The Mid-Life Entrepreneur: This Guy Knows His Cheese!

08/18/2014 02:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 18, 2014

The past few years have been challenging at best, especially for those in mid-life. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, today's boomers account for 54 percent of self-employed workers, up almost 50 percent since 2000. So, why the uptick? Boomers are retiring in droves and looking for ways to remain engaged and supplement their retirement. Others are becoming mid-life entrepreneurs out of necessity: they've been laid-off, but are still responsible for mortgages and college tuitions.

Tom Flournoy is a shining example of how one person made lemonade out of lemons, or rather, cheese out of whey. As division president of a major international company, Tom knows what it's like to be the big cheese...until, shortly before Christmas of 2008, the pink slip arrived. He was laid off and for the next two years his work life came to a grinding halt. "It was completely out of the blue -- I did not see it coming," recalls Tom.

Having never been out of work throughout his entire career, Tom was first in shock and then shock turned to despair. "You start to lose your sense of worth. It erodes your confidence quickly -- you don't feel like you're capable of making any decisions. With all this self-imposed baggage, I went out looking for a job and kept hearing, no, no...not interested." While Tom's wife was employed, her salary just covered their health insurance premiums. For the next eighteen months, he applied for countless positions. The low point came when Tom was turned down for a job as a census-taker and their electricity was shut off. This is when he decided to try one more thing: cheese.

"Everyone always loved my mom's pimento cheese spread recipe so I decided to try to sell it. We were desperate. I'd do almost anything to pay the bills." Tom whipped up some cheese spread in his tiny home kitchen and sold the first batches to friends who quickly lined up to buy. Next, he leased a table at the farmer's market and Tom's Tiny Kitchen Pimento Cheese Spread took off like wildfire. Today, all independent grocers throughout Memphis carry the cheese, he's shipping worldwide, and negotiations with major chains are in the works. For Tom and his family, life these days is not only a bowl of cherries but also a big helping of ...cheese.

So, what's Tom's best advice for a mid-life boomer who has been laid off and can't find work? Here's his top 10:

10. Get up early every morning and exercise.

9. Stop blaming other people for your misfortune.

8. Make a personal 'balance sheet' -- an accounting of your strengths and weaknesses.

7. List all the things you've wanted to do to make a living but never had the opportunity -- you've got a clean slate.

6. Create a plan for each of these potential ventures/goals.

5. Prioritize goals by your level of interest AND their feasibility.

4. Don't ever be afraid or ashamed to ask for help or advice.

3. Try unconventional and creative approaches to solving your need to earn an income.

2. Avail yourself of any assistance that's out there but don't let that help erode your drive and desire to succeed.

1. Realize that you lost a job because of circumstances that were out of your control -- seize the moment, forge ahead, and celebrate each and every day.