Following my recent presentation at the AUSA Convention,which was hosted by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, I was asked several questions related to entrepreneurship.
I’d just presented on the topic of personal branding and networking to the group of newly minted entrepreneurs at various stages of business growth. Some were just percolating an idea; some were preparing pitch decks and meeting with new investors. They all had questions, and most circulated around real fears and hesitations.
The top five fears shared by new veteran entrepreneurs and how to tackle them:
As much as we talk about the power of networking after the military -- whether someone is entering the employment market, starting a business, retiring or pursuing higher education -- the topic still creates anxiety for many. Entrepreneurs are correct to believe that it’s important to be visible and build a wide, deep network of contacts that can help, support, advance, recommend and endorse them, but how to do that is intimidating.
To become connected to the right investors, business partners, employees and vendors, you have to know the right people. How do you meet them? Networking. If you think of networking as relationship-building and less like selling, then the process becomes a bit more palatable. While you might be asking someone in your network to help you (i.e., invest in your business), you’re returning to them something of value (an opportunity to be part of something growing and meaningful). To network effectively, you must believe passionately in the idea you’re advancing. Regardless of the type of business or venture you’re launching, to get others to get excited about it, you must be.
As you become knowledgeable about the structure, vision, market and opportunity you’re building, share that excitement with people who share a similar interest and let them help you connect the dots to build a valuable network.
2. Social Media
How, where, when and why a new business should be on social media confuses many new entrepreneurs. The online space can feel unpredictable, unmeasurable and daunting if you aren’t familiar with how it works. For a new business venture, start by considering the offer your company makes: Are you starting a company to provide financial guidance to first-time home buyers? Is your business about providing IT solutions to the defense contracting community? Did you invent a widget that will make meal prep easier? When you know what your offer is, then look at who your target audience is. Are you selling B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer)? If it’s the former, then a social media site like LinkedIn might make the most sense for social media. On LinkedIn, professionals talk to each other about new ideas, trends, information and happenings to grow their own careers or businesses. If your product or company solves business-related challenges, your audience is likely here. If your company speaks more to individuals or consumers, then look at a site like Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest. Here, people search for solutions to their more personal needs and interests.
Social media is about speaking to the people you want to reach in a way that is personal, meaningful and attention-getting. Know your offer, know your audience and connect them by sharing strategic content, offers, stories and vision to draw them to your business.
3. Relying on Others/Asking for Help
Whether it’s mentoring, guidance, encouragement or business assistance, every successful entrepreneur knows they need the help of other people to survive and thrive. It’s unrealistic to think you could exit a military career and dive into the deep end of business ownership and have all the answers. From the Small Business Administration, online forums, mentoring groups and fellow entrepreneurs, start getting comfortable asking for help. We’ve all been there. No question is dumb when you’re starting out. The people in your network want to help, to see you succeed and will feel honored that you sought their guidance and support.
4. Not Understanding Business
Do you need a business degree to run a business? No. Numerous boot-camp programs, incubators, entrepreneurship platforms and books today can fast-track your understanding of business, basic accounting, personnel management, distribution, fulfillment, investment options and hiring best practices. The best part is, you can learn as you go. You don’t have to have it all figured out at the outset.
5. Finding a Mentor
One of my favorite questions was about mentorship. The young Marine asked whether it was true that there are people who would just help you because they wanted to see you be successful. My answer: “Yes!” Find a mentor or three to help you build and grow your venture. You may outgrow your mentor, need different skills and connections, and require more advanced support as your business grows. Don’t assume that one mentor will be with you from the inception to sale of your company. You will likely have several who will offer different areas of value. All they ask is that one day, you return the favor when someone asks you for help.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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