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Finding Your Cheese

Cheese? What in the world is Andi talking about?

Don't worry, it'll make sense soon. This is a lengthy post, but an important topic for milspouses who are looking for ways to make money while working from home, or who are thinking about starting their own business.

Military life is a great life, but for the ever-traveling milspouse, it presents some challenges with respect to working. Most of us find ourselves starting over multiple times throughout our careers. How many times have you been the "low man on the totem pole?" By the time you build a bit of seniority and begin to receive the perks of your seniority, it's time to move again. I once knew a milspouse who wasn't out of the "probationary" phase before it was time to move again. Punching a clock and working outside of the home is also a challenge for spouses who have to be mommy and daddy during deployment.

So, what's the solution? For some, the solution could be starting your own business.

Easier said than done? I'm not so sure.

A few weeks ago, I read a great column by Military.com founder, Chris Michel titled "The Veteran Entrepreneur."

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), veterans own 14.8 percent of America's small businesses - that's approximately 4 million veteran-owned companies. Surprised? I'm not. I know of no other career field better suited for those who served. Unfortunately, however, most of us never consider starting a business or joining a start-up as a viable career option. We're often looking for that next set of orders into corporate America, a low-risk job with a well-established, military-friendly company. There is nothing at all wrong with joining a large company, but, for those with a penchant for business and some tolerance for risk, pursuing an entrepreneurial venture is a potentially game-changing move.
While this column focused on the Veteran, I think you could substitute "milspouse" and make a case that few people are better suited to start their own business than a milspouse. The hundreds and hundreds of milspouses that I've had the pleasure of meeting are the most resourceful, resilient people that I've ever met. They think fast on their feet and are highly adaptable to any situation or environment. They don't just make do with what they have, they find a way to thrive in some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable. "Roll over and play dead" is a luxury, not a realistic option, in the military lifestyle.

Working from home or owning your own business are perfect for our often-transient existence. Each of us have unique interests, talents and abilities. You may be good at many things, but chances are there's something you're so good at -- whether it's offering advice, providing a good or service or making something in the creative sense -- that someone is willing to pay for it. There are also services that anyone can do which people are willing to pay for. If you want to be your own boss, it's all about taking a risk and identifying a need which you can meet.

Pets. When I was working outside of the home, I lived far enough from work that I couldn't get home to let my dog out during the day. My neighbor gave me the name of a lady who owns a dog-sitting business. I hired her and instantly had piece of mind because someone would come by daily, spend thirty minutes walking my dog, giving him a belly rub and a treat. A dog nanny. It was money well spent, and believe it or not, it wasn't that expensive. This lady offered other services, she had working clients who owned animals who needed insulin at specific times during the day. She would take animals for veterinary visits. Anything a pet needed, she would do. Her clients were owners of dogs, cats, ferrets and even birds. What an amazing service, and what a creative way to make a living. I was jealous, I'd rather work with animals than people any day.....

Home decor. I'm a decorating madwoman (more on this later). You won't find one white wall in my home. Throughout the years, I've found friends who want to paint and redecorate their homes, but they were paralyzed with fear, afraid that they may "screw up." I know firsthand that paint is the easiest, cheapest way to transform your home. You can't screw up. If the color doesn't turn out right, you simply paint over it. I've painted and offered decorating advice for several people throughout the years - for free. Almost everywhere I go, I find people who would gladly pay for someone to transform their home. If you're handy with some blue tape and a paintbrush, and have been bitten by the decorating bug, perhaps there is a clientele out there waiting for you.

eBay. When my sister had her first child, she intended to go back to work after maternity leave. Long story short, she couldn't leave her beautiful child, so she gave up her career in law enforcement and decided to stay home. But, there was the money issue. Isn't there always? She found a way to be a SAHM and make some money too. She became a court transcriptionist. Tapes of court proceedings were mailed to her, she transcribed them and emailed the transcripts. She could work while the baby slept and have some cash too. While this was a perfect solution, she decided she wanted more. She wanted to be her own boss. She did some research, found out what products were best sellers and opened an eBay store. Caveat - it required some upfront money, but once she recuperated her initial investment, she was off and running. My sister's garage has been transformed into a stockroom and shipping center. It's really amazing. Bonus for me - I get free stuff, so I'm all for this idea.

Housecleaning. I was talking to my girlfriend the other day. She's active-duty Army and her husband is currently deployed. She will be separating from the Army in June and is working on a post-separation budget. She said to me, "I don't care what I have to cut out to make it happen, I'm keeping my cleaning service." So true. Coming home to a clean house is such a wonderful feeling, plus it saves you hours of valuable time. While not everyone is keen on cleaning someone else's toilet, this is a service that people want, and they're all too happy to pay for.

Art. Art is very subjective. I'm not an artist, though I love art. I had a very large wall in my home that needed something. After two years (kid you not) of searching, I couldn't find just the right piece of art at just the right price. I marched over to Michaels, bought a big canvas, selected some colors and made my own art - for about $25. It's not a landscape or a portrait, it's just a bunch of non-symmetrical shapes and colors globed onto a canvas, but it works for my home. Someone was at my house and asked me about the piece. My husband said, "Andi made that." He asked if I could make several more, he might want to sell them on eBay. "What?" Now, I love my handmade "art" but I know that it's neither professional nor would suit most people's tastes (to say the least), so I didn't pursue it. However, someone with more time than I had at the moment and more faith in their artistic abilities might want to paint a few canvases and see where it takes them. You never know.

Organization. I'm anal about organization. I love to take a disorganized space and transform it. I also know there are plenty of people who want to be organized, but don't know where to begin. As with housecleaning, I'd be willing to bet there's a certain percentage of the population who would gladly pay someone to make the chaos go away.

Food. Handy in the kitchen? Think of all the parties, occasions and events that occur within the military community. Welcome home parties, promotion parties, hail and farewells. When my husband, then boyfriend, was promoted, I catered the promotion party. I cooked and baked for days in order to save money. Plus, I had the satisfaction of knowing I did it all myself, and on a budget. Well, as an aside, my husband ended up paying a lot more money than he should have. His party was held in the banquet room of the apartment complex. I made jell-o shots (we were young). Red ones. They didn't go well with the beige carpet, which caused some problems, specifically re-carpeting the room. So, my "catering" career was short-lived, but I'm betting that many of you are much smarter than me. For the record, haven't had a jell-o shot since.

These are just a few ideas of services that people are willing to pay for, but the possibilities are endless. Opening a business is not as simple as declaring that you're open for business. Thought and planning must be done. Business registration and other administrative tasks must be done, but as with most things, it's certainly doable if you decide entrepreneurship is the right path for you.

Take a survey to find out how you stack up against successful entrepreneurs.

So back to the "cheese." Last year, I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. I had a wonderful job and I worked with fabulous people. Though I loved my job and my co-workers, I began to love the non-paying work I did in the military community much more. Some people had approached me about working on some worthwhile projects, projects that I knew I would love, but I also knew that I wouldn't have time for given the demands of my real job. I've always been a "big thinker" (always full of ideas that go untouched), but less so a "risk taker." For months, I agonized over leaving a job I enjoyed, throwing caution to the wind and chasing a dream.

My husband gave me a book and said, "read it."  The book was Who Moved My Cheese. "Cheese" is whatever makes you happy - money, fame, success or just the satisfaction of doing good things. Sometimes you think you have the cheese and will always have the cheese, but the cheese gets moved. Sometimes you become so used to White Cheddar Cheese that you're not even aware there is Chipotle Cheese, Swiss Cheese or Monterrey Jack Cheese. Sometimes you run out of cheese and have become so complacent that you're terrified to go find more cheese, so you wither and dither and starve to death. Sometimes, you find that the cheese you thought was right for you, really isn't. Sometimes cheese is dangled in front of you and you're afraid to grab it.

In late December, I started my own business with a very firm expectation of what was going to follow. My expectations haven't matched reality. In only a month and a half, my cheese moved, but just this week, some unexpected cheese came my way. I don't know how this is all going to work out. Occasionally, I wake up and say to myself, "are you crazy, you left good cheese for unknown cheese." But that's the occasional panic attack that is to be expected when one takes a risk. For the most part, I know I did the right thing for me, and I also know I've never been happier.

How about you? Have you found your cheese? Is your cheese stale?

Are you working from home? If so, tell us what you're doing and how it's working out for you. Are you thinking about starting your own business? What's stopping you? Do you own your own business? If so, drop me an email, I want to profile some milspouses business owners.

Who Moved My Cheese is only $11.95. It was a book which allowed me to find the strength and guts to make some decisions I knew I should make, but was afraid to make. If you read it, send me an email. I want to know if you were Sniff, Scurry, Hem or Haw before you read the book, and who you are after reading the book.

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