Transitioning back into civilian life after a career in the military can be challenging for many American veterans. Outside of the cultural shift from a high-intensity career, particularly for those veterans with combat experience, the return to civilian life can be a struggle. Men and women who are used to a high degree of order, a sense of duty, or a feeling of ownership over their job may find more traditional jobs to be either too demanding or not challenging enough. Some veterans also find that the jobs they worked in the military, such as artillery or acting as a combat medic, have no matching analogue in the civilian world.
But one path to success in civilian life has been constantly high since soldiers started returning from World War II: entrepreneurship. Franchise opportunities in particular can present an outstanding opportunity for former members of the armed services. Soldiers and veterans present several characteristics that lend themselves well to entrepreneurship and franchise ownership.
Military Characteristics that Transfer to the Civilian Market
First, trained members of the military are often natural leaders, a learned skill that can benefit to leading a team of people in a for-profit enterprise. Second, they know how to effectively evaluate and manage risk and capitalize on opportunities. Veterans also know specifically how they operate under pressure. Wearing multiple hats as an entrepreneur can create stress and pressure that traditional franchisees may not have experienced firsthand. Finally, veterans have experience getting things done with limited resources and personnel. The ability to prioritize activities and accomplish forward momentum when resources are stretched thin is an invaluable talent when applied to the entrepreneurial market.
These characteristics haven’t really changed over time, either. A startling 49% of World War II veterans went on to own or operate their own businesses, many of them while franchise businesses were booming during the 1950s and 1960s. About 40 percent of Korean War veterans did the same. But changes in the economy have dropped those statistics to just 4 percent of the more than 3.6 million people who have served in the military since 2001. That totals about 162,000 veteran-owned businesses generating an estimated 324,000 jobs.
Yet to this day, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Veterans Supporting Veterans
It’s unfortunate because there are vast resources in the civilian, banking, and government sectors to help veterans start businesses, and those resources are key to getting started. When we add these resources to the benefit that existing veteran entrepreneurs are eager to mentor and support other veterans seeking to start a business, it’s a recipe for success.
“Franchising is a business model that allows veterans who have an unwavering drive to better themselves and their communities and to succeed as an entrepreneur to control their own destiny,” wrote veteran CEO Gordon Logan of Sports Clips in a recent editorial. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans choose franchising to participate in entrepreneurship because of its proven blueprint for entrepreneurs who have chosen to go into business for themselves, but not by themselves. Franchising is a model that works. It works especially well for veterans, and provides opportunities for financial independence and personal freedom essential to the economy of Texas and the nation.”
Let’s take a closer look at how returning veterans can make the transition to entrepreneurship in a shifting economic market.
How to Transition to Entrepreneurship
1. Know Your Advantages
Understanding your advantages as a veteran entering the entrepreneurial market is critical to success. There are dozens of government, civilian, and business programs that are accessible to veterans, and often won’t be accessible to your competition. This gives you a leg up when starting a business, seeking out advice, and finding funding, among other crucial initiatives. These include:
- The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Veterans Business Outreach Center. This program is a one-stop shop for service members, veterans, and military spouses who want to start, purchase or grow a business. They’re located nationwide and offer significant transition assistance, including training, counseling, mentoring, and resource referrals.
- Another resource is the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, an arm of the agency whose mission is to maximize the availability, applicability, and usability of all administrative small business programs for veterans, service-disabled veterans, reserve component members, and their dependents or survivors.
- The SBA can also be a crucial resource if your franchise or other entrepreneurial opportunity involves government contracting. The SBA’s Office of Government Contracting & Business Development works with federal agencies to award at least 23 percent of all prime government contract dollars to small businesses, including service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.
- For a solid introduction to the SBA’s many diverse resources and programs, you can find a four-part White Paper on the SBA here.
- VetNet by Google is designed to provide a wide spectrum of business resources and connect veterans who are re-entering the work market or looking to start a business, including regular online training, workbooks, and other resources to help veterans grow their business.
- Veterans who are seeking out a franchise opportunity like those offered through Rhino 7 can tap into the many resources offered by VetFran, a strategic initiative of the International Franchise Association whose mission is to provide access and opportunities in the franchise market to the nation’s veterans and their spouses.
- There are literally dozens of other programs to help veterans transition into entrepreneurship, and you can start your research here with a list of resources from SCORE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get off the ground. You can also find another valuable list of free resources here.
2. Leverage your Military Experience and Invest in your Transition
Military veterans have a host of skills that can be applied to civilian entrepreneurship including leadership, tenacity, perseverance, and versatility, all characteristics that are also found in successful entrepreneurs. But making the transition may require some investment on the part of veterans. These steps may include taking careful notes about any skills which may transition easily to entrepreneurship, adjusting from military to civilian language, and connecting with resources that are committed to helping veterans start and grow a business.
3. Assess the Entrepreneurial Opportunity
One of the secrets to launching a successful enterprise is knowing the difference between an opportunity and an idea. An opportunity is rooted in a product or service that can be successfully funded, marketed, and sold to customers or consumers, while an idea may not meet the criteria to develop fully into an opportunity. There are several ways to properly assess an opportunity, many of which you can explore at the SBA. These may include market research, talking to mentors or other entrepreneurs, networking, surveys or an old-fashioned brainstorming session with your trusted advisors.
4. Seek Out Necessary Training and Funding
Training and funding are two of the essential building blocks in transitioning from a military career into entrepreneurship.
There are many ways to find mentors and training programs, from the resources at SCORE to other training opportunities offered by local community colleges and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Meanwhile, funding for a new enterprise can come from a variety of sources, but the three most common external sources for new entrepreneurs are friends and family members, bank loans, and outside investors.
Once you’ve completed these initial steps, you should have a much clearer idea on how to proceed in launching your business whether it’s writing a business plan, taking on partners, meeting with investors or hiring employees. You’re well on your way to an exciting new career that leverages your military training and your personal skill set. By empowering some of the most highly-trained professionals in the country to start, grow, and manage their business, we help invest in our country’s success.