Small Business Ownership & the Military Veteran

Small Business Ownership and the Military Veteran: It Depends…

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing


What does it mean to be a small business owner? Well, the short answer is that, it depends. ‘Small business ownership’ means different things to different people. The owner’s title or status alone is one that leaves folks scratching their heads…am I self-employed, or an entrepreneur? Am I a sole proprietor, or perhaps an independent contractor? Often, the answer to that question depends on who’s asking, and why…but to many small business owners themselves, their title is just a formality.

Building a business, often starting from scratch, is ‘where it’s at’ for so many small business owners – Veterans and non-Veterans alike. You’re solving problems and alleviating pains…creating market share…making a difference, with customers and end-users. Many of you reading this already have experience as small business owners. Many of you are getting ready to make that leap. And if you’ve spent time in our military community, you already know what the research suggests: that Veterans are entrepreneurial.

Plenty of agencies have studies that back up that last statement. Some of the most profound data indicates that while Veterans make up roughly 6% of the general population in the United States, we account for over 13.5% of successful small businesses. Of course, what that really means depends on how you define ‘successful’, but for now let’s just assume it means that the business is paying taxes, or making payroll, or closing profitable deals or impacting GDP in a positive way. Now that we’ve learned that we Veterans account for more than our fair share of businesses “in business”, it might be interesting to take a stab at why that might be.

It might be because many of us possess more than a few of the traits and attributes that help foster success. Yesterday we published a post in this blog that listed over ten reasons why employers should hire Veterans. Actually, it was twenty-five reasons…and those reasons, those things that make us great candidates for an employer’s workforce, also make us more likely to succeed at small business ownership. Things like attention to detail, a strong work ethic, leadership training, and plenty more…can all be things to keep in your hip pocket, whether you’re working for the owner of the business or that owner is you.

Success factors. That’s what I like to call the items on my list of “Over Ten Reasons”. Each of them is a sort of combat multiplier, if you will…things that can help you succeed in many endeavors, to include small business. Some of those items can help you mitigate and minimize risk. But make no mistake, small business is still risky…and certain industries in small business are really risky. With small business ownership, it helps to have a certain comfort level with risk. And, as it turns out, many military Veterans do have that comfort level, because of the homework they’ve done, the preparations and the calculations that they’ve made that becomes the calculated risk.

I’ve spoken with a lot of small business owners over the last couple decades, and have been one myself a time or two. I’ve spent what seems like countless hours engaging with my fellow entrepreneurs…engaged as counselor, friend, comrade, brother-in-arms, you name it. I’ve watched separating service members get the ‘small business bug’, talking about their business plan at the height of motivation, passion, and drive. I’ve seen companies start up and companies close down…and both events can be enjoyable and painful at the same time. And each time I see or hear about one being started by someone from the military community, I ask myself, “How successful will this one be?”

To be sure, the answer to that question is, “It depends.” And it depends mostly on how that small business owner has defined success. There have been many successful companies shuttered over the years, and for a variety of reasons. Many times, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. Or, perhaps it’s just not profitable enough. Or, maybe the business owner is a member of the National Guard or Reserve, and his or her independent contractor gig just got interrupted by a mobilization and subsequent deployment. There are a lot of variables that observers take into account as to whether a company is a success, and those variables are as independent as the Veteran Small Business Owners themselves. Sometimes it just depends