5 Lessons For Vets Before You Start Your Own Business

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U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kate Thornton

For years, military service has been recognized as one of the leading indicators of entrepreneurial success. According to a report by the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans are 45% more likely to be entrepreneurs than non-veterans, and over 13% of veterans have been self-employed in recent years. The traits and skills our nation’s service members possess make them great entrepreneurs.


That doesn’t mean that service members automatically become experts on starting and running small businesses once they leave the military. Many get help. Over the last three years, more than 35,000 transitioning service members and spouses have participated in the Boots to Business entrepreneurship training program, organized by the Small Business Administration in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

But not every veteran who wants to start a business has participated in Boots to Business, so as the curriculum development lead for the Boots to Business program, I culled through the program materials to identify and share the top five entrepreneurship lessons currently being taught at 180 military installations across the world.

Lesson 1: Leverage your military experience.

Leadership, resiliency, tenacity, perseverance, and passion are traits that compose a great service member. They are also associated with being a great entrepreneur or small business owner. Many veterans have already shown that their military skills make them great business leaders. Think Nike, FedEx and GoDaddy — all three companies were created by veterans and have grown into huge successes.

Related: Make sure you know the financial risks before starting your own company »

In order to leverage military skills, veterans should strategize their business goals using the acronym VICTORY:

  • Develop and keep in mind a VISION at all times and do not stray.
  • Launch your business with complete INTEL on key areas essential for short and long-term success.
  • Remember your COACHING and mentorship skills from the military and apply them to your network, partners, and employees.
  • Avoid being a lone wolf; consider creating a TEAM to help support your business.
  • Develop your OPERATIONS: Ongoing, consistent activities that will insure your business can continue on.
  • Remember to act; RAPID action is what will deliver results, not waiting around for opportunities
  • Finally, remember that your business and ultimately your success depend on YOU.

Lesson 2: Assess the opportunity.

A major key to owning a successful business is recognizing the difference between an opportunity and an idea. An opportunity is “having the qualities of being attractive, durable, and timely and is anchored in a product or service that creates or adds value for its buyers or end users,” as described in the Boots to Business Introduction to Business Ownership guide. On the other hand, an idea is a “light bulb moment” — a feeling or notion that on its own may not meet the criteria for an opportunity and could lead to a failed venture.

If you’re looking to start a business, but aren’t quite sure of how to generate ideas and opportunities, consider hosting a good old fashioned brainstorming session, conducting a focus group, or distributing a survey to gain ideas and find opportunities.

Lesson 3: Research your market to validate your plan.

When determining if your idea can become a business opportunity, try to think about whether or not there is a market need for what you are offering. In addition, you need to have someone to market to. It’s important to think about:

  • Who will be the customers?
  • Why will they buy your product or service over another?
  • How will you stack up against the competition?

You should complete thorough analyses of the industry, current market, and competition prior to launching a business. Students are required to examine their businesses from head to toe, looking at future market potential, financial feasibility, and potential buyers and sources of revenue; we recommend every budding veteran entrepreneur do the same.   

Lesson 4: Know where to find funding.

It’s important for a budding entrepreneur to consider financial feasibility prior to launching a business. Funding for business can come from many places, but the top three external sources for raising capital are, in order: friends and family members, bank loans, and outside investors.  

Small Business Administration-guaranteed loans are an excellent form of funding for veteran startups. The SBA has many financial resources for veteran entrepreneurs, including a micro-loan program for smaller loan amounts, and offers money at good interest rates.

Another option to start a business is through self-financing, which means that the entrepreneur owns 100% of the company. This is the most common way that startups are financed, but because of the risk involved, makes it very important that you plan thoroughly in advance.  

Lesson 5: Complete your feasibility analysis.

All Boots to Business participants work on a feasibility analysis during the course that can help them understand whether or not small business ownership is right for them and how to get organized and started. You can download that feasibility analysis here; while we can’t walk you through it, the worksheet is an extremely useful thought exercise as you plan your entrepreneurial future.

Finally, if you now want to learn more, be sure to check out the Boots to Business: Reboot program, which is offering courses across the U.S. for veterans who still want to take advantage of free entrepreneurial training opportunities.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley from 1979's 'Alien' (20th Century Fox)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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