One of the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life is finding a new career. For Veteran Entrepreneurs, running their own businesses is a good option.
Transitioning to life after military service can be challenging. It doesn’t matter if it’s a few years or a few decades spent in the military’s well-ordered world. Veterans returning to civilian life often find themselves at loose ends, wondering, “what do I do now?”
While in the military, they had specific jobs to do. The hours in their days were accounted for. They felt challenged by and vital to the mission.
Now that they are no longer employees of Uncle Sam, their time is now spent trying to find a new job. Unlike other job-seekers, veterans have the additional burden of convincing prospective employers that military skills do translate into civilian ones.
But is a typical nine-to-five job the best bet for ex-military men and women?
Maybe, not. Veteran entrepreneurs may find better career options by starting their own businesses.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a military services background can be a strong indicator of entrepreneurial success. In 2015, the self-employment rate for veterans was 7.1%. Another statistic from the same year showed there were 18.8 million veterans, of which 1.6 million were men and women under age 35.1
While the overall American economy has shown steady signs of recovery, the U.S. job market remains tight and competitive. This makes it even more difficult for younger veterans to find a new career.
A 2012 U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) study found that there is one veteran-owned business for every 10 veterans. Their contribution to the U.S. job market cannot be overlooked. The same study showed that veteran-owned businesses employ nearly 6 million people.2 It’s not too much of a stretch to think that these entrepreneurs would be looking to bring on a few good men and women – their fellow vets.
But what skills and traits do veterans have that make them good candidates to start their own businesses?
Perhaps the biggest skill military service teaches is one of the most useful to new entrepreneurs – Leadership. Building and developing leaders is an ongoing process for the military. It begins from day one of boot camp and continues through retirement.
James Stewart served in the Army for 24 years, including one deployment to Southwest Asia and two tours of Iraq. He retired in 2014 as a Master Sergeant (E-8) and started a financial services business through First Financial Services, Inc. He cites leadership development as one of the reasons for his success.
“The military builds leaders and teaches them to be disciplined in all they do,” Stewart says. “They teach them how to work with people from different cultures and regions of the country, different ages and backgrounds. We learn to be dedicated to the mission, which now is our new business.”
Stewart explains that military service emphasizes the importance of preparedness. He advises that a few years ahead of retirement, military personnel should develop a plan for financial readiness.
“One of the biggest financial challenges when you retire is the drop in pay,” Stewart says. “The military provides about 50% of your previous pay. If you don’t plan correctly, you could find it difficult to cover basic necessities.”
Stewart recommends taking financial education classes, reviewing and updating life insurance policies, and starting a savings program. With a financial readiness plan in place, the veteran can focus solely on his or her new business.
Donna Burks is another Army veteran who chose the entrepreneurial path after retiring as a Master Sergeant (E-8) in 2009. Burks also found success by starting her own First Financial Security business.
Burks says her military career began at birth – she was born in Verdun, France while her father was stationed overseas. She has experienced military life as a reservist, military spouse and family member, active duty soldier, and defense contractor.
“In the military, every soldier is taught to be a leader and warrior,” Burks says. “Some of the traits entrepreneurs need are all taught in the military. These include taking risks, working long hours, making and executing a plan, applying patience and discipline, adapting, and overcoming challenges.”
Her experiences as a reservist came in handy as she began building her FFS business.
“As a reservist, I had to find time to complete the same military requirements while managing another full-time career. This is not so different from what a part-time agent might experience starting his or her own financial services business.”
First Financial Security offers a career path where someone can start a business on a part-time basis, while still working a full-time job. They learn how to manage both careers until they can transition into a full-time role building their own company.
“In this business, we’re called upon to sacrifice time with our families during evenings or weekends. We must apply discipline to study for and pass licensing exams. It’s our responsibility to learn as much as we can about the financial products we offer, so that our clients can benefit from our knowledge. They trust us with their finances and their future livelihood, and we cannot take that responsibility lightly.”
Though they’ve retired from the military, Burks and Stewart still channel their inner-warriors, but this time the enemy they’re fighting is financial illiteracy. They’ve earned their Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) designation. Both teach financial educational courses to families, friends and many others who live in their communities.
“It’s our duty to educate clients, organizations, businesses and our communities,” Burks says. “We help them build a solid foundation for financial success.”
For Lane Detsouvanh, another Iraq veteran with an FFS business, there are intangible traits military service instills in every soldier. These attributes are especially helpful for new entrepreneurs.
“Courage, duty, honor, integrity, and loyalty are the qualities military service engrains in a person,” Detsouvanh says. “The military helps you overcome and excel at many challenges.”
Detsouvanh, a Sergeant (E-5) honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, believes military service prepares people for life’s toughest challenges. “After deploying to war-torn countries, you have a better understanding about what’s important in life. You’ve seen the good and the bad that life has to offer.”
At the end of the day, a career as an entrepreneur allows veterans to continue to serve.
“Like most military members, entrepreneurs normally aren’t looking for short-term rewards,” Burks says. “We’re trying to create a legacy and a better future for the generations to come.”
1 Jennifer Larino. “Veterans as Entrepreneurs: New Orleans Man Helps Fellow Vets Start Businesses.” NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. Jan. 23, 2017. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2017/01/vetlaunch_new_orleans_entrepre.html
2“Facts on Veterans and Entrepreneurship.” U.S. Small Business Administration. May 2012. https://www.sba.gov/content/facts-veterans-and-entrepreneurship