How to start your veteran-owned business

Among your most challenging and exciting moments beyond military service is choosing your next career move. One area worth considering is entrepreneurship — though, this isn’t to say it’s a simple path to follow. 

There are hurdles ahead and you may not immediately have all the knowledge to overcome them. Indeed, many people are put off from creating their own business because they’re not sure how to get started. Yet, with some dedication and curiosity, you can uncover rewarding experiences.

We’re going to run down some of the key steps to starting a veteran-owned business.

Engage with resources

Financial resources are the lifeblood of any enterprise. Gaining these also happens to be one of the most challenging aspects for a new entrepreneur. While it’s true there are some forms of business today needing minimal capital, many veterans still don’t have the money stored away to fund their business personally. Looking for investors and loans without any background in business can also be a daunting proposition. But, rest assured, there are options for resources available to you.  

There is no longer a specific VA-funded Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. The Patriot Express pilot program was discontinued in 2013. However, it’s worth exploring the other SBA-backed loans. These usually feature lower interest rates and are more accessible to first-time entrepreneurs. You can also pursue various types of loans, from 504 loans directed toward purchasing equipment or real estate to microloans at a maximum of $50,000.

However, there are some organizations dedicated to helping veterans secure funding. StreetShares and Hivers & Strivers are both run by veterans and targeted at helping veteran entrepreneurs. The former helps you to identify and apply for loans through a free membership program. The latter is more appropriate for tech startups, where they help military academy graduates access angel investors.

How to start your veteran-owned business
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie)

Bridge educational gaps

Your time spent in the military has helped to bolster your individual talents with some significant skills — it’s one of the reasons veterans are so valued as entrepreneurs — but it’s also important to recognize that entrepreneurism has some unique challenges. You can best address these by identifying where the gaps in your knowledge are and how education can help put you in a better position. 

There are some useful veteran-specific training programs aimed at getting you in shape to start or grow your business. Some are short, in-person courses — such as Reboot and the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) — that introduce you to the fundamentals of business. Though there are many longer programs you can take online as well. Bunker Labs offers a range of e-learning courses to take you through finances and the business launch among others. Many such programs, including all those listed in this paragraph, are free of charge. 

However, you may have some specific skills gaps these programs can’t address. In which case, it’s worth seeking out self-driven learning opportunities. Today’s marketplace is very much reliant upon technology, with tools like Google analytics and web design a necessity to thrive. Taking online courses in digital marketing can help you to gain the knowledge and skills you need to encourage consumers to engage with your business. Learning about programming, graphic design, and even how to create content helps to ensure you gain attention and grow your company. 

Plan thoroughly

Creating a full business plan can be your key to gaining the interest and support of lenders and investors. It also gives you greater clarity on the aims of your enterprise. Not to mention it is a step-by-step roadmap for the first years of business.

Putting together a business plan is not easy. You need to commit to some market research to understand where you fit into your target industry. You’ll also need to make some financial forecasts. If you don’t know where to begin, there are many business plan templates you can access online, which you can modify to your unique needs. 

One of the most important and challenging parts of your plan is establishing who your customers will be and how you can get them to interact with you. If you are creating a company that provides contractor services or business-to-business products, there may be programs to help you identify and gain clients. For instance, the Veterans First Contracting program arranges for a certain proportion of government work to be allocated to eligible veterans. This can be an element to add to your plan both to encourage investors and bolster your confidence.

How to start your veteran-owned business
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alison Dostie)

Prepare for Hurdles

Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. The fact of the matter is you are going to face some difficult obstacles both as you start your business and in the future. One of the most effective ways to approach this is to gain an awareness of the potential for such issues and prepare accordingly.

This can apply to various areas. Look into the risks involved with starting a business in your target industry. Ask other veterans about the aspects they found difficult when transitioning to business. Be honest with yourself about your personal shortcomings that could be problematic. 

Anxiety surrounding the presence of obstacles can be a hurdle in and of itself. Adopting strategies to avoid fear of failure in decision-making is key to overcoming this. Face difficult circumstances head-on and embrace the negative data so it can better inform your route forward. This not only allows you to strategize ways around the difficulties as you start your business, but it’s also a good habit to adopt throughout your entrepreneurial journey.

Moving from the military into entrepreneurship can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be daunting. Take the time to identify the financial and educational resources available to you. Produce a thorough business plan and implement an informed approach to potential hurdles. You have a lot to offer the commercial landscape, so it’s worth putting in a little extra time to give your enterprise the best possible start for success.

Christin Hakim

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