My Business and Military Story
I spent 20 years in the US Air Force before starting my own business. First as a Security Policeman and then as a Recruiter. Over 8 assignments I lived in 2 foreign countries and 4 states (I had 3 assignments in England which is why the numbers don't add up) and numerous TDYs (temporary duty assignments.) I have seen a lot and am proud of my service. I always wanted to be in the military, but, I also always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I retired, after a few jobs working for others, it seemed the right time to make that happen. So here I am, an owner of a veteran run business!
I started a fundraising company working directly with high school Fine Arts and sports programs. Many of these are constantly underfunded yet both are proven to be key factors in student-success. I saw this as a way to both help my community as well as reach my dream. Within two years of starting the company its gross sales were one million dollars. Needless to say, I learned a LOT, much of it the hard way.
Being former military has many advantages to entrepreneurship. The constant focus on "mission first" does well when you are running a business and there is no one else to really rely on but yourself. The hours are long, the stress constant, the days endless -- kind of like being in the military. Risk analysis, situational awareness, disaster preparedness, planning for worst-case scenarios, decision making, "no retreat, no surrender" attitude, these are all innate skills that most military people poses after serving. These are also the skills that will help ensure the business carries on. When the times get tough, and they do, these are the skills that will keep you going. Plus, you can tell yourself, "hey, no one is shooting at me so it can't be THAT bad..."
But, there are also many things that are different. Civilian employees are not military troops. Sure, you can order them to do something, but the result is not going to be the same as the military. In the military we kind of had the mantra of "ours is not to reason why, ours is to just do and shut up." Don't expect that of your people. They will want to know why and if they are not happy they will let you know either by voice or by action. Also in the military we had a belief in staying until the job was done, don't be surprised when it doesn't happen, at least at first. When the clock says it is time to go home, they are going home.
You will really need to fall back on your NCO or Officer training on leadership to make sure your people know you support them. I was always taught, "when you take care of the troops the troops will take care of the mission." This is still very true in the business world. Make sure your people know you care. Get to know them on a personal level. Mentor them, train them, develop them. Make the workplace somewhere they WANT to be, not just a place they have to be to earn a paycheck.
Another big difference is you don't have the support structure you used to have. When you get into a bad situation in the military or just need help, there are other people and units you can call on. They all have your back (and you have theirs.) But when you own your own business, that is generally not there. You need to reach out and find others that have similar experiences and issues. Develop your own support network. There are many organizations that specialize in veteran-owned businesses. A simple internet search will reveal them.
Business Resources and Help
There are some great resources on the web for military members looking to start their own business, here are just a couple:
If you are a veteran looking to start your own business, or if you already own one, comment and let us know how you are doing. What challenges have you faced. Successes? Failures? And if you need someone to chat with about your business, we are here. Even if it is literally just to chat, we love connecting with other veteran entrepreneurs and just talking to others that "speak our language."
Eric Zdanowicz, MBA, is a business owner of two businesses (Millennial Center of Excellence, LLC and CFS Atlanta South), consultant, and a retired US Air Force veteran with almost 40 years of leadership experience. Eric lives in the Middle Georgia Area. For questions, feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org