Active Duty Entrepreneur? A Better Military Transition

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

If you are like other military families thinking of your transition from the service, there is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety in the air.

Multiple furloughs have plagued the civilian work force. Your servicemember may have told you the Selective Early Retirement Board (SERB) notices are going out right now. All are telltale signs that the Defense Department is getting ready to downsize after more than a decade of constant war.

Related: Get complete military-to-civilian transition support at the Transition Center.

Making matters worse, the overall U.S. defense industry is beginning to contract in anticipation of the shrinking defense budget. Instead being able to look to the defense industry for post-military jobs, the number of traditional Government Service (GS) and defense contracting jobs are decreasing while the number of people seeking those jobs is increasing.

With the current challenges, what are you and your servicemember doing to ensure your security after retirement or separation?

New Challenges Require New Ideas

Because things have changed so much in the past few years, make sure your spouse is looking at the challenges and preparing for his separation or retirement with eyes wide open.

If he thinks he will get that GS or defense contracting job, make sure you discuss the reality that jobs will be harder to find and the salary and compensation will be likely less than expected.

Also take the time to look at and discuss other options that might be a good fit for you and your family. Having options is good, especially in this new, challenging environment.

Related: Unleash your career potential and get customized job recommendations based on your military experience and personality traits.

Active-Duty Entrepreneurship as an Option

There are a lot of misconceptions about entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, those misconceptions often prevent good candidates from considering it as an option, when in fact it might be the best option.

Popularized by TV shows like Bloomberg Game Changers and Shark Tank, along with movies such as The Social Network, the word entrepreneurship conjures images of risk. It might make you think of windfall profits. It also might make you think of risking everything to start a business, losing all of your wealth, mortgaging your home and possibly losing your family in the process.

With seemingly no middle ground or stability to be found, it is no wonder people get spooked!

As part of a military family, you shouldn’t be that spooked because you have something that all entrepreneurs would love to have. In fact, you and your spouse may be in the best situation possible to start a small business for very low risk.

Use Your “Military Ecosystem” to Create a Successful Small Business

Your “military ecosystem” is the structure that provides your spouse:

  • A steady paycheck twice a month
  • Healthcare for the entire family
  • A very stable job
  • A predictable career timeline

If your spouse has been in the military for some time, you are probably very used to this system. But have you thought about this system being the perfect, low-risk environment to conceptualize, develop and launch your small business?

Most people think the most critical aspect of creating your own small business is money. While money is very important, time is much more critical.

As an active-duty entrepreneur, you have complete control over your timeline. You know when you are going to separate or retire so you can choose to begin planning your small business whenever you like. The earlier you start, the more time you have within the system to stand up your business.

Every military member and spouse knows how much he or she makes. It is like clockwork every 1st and 15th of the month with (typical) yearly raises.

Much like investing in your retirement, any servicemember can begin investing a little at a time into setting up a small business. This small, incremental funding over time allows you to grow your business at your pace based on what you can afford. You have the control.

Secure Your Transition and Create Your Future

A lot of the anxiety associated with transitioning comes from the lack of familiarity with the private sector. It makes sense. If your spouse has been in the military for more than 10 years, they are very used to that military ecosystem.

The “transition” feels more like going from the most secure, stable ground to instantly free falling into the unknown. The other side feels like it has no shape and therefore no stability.

This is another built-in advantage of becoming an active-duty entrepreneur. While taking the time to carry out the steps of small business creation and ownership, you will interact with the Small Business Administration and other aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In essence, you will acquaint yourself with the private sector and begin to understand that it does have structure -- just something different than you are used to.

Something else will happen that may be unexpected. You will begin to understand the complete freedom and intense satisfaction you get in creating a business that is uniquely your own.

You also get to determine the business location, which is so important to military couples who would like to move back to their hometown or on to a more appealing place.

Take Your First Step

One of the biggest misconceptions military members have regarding entrepreneurship is that they must have an idea to begin. While having an idea is certainly preferable, it is by no means a requirement. Make sure you don't count yourself out before you get started!

Entrepreneurship is all about making yourself available to new opportunities. So, whether you have an idea or not, it is important to make the effort to change your environment.

If you and your spouse interact almost exclusively with other military families, carve out some time to change it up. A great place to begin your journey is to visit the Small Business Administration website

Find your local office and begin taking a few introductory classes. It may be hard to believe that simply attending a few classes could change the course of your life, but it can.

Meeting and interacting with different groups of people interested in small business will begin to open your mind to opportunities you cannot imagine. Once you are open to the idea, the rest flows naturally in its own time.

Join the Active-Duty Entrepreneur Community

Since writing Active-Duty Entrepreneur, I have met several very successful small business owners that made it a point to tell me their businesses are successful because they set the framework while they or their spouse wore the uniform. These businesses include: real estate development, website and graphic design, franchises, event planning, direct sales and many others.

Great opportunities are always present and there for the taking -- you just have to make yourself available and take the first step. Change your environment and you may change your life and create a more stable and smooth transition for you and your family.

-- Jason C. Anderson is the author of “Active-Duty Entrepreneur” and an Air Force lieutenant colonel working at the Pentagon. He and his wife, Adrianna, launched their first small business, -- an online advertising website catering to locals in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Find the book and other resources at Follow ADE on Facebook and Twitter @ADEntrepreneur1.

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