Veterans are some of the hardest-working people in America, with a dedication to problem-solving, teamwork and being of service to a larger cause. All of these attributes can make veterans ideal for entrepreneurship. Many military service members decide to start veteran-owned businesses after they re-enter civilian life.
In honor of Veterans Day, here's a checklist on how to start a veteran-owned business if you want to be your own boss and make a living as an entrepreneur.
1. Evaluate Your Business Idea
Every successful business needs an idea. It doesn’t always have to be something that is totally new and innovative; most entrepreneurs are not going to start the next Google or the next Facebook, but many entrepreneurs can find success and make good money by serving a particular niche market. Even if you're not an experienced entrepreneur and you haven't owned a business before, you can still come up with a great business idea.
Ask yourself some questions to generate business ideas:
What is a problem in the world that you would like to help solve?
What is a customer experience you’ve had that you believe you could improve?
What is a type of business you enjoy that you would like to run yourself?
Do you know anyone who has started a business, and what could you learn from them?
What professional skills have you learned in your military experience that could also be applied to starting a business in civilian life?
What other personal interests, hobbies, skills or talents could you potentially turn into a business?
Different people will have different perspectives on what could make a successful business idea. For example, if you have military experience doing logistics work or security work, perhaps you could start a consulting business focused on those skills. If you love physical fitness and eating right, you could start a personal training or health coaching business to help others get better results with their health and wellness.
If you love cooking and have a great idea for a restaurant business, maybe you could start a food truck business to test your idea at a lower startup cost. If you’re willing to start a franchise business, you can pay a fee to expand an existing business concept and brand without having to create your own from scratch. Some franchises are low cost to start as well.
2. Write a Business Plan
Once you have focused on a business idea, it’s time to write a business plan. Your business plan does not have to be complicated or cover every possible detail, but it should serve as an overall road map for what you want your business to be and how your business will work.
A few key components of your business plan should include:
Mission statement: Your business’s purpose — why does your business exist and what are you trying to accomplish in the world with your business?
Business model: How will you make money with your business? Will you sell products or services? Are you selling to consumers (B2C) or to other businesses (B2B)?
Target markets: What kinds of customers are you trying to reach — ideal age groups, income groups, locations, lifestyles? Or if your business is a B2B seller, what are your ideal target companies, and what kinds of business problems can you help them solve?
Marketing plan: What is your strategy for connecting with customers and building a good reputation for your brand? What marketing tactics can you use — online marketing, social media, pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines?
These are just a few of the elements of a good business plan. For more details and suggested tools and resources to use, check out our article on how to write a business plan.
3. Get Funding for Your Business
You don’t always need a lot of money to start a business. Many entrepreneurs start a business by “bootstrapping” — by funding the business themselves, sometimes by using their own credit cards or by borrowing money from friends and family. Other entrepreneurs use crowdfunding to ask multiple investors to chip in money to help support the business’s idea. If you have a big idea that you think could grow quickly, you might want to go through the startup funding process with venture capital (VC) investors.
Other entrepreneurs might want to get a small business loan. If you are a first-time entrepreneur, it might be hard to qualify for a business loan from a traditional bank. However, check out your options for small business loans and see what might be the right fit for your business. We've also listed some specific veteran business loan options below (including the Veteran's Advantage business loan from the SBA).
4. Look for Programs for Veteran-Owned Businesses
As a veteran, there are several special veteran-owned business programs and benefits through the VA and Small Business Administration (SBA) that you can use to get professional mentoring and possibly qualify for small business loans. All of this support is specifically designed for the unique needs and goals of veteran business owners and is part of the package of benefits that you’ve earned through your military service.
Here are a few resources to take advantage of as you get ready to start your business:
Office of Veterans Business Development: This is part of the SBA, and it offers a variety of resources for veterans. There are also some special programs for women veterans and service-disabled veterans who want to start a business. Start here to learn more about the programs available to you.
Boots to Business: This is an entrepreneur training program from the SBA and Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). You will get an introduction to the foundations of entrepreneurship, including how to launch a business, how to develop business concepts and a business plan and how to get familiar with SBA resources for veteran entrepreneurs.
Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC): The VBOC Program helps connect veteran entrepreneurs to resources in their immediate area, with offices throughout the U.S. You can use the VBOC to get various services, including pre-business plan workshops, business concept assessments, business plan preparations, business feasibility analysis, business mentorship and more. If you want to get some specific advice and help from people who know how the business world works and who are accustomed to helping with the particular questions and perspectives of veterans, check out the VBOC.
Other Programs for Veteran-Owned Businesses: The SBA also offers several other resources and programs specifically for veteran-owned businesses, including businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Learn more at the SBA website.
Veteran Business Loans: The SBA offers Veterans Advantage small business loans as part of its 7(a) loan program. This is the same type of loan that non-veteran entrepreneurs can apply for, but according to the SBA website, veterans are eligible for reduced fees on the loan. Check with the SBA for more details.
5. Form an LLC or Other Business Entity
Once you have a business plan, you know your business model and you have an idea of how much funding you need, make sure you actually set up your business as a legal entity before you start selling products or applying for loans.
Forming an LLC or other business structure is one of the most important steps in officially starting your business. Setting up an LLC or corporation will make it possible for you to get a business bank account, protect your personal finances from business liabilities, manage your business finances and tax deductions, start building business credit and otherwise help your business get established and be in good standing in the eyes of the legal and financial systems. At Incfile, we offer an LLC formation package for $0 + your state fee. We can help you file everything needed to start your new business and answer any questions you have along the way.
Being a veteran is a badge of honor and a source of personal pride and accomplishment for millions of men and women who have served the nation and worn the uniform. Now that you’re re-entering civilian life, if you have the urge to be an entrepreneur, it’s time to make the most of your skills, talents and work ethic in a different career field. Happy Veterans Day to all who serve, and best wishes on the next stage of your career.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.