It's 3 a.m. You're in a gas mask and protective gear, preparing to navigate through a mine field to liberate Kuwait. You haven't slept solidly for days, and now you're dealing with small-arms fire and mortars landing around you. You realize there's no way to proceed without heading into oncoming fire, maneuvering through the mine field, and preparing to face whatever surprises might await you on the other side.
It's 3 p.m. Your customer just called and chewed you out for an error your staff made, and he's threatening to turn you in to the Better Business Bureau if you don't refund his $15. One of your employees is 20 minutes late and before you can deal with that, your computer crashes--just as you had finished typing up the proposal that's due in an hour.
If you're reading this column, you can probably relate to at least one of these situations, but can you imagine going through both in the space of a few months? Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it? As a veteran and a business owner, I've lived through both of these scenarios, and given a choice to relive one or the other, I'd take the second one any day--and twice on Sundays.
According to the SBA, more than 14 percent of businesses in America are owned by veterans. As a veteran of the Marine Corps, I came to realize my character was cast fairly early. For many people, the military is a natural fit; they love the esprit de corps, the chain of command and the tough love that makes you earn everything you get. The question is, when military life ends, do these traits translate into the business world?
There's an old joke that an entrepreneur is too much of a pain in the butt to work for anyone else. And that may in fact be true for some, but not for franchisees. A good franchisee is someone who is willing to operate within the guidelines of the established business model, someone who won't stray too far outside the proverbial box but is also effective at leading a team and making the right decisions to further their business.
So, does being a veteran make you better prepared and equipped to be franchisee? In order to answer that question, let's look at some of the qualities that do:
Decisiveness: Business owners must not only wear many hats, they also have to fund those hats. Decisions constantly need to be made, and many times you don't have the luxury of time to digest all the information. Your staff looks to you to be firm in your decisions and provide the resources necessary to accomplish the objective set forth.
Veteran business owners know how to think on their feet and trust their instincts. They're also trained to adapt to the conditions around them, so making a decision--even a wrong one--allows them to adjust rapidly if necessary.
Skills: There are so many skills that are critical to business success--sales skills, accounting acumen, communication, leadership, etc. But the bottom line is that you have to be able to accomplish the task at hand, whatever that may be at any given time. The ability to learn and adapt is a trait some have and others simply do not. A good franchisor will give you a system to follow, an operations manual or training program to learn from and ongoing seminars or classes to develop your skills.
The training members of the military gets is designed to make them into weapons with many facets. They are taught a code of conduct that establishes their baseline, and on top of that they're taught their military occupational specialty, leadership development, and other skills that they can lean on in business. The key is the ability to learn and develop yourself and those around you.
Perseverance: Every business owner should realize that between successes and accolades there are dark days. When those dark days come, will you be able to keep going and push through to the end or will you give up when the going gets tough? If owning a business was easy, everyone would do it, but being the boss isn't for the faint of heart.
A veteran franchisee understands that commander's intent is critical to any operation. This means defining the goal and the primary milestones or objectives in accomplishing that goal--and learning to keep your focus and continue to strive for that goal even when you face unforeseen obstacles or impediments. In both the military and in business, a strong leader must persevere and use their instincts to reach the objective by fighting through the hurdles along the way.
The good news is, the franchising model allows you to learn from others and use the best practices of the organization to increase your likelihood of success. Sometimes just talking to a fellow franchisee helps put things in perspective; if they got over the obstacle you're facing, so can you.
Support Network: Rarely does someone achieve success or failure on their own. Whether it's a spouse, friend, advisor or mentor, we have to lean on someone along the way in life. The ability to build that support network is perhaps the most vital component of a successful franchisee.
Most veterans will tell you that they had to trust someone with their life at some point in their careers. As a franchisee, you have an advisory board (the franchisor or fellow franchisees) to use as consultants, and you'll likely have an annual meeting to share ideas, stories and encouragement with one another.
If you are one of the 3 million Americans on active duty or reserve, and you're asking yourself "What's next?" consider franchising. You'll be amazed at the cultural similarities you'll find and the satisfaction you'll get from using your experience in a model dedicated to your success. Here are some resources to help you begin your journey to becoming a frantrapreneur:
SBA: Go to www.sba.gov and look at the Patriot Express program. Through 2010 this program gives streamlined support to veteran business owners.
IFA: Go to www.franchise.org and look up VetFran to find a list of companies offering discounts to veterans interested in becoming franchisees.