Thursday, September 3, 2009

Advice on Transitioning Out of the Military and Becoming a Business Owner

Michael Kothakota, chief investment officer of Wolfbridge Financial Services and frequent guest on the BlogTalkRadio show I co-host with Nancy Brown of YourMilitary.com, provided very valuable information on this topic on another guest stint on our show. I asked Michael to write a follow-up guest blog post on the subject because the information is so important.


Transitioning out of the military can be frightening, particularly for those that have either spent a long time in the service, or the military has been their only post secondary school career. Regardless of the circumstances, separating from service can be daunting.

Oftentimes service members get an idea for a business while conducting their military duties, either through everyday training, or by some other vocation that has piqued their interest. Making the transition from the military to business owner is certainly doable, but requires careful consideration and thoughtful planning to be successful.

The military does an excellent job training service members to be able to accomplish their tasks efficiently and correctly. This can translate well into business ownership. However, being a business owner is more than the business itself. It is a mishmash of bookkeeping, marketing, training, hiring, firing and other things that can occupy your time and keep you from actually doing what it is your clients hire you to do.

Where do you get help with these issues?

Prior to separation, we suggest that you first decide what type of business you want to run. A lot of veterans will use the skills they acquired in the military to start their business. For instance, if you were an electrician for six years and wanted to open an electrician shop, this would be a good way to go.

Some military skill sets do not have a civilian occupational track. If this is the case, and you have an idea that you want to turn into a business, get some training. Either at the local university or through distance learning. This will stand you in good stead when you decide to open your business.

Now that you’ve decided to start a business, where do you start on the path to doing so? Each service prior to separation has services that will help you make the transition. Below are the websites where you can get the information you may need:

Army
http://www.acap.army.mil

Navy
http://www.lifelines.navy.mil

Air Force
http://www.afcommunity.af.mil/transition/

Marine Corps
http://www.usmc-mccs.org/tamp/index.cfm

These services vary in the amount of time they look ahead to separation, but you can generally get help from them 12 to 24 months out. This can definitely get you started on your way to business ownership.

However, you need to get started writing a business plan so that you will have a framework in which to grow your business.

How do you get started writing a business plan? But what if you didn’t plan that far ahead?

There is still help to be had in the civilian world. The SBA (Small Business Administration) has a specific agency that is set up to help veteran business owners and service-disabled veteran business owners. You can find these services at http://www.sba.gov.

You can search the range of services offered from specialized loan services to the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which will help you gain DOD contracts for your business. The SBA also gives classes on writing a business plan.

How can you leverage your security clearance and how do you grow your business? Starting with the SBA, there are many marketing resources available to business owners. With your security clearance you will have preferences on bidding on government contracts. The federal government is the largest contractor of small businesses in the nation, which stands to reason as the government is the largest entity.

With a security clearance, when bidding on contracts you will likely already meet many of the requirements that the contract is looking for. But let me back up a bit.

How do you get government contracts?

First you need to register at http://www.ccr.gov and get yourself what is called a DUNS number. This will allow you to search and bid on available contracts.

CAUTION: Once you do this, firms that specialize in “helping” you get contracts will be contacting you. Most business owners think these services are a waste of money. Let me repeat that: Most business owners think these services are a waste of money.

Once you have registered, you will also have access to the database and will be able to search for other veteran and service-disabled veterans. The Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) will be able to help you with marketing. Go to the website at http://www.aptac-us.org/new/Govt_Contracting/find.php, type in your state and then request help. You will likely be contacted within one day.

Now that you are on the road to opening and marketing your business, who is going to help you run it?

One suggestion is to use the other veteran and service-disabled veteran businesses in the database that provide functions you need (Accounting, Headhunting, Bookkeeping, Networking, Computer Repair, etc.), but there may not be a local option.

A further place to go is http://www.score.org. This site will get you set up with a mentor who can help you with your business.

The issue here is cost, and figuring out what you can afford and whether or not you need to do some of the things yourself. If you can write a business plan, that’s great. But if not, you can hire a private firm to either do it for you or help you with it.

My firm, WolfBridge Financial, specializes in helping military members and veterans with all aspects of their finances, and we further help veteran and service-disabled veteran business owners in getting started with becoming a business owner. We can be reached at www.wolfbridgefinancial.com.

Listen to the interview of Michael on this same important subject.

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Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the author of the novel MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She also writes articles as a National Internet Business Examiner and she is the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio show YourMilitaryLife.com.

Phyllis' company MillerMosaicLLC.com combines traditional marketing principles with the power of Internet marketing strategies to promote your business more effectively. Her company also does Twitter tutoring by teleconferencing -- see TeachMetoTweetNow.com.

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