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How Retirees Can Make Money in the Sharing Economy

Maryalene LaPonsie

Maureen Morrison didn't set out to be part of the sharing economy. The 72-year-old Lawrenceburg, Indiana, resident simply thought offering dog boarding in her home would be a good way to complement her pet grooming business.

However, she inadvertently became part of an economy that consulting firm PwC says could be worth $335 billion globally by 2025. As its name suggests, the sharing economy lets people make money by "sharing" what they have with others. For example, they may share their vacation home by renting it out on Airbnb or share their car by providing rides through Uber or Lyft.

For Morrison, the sharing economy offered a way to do something she loved while supplementing her income. "It's a good way to make a little extra money, but it's not for everyone," she says. "You have to like animals."

Of course, for seniors who don't like animals, there are plenty of other ways to maximize the earning potential of the sharing economy.

Who's Who in the Sharing Economy

PwC splits the sharing economy into five main sectors: peer-to-peer finance, online work opportunities, peer-to-peer property rentals, car sharing, and music and video streaming. Here's a look at some of the big names in each category.

-- Peer-to-peer finance: Online marketplaces allow users to lend money to others and then be repaid with interest. Depending on the site, users can begin lending with as little as $25 in their account. LendingClub and Prosper are two of the more prominent peer-to-peer lending companies.

-- Online work opportunities: Websites and apps allow users to share services or talents rather than goods. Examples include TaskRabbit, Fiverr and Gigwalk, services that allow users to pay others to do everything from design a website to mow their lawn.

-- Peer-to-peer property rentals: This category includes house and room rentals. Airbnb and HomeAway are two of the big names in peer-to-peer accommodation.

-- Car sharing: Users of these services may give rides to others or even let them borrow their car for a certain period of time. Uber, Lyft and RelayRides are a few of the many companies that do business in the car sharing sector.

-- Music and video streaming: Services like Spotify fall under the sharing economy banner. Non-musicians would be hard-pressed to find a way to make money from it.

While much of the sharing economy revolves around the Internet and apps, not all of it is high-tech. "There are other ways that older people can be engaged in a sharing way," says Bill Zinke, founder and president of senior advocacy organization Enrich Life Over 50. "For example, they can baby-sit as opposed to driving people in a car; they can walk dogs; they can take care of older people who are sick that need shopping done for them."

Uber's Drive to Woo Seniors

While seniors can benefit from becoming involved in the sharing economy, so too can companies.

"Half of Uber's driver partners are older than 40," says David Richter, vice president of strategic initiatives at Uber. "Not surprisingly, these drivers are very reliable."

In fact, they are so reliable the company is actively working to increase the number of older drivers in its fold. Last month, Uber announced a partnership with AARP's Life Reimagined, which would give members who sign up to be new drivers a $35 bonus after they provide 10 rides through the service.

Although seniors are often stereotyped as not understanding technology, Emilio Pardo, president of Life Reimagined, says he isn't the least bit concerned about seniors having difficulty navigating the app behind the ride-sharing system. "If you don't have a smartphone, they're going to supply you with one," he says, referring to seniors who sign up through the partnership.

Both Richter and Pardo say seniors will benefit from the cashless system used for payment, which makes it safe and simple to provide rides. Plus, Life Reimagined provides events in major cities where Uber may be on site to provide training and answer questions.

"It's flexible and engaging [for seniors]," Richter says, adding that the benefits are mutual. "We have experienced tremendous demand."

How Seniors Can Get Started

Working within the sharing economy can take many forms, and seniors should first decide what good or service they can offer. (If you need some ideas, CollaborativeConsumption.com offers a directory of sharing economy companies in 16 categories.) Then, they need to find a platform for advertising. While websites and apps make it easy to offer rooms for rent or gardening help, don't overlook traditional methods of marketing.

"You could put an ad in the paper or [spread the word] through your church," Morrison says. Although websites like DogVacay let people advertise dog boarding or pet-sitting services online, Morrison says she's stayed busy through word-of-mouth referrals. She adds that dog boarding is more than a way to earn money. It's a way to stay active and connect with others. "It's rewarding," she says.

The sharing economy appeals to older Americans, Zinke says, because it generates revenue and enriches their lives. "[It] enables them to be doing something that adds value," he says.

While they say it is better to give then to receive, the sharing economy may do both by providing seniors the opportunity to give their talents while receiving personal satisfaction. The extra money doesn't hurt either.nul

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