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5 Tips for Veterans Thinking About Starting a Business

5 Tips for Veterans Thinking About Starting a Business
Image credit: The U.S. Army | Flickr

Maybe you’ve been thinking about going out on your own and starting a business. It’s a pretty daunting thought, yet people with military experience tend to make excellent entrepreneurs.

In fact, a 2011 study from the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy reported that veterans are about 45 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs than people with no active-duty military experience.  The most recent U.S. Census data from 2007 showed veterans owned about 2.4 million businesses that generated $1.2 trillion in receipts and employed 5.8 million people, proving that veterans make their mark on America long after their military service has ended.

Military veterans are organized, goal oriented, skilled and ready to take smart risks at the right times. Veterans not only have superior training, we have the confidence to generate fresh ideas and make connections to build valuable networks. More importantly, veterans have the resourcefulness to make do with minimal assets and the persistence to stick with it until we succeed. If you’re a veteran thinking about taking the plunge into small business ownership, there are plenty of advantages available to you. Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Go with what you know.

Military service may have given you a solid foundation in a variety of fields, from computers and technology to communications, health care, operations and engineering. If you wonder how your military skills will translate into the civilian world, don’t worry. Your character, courage and integrity translate just fine.

If you’re interested in starting your own business, stick to your passions and go with what you know best. Translating your military resume to civilian needs is much easier when you’re in familiar territory. For example, squad leaders make excellent project managers, and veterans have come up with original product ideas based on field experience, from energy drinks to better performance gear.

Related: 5 Things Veterans Should Know to Start a Technology Business

2. Know your strengths and weaknesses.

To survive, entrepreneurs have to fill a lot of roles, especially in the first years when a business is in the startup phase and growing rapidly. However, being everything to everyone isn’t always the way to get things done right. Know your strengths, and outsource the other tasks. For example, you may decide to do your own business development and execution, but outsource payroll, accounting, and back office work. Focusing on your strengths will make you more formidable, and knowing when to rely on outside help will lead to fewer pitfalls.

3. Seek advice from experts.

The American economy needs veterans to create businesses that solve real problems. Luckily, there are 100 hands reaching out to help you.  Counseling, mentoring, and training programs are available through VETbiz.gov and local Small Business Administration (SBA) offices at SBA.gov. Go to SCORE to find a mentor who can help you make good decisions right out of the gate, and apply for a course like Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses. To learn about programs near you, check out the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at your local community college.

Related: The Top 10 Franchise Brands for Veterans

4. Find a need and fill it.

You can’t capitalize on an opportunity if you don’t realize it exists. Isolating and developing a business opportunity is the key to getting started, but how do you recognize one? Listen for the words “somebody should” in a conversation, such as “somebody should place pushcarts near the baggage claim at airports.” Somebody did, and they made money. Think of information gathering like a recon mission. Take the time to talk to people at all levels of an organization to find unmet needs. What is missing that these folks currently want or need? Be open to suggestions, whether it’s an idea for improved productivity or a new product feature. This is the best way to uncover opportunities and find the need that you can fill.

5. Make the most of financing for veterans.

As a military veteran, you can access special financing options to kickstart your business. Government-backed loans for small business provide additional security to lenders, so loan applications are more likely to be approved.

Microloans are another smart way to find funding. The SBA’s Microloan Program helps to fund startups with up to $35,000. The SBA Express Loan Program answers applications within 36 hours. The SBA also has programs with lower (or waived) borrower fees. Ask about SBA 7(a) loans (90% of all SBA financing), Cap Line, Veterans Advantage and Lift Funds.

If your credit is less than perfect, veteran status can open doors for finding loans with specialty lenders, credit unions, and community banks.

Vets have serious potential to leverage their experience and start viable ventures. From network development opportunities to special loan access, there are open doors that make entry into the world of entrepreneurship easier for those who have served. If you are a veteran with the drive to create something new using your unique skill set, what is holding you back?

Related: Thank You for Your Service - 4 Business Funding Programs for Veterans