Q: I've been applying for jobs since leaving the military, but I keep wondering if I should open my own company. How can I know if entrepreneurship is right for me?
A: I'm not one who believes you are "born" an entrepreneur–that it's in your blood and you'll never be happy until you own your own business. I spent 20 years in corporate America before I ever considered the idea of being my own boss. And I picked the worst economic climate and personal scenario to do it. And it was right for me.
Many people are drawn to the risk, sense of control, and exciting option of entrepreneurship. For many military veterans, self-employment represents the concept of being in charge of your future (and not being told what to do), having control over your livelihood (you eat what you kill), and being able to direct your future options (the sky's the limit!). For others, owning your own business and creating something that you control means the ability to take an idea, vision, or product and bring it to life in the way you want.
Veterans Can Make Fabulous Entrepreneurs
The military taught you leadership, self-motivation, self-discipline, goal setting, risk tolerance, and focus, which are all key ingredients of owning a successful business. In many ways, veterans are ideally trained to be entrepreneurs: A 2012 study by Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, The Business Case for Hiring A Veteran. Beyond the Cliches, showed that high-performing entrepreneurs and innovators tend to be successful in managing risk, identifying reward, and navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship because they possess a strong need for achievement and can make decisions in the face of high stress, dynamic environments. Successful entrepreneurs are comfortable with independence and autonomy as well. The study points out that military service instills characteristics consistent with successful entrepreneurs: high need for achievement, trust, strong comfort with autonomy, and dynamic decision-making processes.
Steps to Consider as an EntrepreneurWhether the transition leads to corporate life or self-employment, some best practices for veterans making the transition include:
- Understand your value proposition
Focus on your personal brand–your reputation, value propositions, and competitive advantage–and understand how others will assign you value and relevance.
Understand your target audience
Identify your target audiences: Whom do you want to work with and what do they need from you? Learn what will make your product/service relevant and compelling to this audience and why they will buy from you.
Consistently Promote Yourself
Every experience your audiences, investors, customers, and staff have with you and your company/product/service must consistently deliver on their beliefs and expectations of what you can offer (the benefit). Your audiences need to know: Why should I buy from you?
Navigating through the fear, hope, risk, reward, and complexity of being an entrepreneur, means understanding that there are rules, resources, and systems to the way business operates.
Before you take the leap, consider:
- Would additional schooling or training would better prepare you?
- Could the jobs you are applying for help you gain more experience or business contacts?
- Can you enlist a mentor or advisor to guide you in starting your company?
Consider setting yourself up for success by thinking the entrepreneurship path through carefully before abandoning your job search.