By Guest Contributor Renee Nickell
For 17 years, I had been a stay at home mom and military spouse. My days consisted of homeschooling my kids, chauffeuring, meal-planning, budgeting, making sure life was stable during TDY’s and deployments, and supporting my husband through three college degrees. While these things gave me great fulfillment and I loved my role in the family, I had always had dreams of my own. Our family made a lot of sacrifices for me to stay at home with my children. Society says you can’t survive on one income and we proved them wrong.
About two years ago, my husband and I really started talking about leaving the corporate world. He was now a reservist and disabled veteran and he wanted to support me in accomplishing my hopes and dreams. We haven’t gotten to the point of him leaving his job yet, but we are working towards it. I went full steam ahead and began writing my first non-fiction memoir. It was published in July 2018 and it was certainly a dream come true. Since that time, I’ve had to teach myself how to market, grow my tribe, advertise, and everything else that goes along with being a new entrepreneur.
Just two months before I decided to start writing my book, my husband was suddenly told that he would no longer be “fit for duty” until he underwent a medical review board. This meant our monthly military pay was gone with zero notice! This was a huge blow for him as a commander and 17-year veteran. We had to make things work with a sudden drop in income. This was a huge risk. It’s been 18 months and still no medical review board, but we are still making it without his military pay.
If you are a military spouse who may be considering starting a new business on a limited budget, I want to give you a list of eight do’s and don’ts that will help you make that decision:
1. Don’t rely on the bank account for you to start your business.
Now some may say, “Renee, this is NOT wisdom. Every business needs cash!” Well, no they don’t. How many dreams have been born around a kitchen table? How many bakeries have started with mixing the flour and sugar in a small home kitchen? Many businesses now are started on one-income families with small investments. Start small, but dream BIG!
2. Don’t expect to get rich quick.
With the social media, coaching craze happening right now, all it takes is one look at your timeline to believe you can become an overnight sensation on YouTube and make 6-figures in two months. It may happen for some, but for most of us, that isn’t realistic. What is realistic, if that is your goal, is to grow in what you know. What you don’t know, learn. Long-term success takes time, energy, knowledge, and patience. Remember that turtle that was slow and steady?
3. Do plan on working long hours with no pay.
Startup businesses do not start making revenue right away. Like I mentioned before, I’m 18 months into “the dream”. I haven’t made any profit thus far, but that doesn’t keep me from moving forward. Your desire to turn “the dream” into a reality MUST be stronger than the desire to get rich quick. What this has taught me, is that I am showing my children delayed gratification. They know mom works A LOT, but I am always teaching them that it’s perseverance and hard work that will eventually pay off, not giving up when you see little results (this can go for weight loss or building up savings).
4. Do expect to make sacrifices.
Have you heard those stories of incredibly successful entrepreneurs that have sold everything they own to make their dream a reality? Yes, I can relate. When I was publishing my book, my husband would come home from work and wonder where our furniture went. I’d tell him I had to pay the editor. This went on for months until we finally put in for a job transfer and sold our home…providing us with funds to market the book. You will learn to do what you can to make it work.
5. Don’t expect everyone to understand or be supportive.
Let’s face it…no one will be as excited as you about your new venture. Friends may think you’re crazy or possibly be upset with your new time constraints. Naysayers may be jealous and Facebookers may get annoyed. So, what? Only ONE person needs to believe in your dream…YOU! You WILL grow your tribe…don’t try to appease everyone (and most of the people on your social media won’t be your tribe, that takes time to grow). Those that do support you – keep them close.
6. Don’t give up.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your small business. If you are dedicated to doing what you believe in and you’re aware that building a business takes time, you WILL eventually see results. I promise. Hang in there and know that you will have good days and bad days, but the good days make the bad days worth it.
7. Do take the risk.
Maybe it’s because of my life experiences, but life is too short to not take the risk. I mean, I’m not talking about bungee jumping here. Sometimes the greatest results happen because of the greatest risks. Six months after I published my book I wrote my favorite author and asked for an endorsement. Guess what, she said yes. I was so scared to ask, but my husband always tells me, “if you don’t ask, your answer will definitely be no, but if you do ask, you may get a yes.” He would remind me this after all the “no’s” I have gotten. I still take the risk and it’s really been incredible to see what doors have opened.
8. Do have the time of your life!
Always remember your “why” and enjoy the journey. It’s truly the journey that you have to learn to appreciate, because that journey never ends. Make small goals and celebrate when you meet those goals.
I hope this insight will help the new entrepreneur. If you are a military spouse venturing into new territory, know that you can do this. Remember that incredibly painful deployment when the kids were puking and the roof was leaking and the car broke down and it was still 10 days until payday? Well, if you can get through that…you can do this. The military spouse is resilient and strong. Be encouraged and go out and make your dreams happen!
Renee Nickell is a military spouse, Gold Star sibling, and author of “Always My Hero: The Road to Hope & Healing Following My Brother’s Death in Afghanistan.” Renee has been featured on FOX & Friends, The Brian Kilmeade Show, and SOFREP Radio; her mission is to increase awareness of the difficulties that military families face, to better help them endure, recover, and heal. For more about Renee, go to www.reneenickell.com.
By guest contributor Chris Coleman
If you’ve ever done any research into the franchising environment, you may have noticed that many franchise companies offer Veterans a discount on their initial investment. Why is that? Well, there are a couple reasons why. First, this is a way for many franchisors to say ‘thank you’ for serving. Many of us feel you’ve gone above and beyond to protect our country and secure our freedoms. Second, there’s a general consensus that Veterans typically make great franchisees! Franchisors find that Veterans, with their leadership and teamwork skills and propensity for following a system, make ideal business owners in the franchise space. Let’s take a quick look at some of the reasons why Veterans are so sought after by franchise companies.
You can’t investigate this without first establishing a key finding. For many, that key finding would be the similarities that exist between franchise operations and the order and structure built into military service. We in the franchising industry know that a franchise is successful because the bedrock of its operation depends upon a defined set of principles and procedures that, when replicated, have a high chance of success. Our friends in the military community know that having a defined mission is essential to success; a successful mission, in turn, can usually be replicated, mitigating risk in future operations.
One example of those similarities is training. One of the key advantages of franchising is the amount of training and support that goes into the development of franchisees and their respective franchises. In the military, many of you began with basic training. In a franchise system, you may be required to attend their version of basic training, alongside other new franchise owners. Both are examples of an accelerated learning atmosphere where you’ll ramp up your knowledge of processes and procedures quickly. And we all know that the training doesn’t stop once you graduate from your basic course. The same goes for franchise support systems, all of which make ongoing education, training, and support a key ideological framework.
No discussion about Veterans and franchising would be complete without a reference to teamwork. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “teamwork makes the dream work,” keep in mind that it applies to franchise operations as well as military training and execution. Much of our military organizational framework is built around groups and teams of men and women – troops, squads, platoons, regiments, divisions, and so on. Franchises rely on the same framework, the same type of top-down leadership as the military, to ensure the success of their operations.
The remaining similarities are no less obvious. The ability to thrive under pressure is a suitable quality in both a Veteran and a franchise owner…neither are strangers to long hours, hard work, and a payoff for effort at the end of the day. Lastly, discipline will always win the day…the military and our Veterans depend upon it and strong franchise brands demand it. In some sense, we can actually tie teamwork and discipline together – successful teams tend to have some sort of accountability structure in place and good franchise companies facilitate accountability groups throughout their system to encourage franchise owners to be all that they can be.
There are plenty of statistics that speak volumes about Veterans and small business ownership. From 2012 U.S. Census Bureau and Small Business Administration information, data suggests that approximately 2.5 million businesses – nearly 9.1% – were Veteran-owned. Within the small business ‘space’, franchising itself is a successful business platform for many Armed Forces Personnel – Veterans, Family members, National Guard & Reserve, and even Service Members on active duty. Many reports detail that approximately one in seven U.S. franchises is owned by Veterans. Did you catch that? One in seven franchises is owned by a Veteran! There must be a compelling reason for that statistic…
While there are a lot of synergies between franchises and the military, researching the nearly 3,600 franchise concepts can be tricky. If you or someone you know is a member of the military community looking to establish a business foothold in civilian life, I recommend connecting with a local franchise consultant to help navigate those waters. And don’t forget what they say – ‘teamwork makes the dream work’…
Chris Coleman is a second-generation franchise consultant & a franchise owner with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. He and his team provide no-cost consultations to individuals seeking business ownership opportunities. Chris currently owns franchise territory in 4 states, sits on the Board of Directors for FranNet, and serves as Vice-Chair of FranNet’s Franchise Advisory Council. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn here or visit FranNet.com for more information on franchising.
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, email [email protected] and tell us your story…
By guest contributor Will Katz
It has been my honor and pleasure to work with many veterans who have started small businesses. Over the years, I’ve noticed that people with military experience tend to be excellent entrepreneurs. Why would that be the case? Well, I don’t know this for certain, but I would imagine that the careers of most military personnel revolve around 1) creating a plan, and 2) executing that plan.
Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that entrepreneurship generally follows a similar roadmap. Entrepreneurs also create a plan, then execute that plan. With that in mind, here are six key points for anybody embarking on the process of business planning:
Begin with the end in mind. You might recognize this as Habit 2 of Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This is always a good habit, but especially so when it comes to business planning.
Of course, it may be somewhat challenging. If you have never written a business plan, the odds are that you have also not seen a wide variety of business plans. If you have not seen a lot of business plans, it may be difficult to envision what your completed plan might look like.
You should ask your network of peers and advisors if they might be able to share some business plan samples with you. If your personal network doesn’t include people who are well-versed in the business planning process, use this as an opportunity to expand that network a little bit. I would recommend that you begin your journey by attempting to read and review at least ten business plans. This will give you a baseline.
Beware of search engine results. Sure, you could type “business plans” into your favorite search engine. Go ahead. I’ll wait…I can tell you what you are going to get back. You will see all kinds of specialty business plan-writing products that will cost you anywhere from $79.99 to about $1,200. Search engines are wonderful, and I frequently wonder how I managed to get by without the ability to find out what time the nearest pizza restaurant closes. But when it comes to complex topics like business planning, I’m not sure that search engines are your best friend.
When it comes to business plans, results with high placement are often placed in your results feed because companies who sell these tools pay for that placement. Their job is to give you “business plan envy”. They want you to feel like you couldn’t possibly do this without them. They want you to think the business planning process is more confusing or more exacting than it really is.
There is no magic format. Believe it or not, there is no magic in how you lay out the sections of your business plan. I’ve seen great business plans with 4-5 sections, and I’ve seen great business plans with 12-14 sections. I’ve seen business plans funded for millions of dollars that were 4 pages long. I’ve also seen plans of every shape and size that were lacking in critical content.
I spent several years working with an aspiring pre-venture entrepreneur who was convinced that there was a magic business plan format. He created a plan and he sent that plan to dozens of potential funding sources. Each recipient of the plan pointed to some issue or issues, and many of them pointed to different problems. Every time he received a response, he passed it on to me with a note, making sure to tell me that he was unhappy that I didn’t see the issue ahead of the rejection!
In this case, my belief was (and still is) that the plan didn’t correctly identify a problem and his corresponding solution. The business notion underlying your business plan is always the main issue. But his belief was simply that if he wrote the “perfect” business plan, regardless of the underlying facts, he would get millions of dollars in funding. (Hint: it doesn’t really work that way!)
Especially if you are in the earliest stages, it will benefit you to think of your business plan along the lines of a simple feasibility analysis. The simple act of viewing your concept and your business idea from that 10,000-foot perspective may well be revolutionary for you. Shoot for maybe 5 or 6 sections, each section being one page. You may be surprised at how far that will lead you.
Research is key. There are a lot of different types of research that might go into a business plan. Foremost among those types of research, I would say, is “secondary” market research.
When it comes to market research, “primary” market research relates to the questions you ask customers and/or potential customers. “Would you buy this?” “How much would you pay?” “What should we call it?” It’s not that these are bad questions, but for most entrepreneurs, it is exceedingly difficult to design the right survey tools and get outside of your comfort zone far enough to ask them to people who will give you unbiased answers.
“Secondary” market research relates to existing sources of information that answer questions one might have. If your business idea is related to after-market car parts, it would be helpful to know how many cars are registered in your metro area. If you are planning to open a nail salon, wouldn’t you like to know how many people in the area have received pedicures in the last six months? (Believe it or not, this is a question that could be answered!)
There are some amazing tools for research out there if you know where to look. Some are free to use, but some are not. Again, it is always a good idea to expand your personal network to help you learn what you know and what you don’t know. If you don’t know any librarians, it might be worth your time to meet one! I’m a big fan of the US Census Bureau tools (https://www.census.gov/smallbusiness/), as well as industry reporting from places like IBISWorld, Cengage, and First Research.
Be specific in your statement of purpose. Yes, you should be as specific as possible in all aspects of business planning. But the reference here is to the purpose for your actual plan. I always like to see a sentence in the first couple of paragraphs that starts like this: “The purpose for this plan is….”
Maybe the purpose is to find a bank loan for 50% of the $100,000 you need. Maybe you are looking for early-stage investors among family and friends. Maybe you are simply putting together a document that will keep you on track as you develop ideas and one that will provide you with direction as you move forward. Whatever the reason is, put it in the plan.
Necessary, but not sufficient by itself. I’m certain that no battles have ever been won by planning unless the planning was backed up by robust action. Know that it will be the same way with your business. Planning alone will never compete with planning AND execution. In your military career, how many of your plans survived first contact with the enemy? Probably not very many! The same will be true of your entrepreneurial pursuits. It’s great to have a plan. In fact, it’s critically important to have a plan.
Just be prepared to deviate from that plan when the situation calls for it!
Will Katz, MBA, CVA is a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and Accredited Business Planning Advisor (ABPA) specializing in valuation support for SBA lending. Will is also Director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Kansas, where he helps entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Will has worked with more than 1500 business clients, including hundreds of military Veterans in the Ft. Leavenworth area. Connect with Will Katz on LinkedIn here…
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your small business planning process or military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, email [email protected] and tell us your story…
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is one of a series of posts focused on entrepreneurship. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)
Owning your own business. For many of us in the military community, that’s the brass ring that so many of us have our sights set on, especially as we transition out of military service. About a month ago, I wrote an article in this blog titled Small Business Ownership & the Military Veteran and explored what it meant to be a small business owner. What it meant to be self-employed, an entrepreneur, a sole proprietor, or an independent contractor. I’d venture a guess that most of us know someone that set out on their own, whether that was to realize a lifelong dream or simply to put food on the table.
I’d also guess that most of us know that small business is risky, and that those of us that have some degree of training in risk management have done some research on how to mitigate that risk. Go to a bookstore (online or brick & mortar) and you’ll find the typical self-help section with bestsellers from experts on entrepreneurship. Buy a few books, get them in two days or less, and get to work on digesting the expert advice between the covers.
And there’s a lot of good advice out there, both in books and in the kind of wisdom you can tap into when you visit with a small business owner who’s willing to chat about their successes and failures. That was one of the best things about my line of work for the 5 years prior to joining the Military Connection team. As the lead entrepreneurial workshop facilitator for the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) at seven different military installations, I had the privilege of picking the brains of what seemed like hundreds of small business owners, CPAs, attorneys, and small business counselors. We talked about what worked, what didn’t work in many cases, and some of the things a soon-to-be small business owner ought to be thinking about. And here they are…
Define success. This could be the most critical of conscious thought processes. Think about how you define success, and what ‘successful’ looks like to you. Then do the same for those that you care about, especially if they’re along for the ride and they have a vested interest in that success. Although success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents, for most people that’s the first barometer they think about. How much revenue must you generate to cover your debts and obligations, and then pay you a salary? And how long will it take to get there?
Figure out your comfort level with risk. As I’ll say again and again, small business is risky. There are ways to mitigate that risk, however, like choosing a legal entity that can help shield you from liability and/or choosing an insurance policy with coverage that’s right for you. At some point, you’ll have to figure out how much risk you can live with (or sleep well at night with), cross-check that with the costs of legal representation and insurance premiums, and make some decisions. And don’t be surprised if you and the people you care most about have different comfort levels with that risk…
Build your team. Surround yourself with good people…people that are smarter than you are (about their topic of expertise, at least). In some of our entrepreneurial circles, there’s a catchy little term called BAIL. That acronym is short for Banker-Accountant-Insurance (Agent)-Lawyer. It’s catchy because folks like us immediately think that the BAIL team can keep us out of jail, but it’s much simpler than that…it boils down to the fact that those professionals have skillsets that most small business owners don’t, and it’s wise to have them on your team. Having them on your team doesn’t mean that they have to be on the payroll, but when you have a need for what they bring to the table, it’s nice to already know who you want to do business with.
Manage your brand. This isn’t just a tagline for those Marketing professionals out there. Yes, your brand may very well be the crafted image you’ve spent a lot of time and money on, but first and foremost…your brand is YOU. Whether you’re in retail or you’re an independent contractor with a skillset that’s in-demand, you are your own brand ambassador for your small business. Consider cleaning up your online image if you need to, then walk the walk.
Go local. Do your homework and connect with all those resources out there that exist in order to help you succeed. Those national organizations that work with the SBA, the USDA, and other federal agencies? They have local representation & are looking to help folks just like you. Check out the nearby colleges and universities, as well as local economic development centers. Many of the workshops and training events are free or at-cost, and you’ll also connect with a whole lot of helpful humans.
While this list is obviously not all-inclusive, there are a lot of professionals out there that think it’s a mighty fine place to start when taking inventory of why you want to be a small business owner. Be forewarned though…working on your answers to the items above won’t automatically make you feel comfortable going down the entrepreneurial path. In fact, you may find that you don’t have the stomach for it or it’s not the right time or the juice just won’t be worth the squeeze. Just know that whatever you find yourself doing, we wish you the best of luck! And try to enjoy the ride…
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your small business search or military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!
Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is one of a series of posts relating to entrepreneurship. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)
For many of us, transitioning from the military to the next phase of our lives – going “back on the block”, if you will – consisted of nothing more than getting our hands on a set of clearing papers and looking for signatures, so we could get our final orders for Fort Living Room. In 1993, the first time I left active duty, I was offered some help on putting together a resume and shown how to sort through some arcane database of open jobs…but that was about all, and that was about all I wanted.
The next time I found myself clearing an active duty installation was about 15 years later, and to be sure, there were more opportunities available to help me successfully transition. There was more hardware, more software, and more subject-matter experts to help me navigate my options, but it was still optional and mostly centered around getting help finding a job.
One of the best things the Department of Defense has done for transitioning service members recently, though, was to make the core transition workshop mandatory and add some additional tracks to augment the experience. One of those tracks is a course on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business (B2B).
Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The two-day course, titled “Introduction to Entrepreneurship”, is held at over 180 military installations worldwide and provides an overview of the subject. Active Duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans, and spouses are eligible to participate. Boots to Business Reboot is a version of the original workshop that takes the event off the military installation and extends access to veterans of all eras. There is no cost to participate, and those that have successfully completed either course are eligible for follow-on Boots to Business courses that cover a variety of topics.
“Introduction to Entrepreneurship” is a TAP training track for those interested in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership and it’s the foundational piece of the larger Boots to Business (B2B) program. Participants are introduced to the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to launch a business, including steps for developing business concepts and a business plan, and information on SBA resources available to help. Participants learn business fundamentals and techniques for evaluating the feasibility of their business concepts and are introduced to a broad spectrum of entrepreneurial concepts and the resources available to access start-up capital, technical assistance, contracting opportunities, and more. Subject matter experts from the SBA and its network of partners and skilled business advisors teach the course.
Those partners and business advisors are what makes this event so valuable. While there is some variance from installation to installation, there are a few key organizations that help facilitate the workshop across the country. Those groups include the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, America’s SBDC, SCORE, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, members of the National Guard & Reserve, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement with the SBA that have the VBOC mission.
Small Business Development Centers (America’s SBDCs) are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies, and private sector partners. There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses. on topics that include business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, technology development, international trade and much more.
SCORE. A nonprofit association of thousands of volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. and its territories, SCORE members are trained to serve as counselors, advisors, and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters.
Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). WBCs work to secure entrepreneurial opportunities for women by supporting and sustaining a national network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers. WBCs help women succeed in business by providing training, mentoring, business development, and financing opportunities to over 145,000 women entrepreneurs each year.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Located at Syracuse University, IVMF is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families.
Personally, I think it’s a great benefit that the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, and those resource partners have put together for those of us in the military community. I may be a bit biased, however, because over the last 5 years I helped facilitate over 150 Boots to Business workshops across 7 different military installations in 5 states. I’ve spoken with hundreds of folks considering their entrepreneurial options and witnessed plenty of “a-ha” moments. I’ve also seen more than a few come to the realization that ‘small business ownership’ wasn’t for them.
In my opinion, as both a Soldier that has recently transitioned and as a professional facilitator, the Boots to Business workshop is a great course that offers a birds-eye view of some of the key elements of small business ownership. In pretty short order, most participants will figure out if entrepreneurship is something that could be right for them and they’ll know where to turn for more information.
Perhaps you find yourself pining for the day when you can open your own business. Or you and your spouse are already knee-deep in running a successful enterprise, but you’re ready to connect to resources that might help you take it to the next level. Or maybe you just might officially rule out the option of being self-employed, but want it to be an educated decision. For whichever reason, Boots to Business is a good starting point and will likely be a good use of your time.
If you’re still actively serving, contact the transition office at your closest military installation for more information. If you don’t have access to an installation or aren’t close to one, you can visit the program’s website at https://sbavets.force.com/s/. For technical support and registration questions, contact the Boots to Business Help Desk by emailing [email protected]/ or by calling (202) 205-VET1 or (844) 610-VET1. Good luck with your journey!
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!