4 tips to help veterans become entrepreneurs

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Veterans Day is the perfect time to say thank you to military service members for their contributions to the country — and to the business world. With an estimated three million veteran-owned businesses in the United States, it’s not a stretch to say that veterans have a significant impact on the economy.

“Veterans’ resourcefulness, tenacity and ability to work really hard through adversity is exactly what’s needed to be an entrepreneur,” says Chief Development Officer Becca Keaty of Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that helps military veterans and their family members become entrepreneurs. As a 20-year retired veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard, Keaty shares four insightful tactics to help vets clear the hurdles to starting a business and achieve success:

1. Build a support network

“When you’re in the military, you’re given your network. It’s your platoon, your squad and your battalion, and it’s very clear,” says Keaty. When service members return to civilian life, however, they don’t have that support from their unit or team, so it’s important for them to start cultivating a strong network. Successful entrepreneurs often rely on a strong network to expand their knowledge, gain new customers and grow their business. To make valuable connections, Keaty recommends checking out local events or conferences tailored for the community of veteran business owners.

Bunker Brews, for example, is a monthly happy hour where veterans, military spouses and civilians can network with subject matter experts, investors, thought leaders and more. Another event, V-WISE IGNITE, offers training in small business management, plus plenty of networking opportunities for aspiring women and military spouse entrepreneurs. Vets can also expand their circles with web-based resources, such as Bunker Labs’ Launch Labs Online. Keaty describes it as an online cohort program that makes it easy for veterans to connect with veteran entrepreneurs, find mentors and get advice through Facebook.

2. Master the art of self-promotion

Military service members tend to be humble because they’re taught to focus on the team. “So when you come out of the military, the very first thing you should be doing is learning how to do marketing and sales,” says Keaty. “If you can’t sell yourself, and you can’t sell your solution, then you won’t be able to get very far.”

To strengthen their self-promotion skills, veterans can take advantage of free and low-cost workshops on marketing, branding and the like. Toastmasters groups, such as Veterans Voice in Houston, are also great for building communication skills.

3. Unlock funding possibilities

From small business grants to the Veterans Business Fund, there are countless resources available to help entrepreneurs who are returning to civilian life get the capital to launch a startup. But to find the source that’s right for them, vets will likely need some help navigating funding regulations and requirements. A great place to seek out assistance is their local business outreach center for veterans. The centers give veterans access to management courses, market research and qualified referrals to independent grants, so they can start their own business or franchise. And once funding is secured, certain resources, such as Finance Fundamentals from Deluxe, can help veterans keep their business finances in order.

4. Brush up on business skills

According to Keaty, veterans are well-positioned to be entrepreneurs because of the skills they learned during their time in uniform — like leadership, discipline and grace under pressure — but, as she explains, “Entrepreneurism has its own separate language.” That’s why vets need to round out their military skills. Whether they need a crash course in accounting or help writing a business plan, there are plenty of resources to help veterans launch a thriving business. Here are just some of the options available:

Score/Veteran Fast Launch Initiative

This program provides mentoring and training, along with free software and other services, to help military veteran entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

Boots 2 Business Reboot

This entrepreneurship training program through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps veterans and their spouses learn what’s involved in starting a business.

American Corporate Partners

This nonprofit connects U.S. veterans to business leaders from big companies like AT&T and Allstate for mentorship and business-building advice.

Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

VEP gives veterans direct online access to resources that can help guide them through the steps of starting and running their own business.

As America’s best leaders, veterans already have it in them to become great leaders in the business world. “With the right level of support, all that’s left to do is to get inspired and go for it,” says Keaty.

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