6 suggestions for beginning a profitable enterprise from these feminine army veterans who did it
Starting a business is always a challenge, but it’s harder than it should be for military veterans – and female veterans in particular.
According to the Census Bureau Statistics, female veteran companies make up only 15.2% of the 2.52 million veteran companies. About 97% of them have no employees.
Additionally, only around 15% of all veteran-owned businesses are minority-owned.
“These statistics are amazing, but they highlight the apparent gender gap in pay and the ongoing challenges women entrepreneurs face in raising capital for their businesses,” said Chassity Jackson, a US Air Force veteran and CEO the clothing line Battle Beauties. “The lack of access to capital and production resources was the most difficult challenge for me as an aspiring entrepreneur.”
Battle Beauties Fashion founder Chassity Jackson during a recruitment ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida with the Air Force Thunderbirds.
Photo: Tech. Sgt. Andrew Leonhaard
Learning the basics of business is important for women entrepreneurs, said Patricia Frame, a U.S. Air Force veteran and founder of the consulting firm Strategies for Human Resources.
Too many female veterans “get into government contracts because they believe their veteran status means they can work quickly, and often that doesn’t happen,” Frame said. “So it is important to have a solid business plan and research on financial matters.”
Jackson and Frame recently attended the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and CNBC + Acorn’s Invest in You’s “Rebuilding Better: A Virtual City Hall for America’s Small and New Business Owners” for advice from finance and entrepreneurial experts.
Both US Air Force veterans learned a great deal about the challenges of starting a business. Here’s her advice on starting a successful business:
1. Start with a focused strategy
In the early stages of building a business, a focused approach to business is important – this is critical to avoiding wasted time and resources.
“The more focused you are from the start, the less frustration you will experience and the more traction you can generate,” says Tara Falcone, certified financial planner and founder of ReisUP, a company that offers financial wellness programs to colleges, universities, and corporations Individuals.
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Jackson said a niche target market for battle beauties fashion is key.
“I would advise entrepreneurs that if they start small, they can start out just as effectively, develop a limited set of products or services to test their proof of concept and monitor how their ideal customers react to those limited quantities first,” explained Jackson.
To help focus, Bunker Labs offers a free program for seasoned entrepreneurs called Launch Lab Online that offers mentoring, actionable customer discovery exercises, and community feedback opportunities.
2. Secure funding
Jackson and Frame funded their businesses from their own savings, but recommended that seasoned entrepreneurs raise funds from a variety of sources.
There are many initiatives that veterans take advantage of the many initiatives that support small businesses. Veterans can obtain low-cost loans from the SBA Veterans Advantage Guaranteed Loans program, which also offers small loan fee reductions to veterans, active military personnel, and their spouses.
There are also pitch competitions run by organizations like StreetShares and Bunker Labs to help veterans raise funds from non-dilutive grants. Women entrepreneurs can apply for convertible debt financing through NextSeed’s veterans community portal, and graduates of any of the military academies may be able to obtain angel funding through angel investment group Hivers and Strivers.
Frame says there is a misconception that veteran status grants them government grants that cover all of their financial problems. Believing that there is “free money” for veterans can lead to asset mismanagement that will ultimately cost them their business.
“First, learn what you need to understand, build your network, then define a plan and use all your resources and support to implement it to make you succeed,” said Frame. “If you can, work for a veteran-owned company first. Learn from their mistakes!”
Networking is key for small business owners.
Female veterans should “seek mentors and sponsors in business and build a network of like-minded female entrepreneurs to learn and support from their entrepreneurial journey,” Falcone said.
The coronavirus pandemic has largely ruled out personal networking, but there are many ways to network virtually.
The first step is to keep your online profile up to date so that it reflects an optimal personal brand. LinkedIn is a great platform for veterans to connect with fellow business owners in the same industry. To make meetings over the Internet more personal, you can set up virtual coffee through Zoom. In these conversations, it is important that you can talk about your company. Industry events like the Small Business Expo have also become virtual.
“Three of the most valuable resources that have helped me have been business networking events, my social capital, and liaising with my local Chamber of Commerce in Destin, Florida,” said Jackson.
When networking, it is important to be clear about your core values about your business. Frame mentioned, “These values can help you attract the business you want from like-minded people and hire the people you need to grow.”
4. Find out what makes your company unique
There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States, and it is critical that you stand out from the crowd to build a solid business.
First, research your competition. Do you know the industry you are entering. Then ask yourself: Why should customers buy your products or pay for your services to another competitor? Is the product better? Is it a better value?
If you have trouble answering this, you can ask your customers or employees.
You also need to ask yourself: what are you specifically bringing to this business? Define who you are, where you are from, and how to solve a problem or meet a need. From investors to customers, as the business owner, you are an important part of the equation when people choose to do business with you.
“Veterans bring many valuable perspectives and experiences to the start-up sector.” Falcone said.
Once you have all of this in place, you need to keep abreast of what’s going on in your industry and what your customers want. Then continuously innovate how your company handles products and services.
Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources, speaks at the SBDC seminar in Alexandria, VA.
Photo: William Reagan
5. Be ready and willing to adapt to change
The coronavirus is the perfect example of how unforeseen events can affect your company, your industry and the entire economy. Entrepreneurs have learned that if they are to survive, they have to adapt. As we have seen, many companies have already closed due to the pandemic – and many more will follow.
One company that has successfully implemented its business strategy is Gargiulo Produce in Hillside, New Jersey, which sold fresh produce and other groceries to restaurants and cruise lines prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“When that crisis hit and we reopened our doors to retail, the company came full circle in that we are now going straight back to the consumer,” said Monica Gargiulo, director of business development at Gargiulo Produce.
It was a quick linchpin to helping their family business survive. This quick thinking of selling direct to consumers was so successful that they actually had to hire more workers during the pandemic – while many other companies laid off workers or went out of business. And they decided to keep that part of the business – even after the restaurants reopened.
It’s also a good idea to keep operations lean – you never know when the next disruption will occur. If you keep operations as lean as possible, a small business can work longer in a crisis. And it could be the difference between staying afloat or going out of business.
“The best thing a business owner or business owner can do to prepare for the unexpected is to make sure they have enough cash on hand to hold them in case revenues suddenly run dry,” said Falcone. “After all, business owners should be educated about PPP and prepared to use it [paycheck protection program] Loans and other aid programs are available. “
6. Stay optimistic
Entrepreneurs should focus on what they can control rather than on factors that are beyond their control. Take the time to take a look at the market dynamics in your small business sector and take advantage of the growth opportunities there.
Jackson wears parts of her clothing brand that includes curvy women.
Photo: Battle Beauties Fashion