Why Veterans Might Excel at Running a Small Business

Your military service may have primed you to be a great entrepreneur.
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From risk management to impressive teamwork skills, many veterans have what it takes to be successful small business owners. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Looking to find your niche now that you’ve retired from military service? Think about starting your own business.

Sure, there are a lot of small businesses wanting to hire veterans. But with the skills you developed in the military, you may be more equipped than you realize to run a company.

The Small Business Administration has services for veterans to help them start and grow a business, as do other organizations.

NCR Silver talked to Alexces Bartley, manager of outreach programs for the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University (OSU), about why veterans often make good entrepreneurs. OSU heads a consortium of colleges that offers a free Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) for ex-military personnel interested in starting their own business, which includes online training, an eight day “boot camp” and ongoing mentorship.

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“Vets are disciplined problem solvers in a variety of very unique situations.” -Alexces Bartley (Photo: James Neeley)

They understand teamwork and sacrifice

Teamwork is a top skill associated with military service, said Bartley, and it comes in handy as a business owner, too. Even though the business owner is the boss, “You have to learn the importance of building a support network to make your business successful.”

Then there’s the concept of sacrifice. While sacrifice looks very different in the military compared with business, the willingness to make sacrifices is necessary in both worlds. As a small business owner, you may need to cut back on everything from personal spending to sleep to get your business off the ground — and you’re willing to do what it takes to succeed.

They are coachable

Successful business owners must be prepared to be coached and mentored as they start their business, said Bartley. “You have to be willing to learn,” she said. “Accept where you have a strong suit in one area and allow yourself be coached when someone may excel in an area that you do not.”

The high level of discipline and ongoing training required of military personnel teaches vets how to accept and learn from critical feedback. In the entrepreneurial world, that translates to an ability to accept correction and learn from mistakes.

Related: 6 Ways to Find a Mentor to Help Your Business Succeed

They can assess and manage risk

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The ability to quickly calculate and asses risks can help veterans succeed as business owners. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Risk management is another skill required in both the armed forces and entrepreneurship.

“Vets are disciplined problem solvers in a variety of very unique situations,” said Bartley. “They are assessing and calculating the risk and deciding — often in a very quick manner — how to proceed. In business ownership and entrepreneurship you have to be able to assess the risk and make a decision. It’s not just about making blind bets and just seeing what sticks. It’s about understanding the possible outcome of your decisions and making the best decision based off the facts that you have.”

The speed at which most veterans are able to make these calculated decisions is also critical to the business world. “The importance of learning risk management is making sure that even in a very quick fashion, you’re counting for those risks and assuming different outcomes and then making the best decision,” she said. “It’s a very rapid fire process. A lot has to go into making those decisions, but it does happen very quickly.”

They want to give back

“One thing that is common and that we see repeatedly,” said Bartley, “is that a lot of these businesses are started with the intent to give back to the veteran population.” Many of the businesses that come out of the VEP program “either have a strategic plan to hire fellow veterans or donate some of their proceeds to various veteran support agencies.”

“It was surprising to me how many different ways these men and women come up with to give back to other veterans.” This “continuing community,” as she called it, provides vets with a great deal of support and reassurance as they step into the business world.

Related: Which Bird Does Your Leadership Style Resemble?

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