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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

Five Things Military Personnel Should Do Before Starting a Business

Written By: Carol Roth | Comments Off on Five Things Military Personnel Should Do Before Starting a Business

unlocking successOne of my favorite sayings is that “if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” While military personnel follow that mantra closely as they prepare for combat, they often don’t do enough to prepare themselves for their lives after the military. And with so many military personnel becoming entrepreneurs while on duty or after, this mantra is critical for their business success. In fact, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.

But, military members face unique challenges. Plus, with nearly 1 in 10 small businesses being veteran owned, it’s critical that they start planning as early as possible to set them up for success as entrepreneurs.

Here are five things that military members and their families should do today, even before starting their business.

Learn about the business process.

The business process can be daunting and that can be compounded by transitioning from military to civilian life. Fortunately, there are a number of resources that can help walk a military member through what’s required to help launch a business successfully.

One such resource is the SBA’s Boots to Business program for current military personnel, as well as their ReBoot program for Veterans who later decide to pursue entrepreneurship. These programs help navigate evaluating business concepts, garnering basic business knowledge needed for business planning and information on SBA resources available to help access start-up capital and additional technical assistance.

Another great free resource is BusinessLauncher from Nav. Nav, formerly Creditera, just rebranded and is dedicated to guiding business owners on business credit and the complex world of financing a business. To that end, their BusinessLauncher feature steers new and would-be entrepreneurs through the steps of starting a business and establishing a business credit profile that will get them funding. This provides fast, helpful assistance to get the business basics done the right way to help set a military entrepreneur up for success.

Check and build their business credit.

Military personnel’s business challenges often come as a result of leaving their military service without the personal and business credit profiles and awareness due to their time serving our country. I speak with a lot of entrepreneurs and most are not even aware that their business has a credit profile that’s separate from their personal credit. Both these credit scores and profiles are critical to gaining financing and sometimes, developing vendor and client relationships. The U.S. government and big retailers will often check a business’s credit scores before signing a small business contract.

Nav has other free features that can assist those, like active military, thinking of starting a business to assess and build business credit. First is CreditSweeper, which assists entrepreneurs to find and dispute incorrect information on their personal and business credit reports. Business credit reports tend to have more inaccuracies–like mismatched data or industry codes–that can hurt your scores. Getting these cleaned up is one of the easiest ways to improve your business credit profile.

The next feature is CreditTarget, which assists entrepreneurs to identify the areas of their credit profile that need work and then, set and achieve financial goals. Breaking these complex issues down into components makes them easy to understand and conquer.

By checking their personal and business credit early – and often – military entrepreneurs can ensure that their financial foundation is making it easier to succeed in business. Since it is free, there is no reason not to.

Create a business plan.

Too many entrepreneurs start a business without having gone through the business planning process. Many studies have shown that entrepreneurs that build business plans succeed at a significantly higher rate than those who do not. Their plan can help to determine business execution steps, create a financial model, think through a marketing plan and even evaluate if the opportunity – as currently framed – is big enough.

Business plans are also a critical component of raising capital. A great resource for business plan creation is Live Plan from Palo Alto software. This Nav partner allows an entrepreneur to work from around 500 sample business plan templates that span just about every industry, honing the financial and strategy aspects of their proposed business endeavor. Instructions, educational videos and live customer support make the business planning process easy to use for even a first-time entrepreneur.

A military member can start the planning process early and then, update the plan as proof of concept and execution takes place.

Get experience.

Often, entrepreneurs head into a new business without having any industry experience. I can’t even recount the number of times I have heard about how someone has dreamed of opening a restaurant without having ever worked in one. I always advocate that an entrepreneur should, at a minimum, intern or shadow business owners in a particular industry to learn some of the ins-and-outs. Even better – get a job in the industry that you want to open your business in and see if you can get yourself promoted (and still enjoy it) before making your personal and financial commitment to a new endeavor. Military members should seriously consider garnering this industry experience after they leave service and prior to starting their own company.

Would-be military entrepreneurs can also turn to more formalized programs. For active duty military members who are seeking technology skills, Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA) is a great resource. The 16-week full-time education training course readies active duty service members transitioning out of the military with STEM and IT-specific skills.

Find mentors.

Help should not be a four-letter word for entrepreneurs or those thinking of starting a business. Military members know that team work, mentorship and support of others is critical for a successful mission, and the same goes when they transition to the business landscape.

There are many resources for active duty and retired military to find mentorship. One resource is the Veterans’ Business Outreach Center (VBOC). The mission of the VBOC is to help create, develop, and retain veteran-owned small business enterprises.

Another free resource is SCORE, which offers counseling and mentorship from retired business executives via locations across the United States.

And, of course, there’s always just putting the word out there. With the deep appreciation that many of us have for the men and women who have served our country, there’s no shortage of assistance and advice available for those who know their help is needed.

*Disclosure: Carol Roth and/or Intercap Merchant Partners has a client relationship with one or more of the companies mentioned in the article.

Article written by
Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is currently an on-air contributor for the national cable television station CNBC, the pre-eminent name in business news, and the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country. Carol multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011 &2012) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth