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You Didn't Tell Me MilLife Would Make Me a Great Entrepreneur

I am the proud matriarch of a Coast Guard family of five. I am part of the tight-knit community of Coastie families. I am first, and foremost, a mom. I am an expert at balancing my husband’s schedule with the needs of my three kids (all of whom are under the age of 5).

I am also, sometimes even to my own surprise, a successful businesswoman.

What began as a hobby - a way to make new friends when my husband’s career moved us to a new location - has blossomed into a career that I can build without sacrificing the things that matter most. It turns out that being a mom and military spouse actually equipped me for everything I needed for a successful home-based business.

It began with baby-talk

Let me start by saying this: I made a conscious decision not to pursue grad school and a teaching career. I thought, “Why would I want to work with someone else’s kids when I can be here for my own?”

So I have never, ever regretted deciding to stay home with my kids. They’re my favorite thing in the whole world.

Furthermore, I fully accept that "restarts" are a way of life when you’re a military spouse. Every few years, you pack up all your stuff, say goodbye to all your friends, and plop your family somewhere totally new to build everything from scratch all over again.

The military community is, of course, an unfaltering support in these times. In every new location, you find yourself surrounded by people who have done this as many times as -- if not more than -- you have. They know how to ease the transition and they do everything possible to help you out, simply out of kindness and shared experience.

Even so, a little over three years ago, I found myself in a relatively new place (again), heavily pregnant (for the second time), slowly going crazy because it seemed like the only person I had talked to in days was my toddler.

Clearly, something had to be done.

Made for us

Home-based businesses are tremendously popular with military spouses and for good reason. They’re typically flexible, portable, and an excellent outlet for the people holding down the home front while their partners are away.

So when I found Traveling Vineyard, a direct selling wine company, it seemed like a great way to just ... get out of the house and around people who knew more words than "Mommy," "hungry," and “no!"

My first thought was that I’d found something that I liked. But it quickly became clear that direct selling is actually a great fit for military spouses. I get to set the schedule and pace for my wine tastings and prep-work around the needs (and naps) of my kids.

It’s also been easy to take my business with me when we’ve relocated. I don’t have to keep stock on hand or meet any quarterly quotas, so there’s nothing to lug around when we move, and I’ve never been penalized for focusing on my family instead of my business.

Made for them

For my first several months as an entrepreneur, I was perfectly content with what I’d found: Low commitment, high rewards, no pressure. But toward the end of my first year with my business, things had settled with the new baby and the new place. I was itching for a challenge.

So, for the first time, I threw myself into my business. And that was when I discovered that I was really, really good at it.

Being a military spouse is challenging in a lot of ways, but so many of the things I’ve learned have benefited me when I apply them to my business.

When you move around a lot, you learn how to put in the effort to hold on to friends that don’t live close. This trained me well for the art of touching base with past customers, turning them into repeat customers.

Military spouses learn to bond quickly -- we’re thrown together a lot and don’t have years to let friendship bloom. This has been a huge boon every time I have to restart my business when we move. We’ve relocated three times since I started the business, and, despite the occasional loss of momentum, my ability to connect with the people around me has always helped me get it back.

Military spouses as a community are amazing at supporting each other, sharing our individual strengths and rallying around each others’ weak areas. We learn to do the give-and-take, to ask for help or provide it when needed, to share the burdens. This is a valuable lesson in business as well, especially on a strong direct selling team: you don’t have to do everything yourself. Lead with your strengths and find people who can shore up your weak spots.

Above all, being a military spouse (or a mom) teaches you to adapt. I never know if or when my husband is going to be home. His schedule changes constantly. You learn to roll with it. If the kids are sick, you have to re-arrange things to be there with them. Events don’t always go the way you expect them to, either. But getting upset or discouraged isn’t going to help you with the next one. You rearrange, you tend to your team. You roll with it.

Juggling the hats

The biggest challenge, of course, is finding the balance between the many hats I wear. Since my kids are my first priority, most of my time management strategies and contingencies are focused around them. Fortunately, they have the benefit of helping my productivity, too.

The first thing I do every time we move is to find a reliable babysitter. My husband is an amazing support in my business, but since his schedule is unpredictable, sometimes we need the back-up. (Other military spouses are a great resource for this, too.)

For the day-to-day, the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: Know yourself and don’t over-commit.

My two older kids are in pre-K now, but even when they’re home, I’ve learned to make a list of the things I want to accomplish that day. Then, I split up the day into 25-minute snippets. For each block of time, I set the kids up with an activity - water colors or Playdoh or a Disney, Jr. show -- and pick a few of the work things on my list to accomplish. It wouldn’t work with every job, but for this business, that’s time enough.

Unforeseen victories

I started the business as a way to make friends in a new place. And I have, beyond my wildest expectations.

I didn’t want my family to suffer and that’s worked out amazingly well. My business is just another part of my kids’ lives - they love playing with the boxes when I unpack a wine shipment, and when they play house, I hear lines like, “Bye, honey. I’m going to a wine tasting!"

But what I didn’t fully expect was how tackling a home business would affect me. When you’re faced with challenges and you make it successfully through to the other side, it’s a huge boost in self-confidence. It makes you feel like you can do anything.

My business has grown in leaps and bounds. I’ve made a ton of friends. My team is thriving. So is my family. So am I.

Whatever challenges life has in store next -- restarts, crazy schedules, scribbles on the wall -- I can handle. I’ll roll with it.

 

 

Elizabeth Allen is a Coast Guard wife, mother of three, and Ruby Director with Traveling Vineyard. She has alma mater pride in the University of Tennessee (go Vols!) and occasionally indulges in foodie blogs.

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