Kari Warberg Block calls it her day of reckoning - the day 10 years ago she realized she had saved nothing for retirement.
"I started thinking about all the money that had run through my hands over the years, millions of dollars," said Block, owner of Earth-Kind, a manufacturer of rat and mice repellent. "I was sick to my stomach."
For many entrepreneurs, the golden years aren't looking so shiny. They have devoted so much time and money to their businesses that they have failed to plan for their retirement. Catch-up strategies consist of aggressively putting money aside, or planning to sell their companies someday.
Block, 50, didn't start saving until she was unable to get a loan for Bismarck, N.D.-based Earth-Kind in 2003. Her bank asked for a statement of her personal financial holdings, including savings and investments. She had only an annuity bought when she was 18 and a family inheritance.
"I looked at the personal finance statement and realized, 'There's nothing here,' " she said. Bankers want to see a business owner's personal finances because they believe someone who handles those well also will do a good job running a company and be a good credit risk.
Block sought advice from a government-sponsored Small Business Development Center. She also got help from investment brokers, asset managers, and an accountant. And she began saving 3 percent of her salary to her retirement account, matched by the company.
Sixty percent of small-business owners surveyed by American Express say they're not on track to save the money they need for retirement. Seventy-three percent said they're worried about their ability to save for the lifestyle they want in retirement.
A Small Business Administration study found that only about a third of entrepreneurs had Individual Retirement Accounts or made contributions to them in 2006; only 18 percent had 401(k)s. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of all families had retirement savings, either from employers or their own accounts in 2007, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says.
Financial advisers say small-business owners make a mistake when they don't make personal finances a priority.
"They're not diversifying," said David O'Brien, a financial planner in Richmond, Va. "They're not spreading the risk if all their assets are in one company's stock."