This past March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the 2013 unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the US Armed Forces at anytime since September 2001 is 9.0 percent -- almost 3 percent higher than the Bureau's reported national rate. Such statistics are not surprising to our community, in fact, we as veterans deal with this truth on a daily basis. While no one can deny our excellent work ethic, drive, and leadership, popular perception of veterans is marked with the stigma of PTSD and other psychological and physical conditions. So, what can we do about it? Start our own businesses!
In 2007, I left the security and familiarity of the Army to create my own business. I started a government contracting consulting firm, Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions, which services military and other government institutions and assists them in properly managing and applying their finances. While this choice initially felt like a huge risk, looking back, I can see how the military developed my, as Wes Moore calls it, entrepreneurial spirit.
Making the leap of faith to start your own business is often the toughest part of the endeavor; however, once you have made that decision -- know how to make your best transition into the private sector. Speaking from experience, here are the key steps to get you where you want to be.
1. Identify your skills and invest in yourself
In the US Army, I served as a finance officer. Thanks to my experience, I had already invested time and effort into a skill I could capitalize on in the private sector. Identifying such transferable skills learned during your time in the Military is the first step to building your business. Then, invest in those skills: Look at your core values and what you do well, then leverage your relationships within the military to sell your capabilities as a service. Know that it's never too late to pursue a new profession, go back to school, or start your own business.
2. Create goals and a timeline to meet them
Creating goals for your business helps you set up your entrepreneurial vision. Once you know your end-goal for your company, it is easy to create a clear and concise timeline in order to move forward. Hold yourself accountable for this timeline. Breaking up your end goal into smaller, more feasible tasks ultimately makes this significant move into the private sector more manageable.
3. Relationships are Important
The greatest piece of advice ever offered to me was to value my relationships. Making the most of your professional network is the best thing you can do when starting a business. As veterans, we have an immense and highly valuable network at our disposal. Connect with your existing relationships in the military, especially those who know your work ethic and are familiar with your abilities. These contacts will vouch for you and help open new doors.
4. "Build your Core"
Having already identified your skills, take the time to recognize your weaknesses. Then, using your relationships and your professional network, develop an internal infrastructure by hiring experts in areas that round out these weaknesses and compliment your own skills. Having a well-rounded and integrated internal infrastructure will also help you to accomplish your goals and stick to your timeline. Build such an infrastructure by reinvesting your profits internally so you can keep all services in house, services such as Business Development, Human Resources, among others.
5. Stand your ground
After leaving the Army, I found it hard to drop my conception of rank and subordination. Having neither reached the rank of Colonel or General when I transitioned, I first felt intimidated. Do not capitulate to such insecurities: when you are running a business, you are on a level playing field with individuals who would have been your superior in the military. Realize that while the Army taught us to follow orders, it also taught us to analyze and react to situations with intelligence and determination. Use these skills to motivate and inspire your team to join in company success.
While the road to a successful business is not always smooth and linear, trust in yourself and your abilities to lead you. The steps I have touched upon above have guided me to where I am now, CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Don't treat stories of success like mine as anomalies, rather, as inspiration for your own success. Remember as a veteran that you are a valued member of society worth investing in -- so invest in yourself!