll see significant traffic to your site. It will probably be a year before you can even contemplate producing positive cash flow, and even then it will be small.

Along the way you’ll need to acquire a fairly extensive set of technical skills for setting up and maintaining the blog itself and other supporting software. It’s not quite rocket science these days – the tools are excellent – but there is a lot to know: domains, blogging platforms, themes and theme frameworks, hosting, plugins, widgets, web pages, scripting, graphics, mailing list management, surveys, advertising, affiliates, social media, search engines, analytics, databases, caches….

In addition to posting, you’ll have to pay attention to publicizing your blog. In essence that means you’ll need to build good relationships with other bloggers and with the traditional media. In most cases, a blogger can’t be successful without the support of a peer network. And it means you’ll be doing still more writing – emails, comments, guest posts. Did I mention you’d better love writing?

Blogging is a lifestyle/passion thing: you do it because you love it, not to make money. After a year, if you’ve been fortunate, and persistent, you can get serious about “monetizing” a blog, probably through some combination of advertising and/or products. But you need to painstakingly build a readership, and treat them well, and keep treating them well, to have any hope of that working….

Enough about blogging for now. But I wanted to explain a bit of that business model, because it’s a good example of a retirement job that is more about passion than money, at least at the start. This blog has been going for about 15 months now, consuming virtually all my productive time. I work nearly as hard as I did while employed! Yet it’s just beginning to cover its operating expenses. This is a labor of love, an opportunity to be creative and use my skills to help others, but not one that I could have afforded, had I not been financially independent.

I wouldn’t recommend starting a business to any early retiree whose first priority is income – the risk is just too high. But, if you do, make sure it’s a business that doesn’t put you in debt, and one that helps you build an asset of marketable skills. Should this blog reach a plateau, and other events transpire that make it necessary for me to bring in income (I don’t expect that, but I do believe in being prepared), then I’ve built up a very marketable skill set in blogging, writing, publicity, and web development.

If you need some part-time income in retirement, before committing the time and money to start a business, the first strategy is simply to keep your eyes open as you go about your daily routine. There are any number of businesses that welcome experienced, reliable employees on a part-time or seasonal basis — from amazon.com to the convenience store around the corner from where I live. With luck, you might even pick up work at a store or facility related to a favorite hobby!

If that doesn’t pan out, there are a many web sites for retiree jobs: RetiredBrains.com, Encore.org, RetirementJobs.com, Workforce50.com, and Workamper.com are some of the larger ones….

If you are more ambitious about the exact nature of the work and the income produced, I think freelancing is still the best route for profitable part-time work. You need to find a niche that suits you, where you have an edge, perhaps based on past experience or some other interest. Ramit Sethi, “Generation Y’s favorite personal finance advisor,” remains my favorite source for insightful, cutting advice on building a freelance business. You can sign up for the first round of his material, free, at Earn1K.com.

Finding the perfect work is not always easy, at any stage of life. But it’s probably much easier in retirement, when you need less out of a job, are more flexible, and can simply move on until you find the right fit. That same CNN Money story reports that about 27% of current retirees have begun some type of work. Other sources report that about 5% of the full-time workforce moonlights in second jobs to make ends meet, or build savings. Are you in either of these groups?

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