By nearly any standard, military veterans have the skills and expertise to become successful entrepreneurs. In fact, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), veterans are 45 percent more likely to become successful entrepreneurs compared to their civilian counterparts. All that’s needed is a little direction and assistance to get these startups off the ground. Here are the steps that you need to know about starting a successful veteran-owned business.
#1: Leverage your skills and know-how
All of us have a set of skills and experience that can be used to start a company. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, it doesn’t require an MBA to know how to run a company. In fact, it doesn’t even require a university degree these days. In Silicon Valley, the college dropout model of entrepreneurship is alive and well these days. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO who famously dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook (back then, he called it “The Facebook).
So where to start? Most people recommend starting with your passions and interests. What do you care about most in life? That’s what makes a great business concept. Note – this often means starting a company that’s out of the mainstream.
For example, most people aren’t passionate about accounting, so they probably wouldn’t want to found an accounting firm.
But they might be passionate about rock climbing and the great outdoors – and that might become the inspiration to start a company that makes adventure gear and clothing.
That’s how Patagonia started.
#2: Get up to speed on your chosen industry
The key to success is knowing as much as you can about your future industry. At the very least, perform some market research to see how much demand actually exists for your product or service. How much are people willing to pay? What does your typical customer look like? Who are the market leaders? How long will it take to break even?
More specifically, you need to get a quick handle on the laws and regulations that govern your industry. For example, you may need a license to operate certain types of businesses. Or you might need a specific certification to engage in certain activities.
For example, if you want to become an “investment advisor” and advise people on how to invest in the stock market, you can’t just set that up overnight – you’ll need the proper licensing.
#3: Come up with your business plan
Now that you’ve come up with some basic research insights into your industry, it’s time to put it all together. Most business plans have the same sections in them. An overview of the overall industry. A summary of how you plan on starting a successful veteran-owned business. A review of your key products and services. A summary of how you plan to market your products. And finally, a financial overview.
These days, a business plan only needs to be about 10 PowerPoint slides – but you’ll need to put in at least a week in getting all the details finalized.
Coming up with the financial overview is often the hardest part. It can be eye-opening to realize how many products you have to move in a month in order to be successful and still keep the lights on at night. You may also realize that you really need to line up some form of external financing to help with short-term cash flow needs.
And if you don’t have an accounting background, it can be confusing to make sense of all the financial issues at stake.
The good is that there are plenty of organizations that can help with this step. The SBA, for example, has a great program called “Boots to Business,” which is specifically designed to help military veterans launch their own business. In 2014, over 100,000 small business owners were either trained or counseled by the SBA.
#4: Develop a launch strategy
At this point, you’re almost ready to launch. You’ve already done some serious thinking about how to approach the market. And what the key competitive drivers to starting a successful veteran-owned business. In most cases, there’s no need to over-analyze starting your business. It will just put off the day that you finally launch.
As part of your overall launch strategy, you’ll need to make sure that you have all the legal and regulatory issues worked out, and that your website is ready to go. In today’s digital world, every startup needs a digital presence – it doesn’t matter how small your business is, or if you launched your business in your kitchen. People will have questions about your business and will want to check you out online. So make sure your website is ready for Day 1.
#5: Tap into your support network
If you’re launching solo, you’ll want to make sure that you have a support network in place. For example, if you’re starting a successful veteran-owned business from home, it’s good to have a fellow group of local entrepreneurs that you can touch base with on a regular basis.
You might also find that you need a mentor or some advisor to help you make sense of how your business is doing. This is perfectly natural. And, in fact, the SBA and many other organizations provide all types of mentoring and other support to help get you through difficult periods.
You might find that you have a great business concept, a great product, and a great target market – but not nearly enough customers. This might be the moment when you realize that you really need a marketing strategy. If you don’t have the requisite expertise, it could mean reaching out to other entrepreneurs for help.
If you’re tight on cash flow, this might mean forming some kind of barter arrangement with a local marketing whiz. For example, in exchange for getting your business up-and-running on Facebook and Instagram, you might provide a service in exchange.
Despite all the stories you might hear in the mainstream media about the local company that became an “overnight success,” it’s typically a grind at the beginning once the initial newness of starting a company wears off. It might take a few months before you first break even and see your first real profit. But by putting in the hard work, and constantly staying ahead of fast-moving market trends, you will eventually move forward when starting a successful veteran-owned business!