I was surprised to run into an old buddy from boot camp while at the hardware store the other day. Enrique had recently separated from active military duty to find more work/ life balance. He had completed three deployments, a variety of schools, several TDYs, and a year of living out of a suitcase for a special duty assignment abroad. All this added up to being away more, than at home, with family. Even with all his experience, the transition to a civilian job, however, had been more challenging than he expected. Military work can be so niche that sometimes it seems our skills don’t translate well to what hiring companies are looking for. Or, these companies just don’t understand what vets bring to the table. You can’t imagine how much I empathized with his situation. I’ve been there myself.
Now, I don’t usually make it a habit to tell anyone their business but, in this case, I didn’t keep my mouth shut. Wanting to spare Enrique the stress of many more months of searching for a job that suited him, I suggested that he look into starting his own company and be his own boss instead. There are lots of small business ideas for veterans out there, but only a handful make use of our strengths. As a business owner myself these days, I’ve combed through the opportunities and didn’t hesitate to share my best business ideas with my old friend—and you here, too.
The Best Small Business Ideas for Veterans
Major change is hard, even when it’s for the better, and leaving the military is no exception. There are many opportunities waiting for you in the civilian world, but a major element in your transition will be finding them and making yourself relatable in civilian terms. You can bridge the gap between military and civilian employment titles most effectively by taking the initiative to build your own business. Here are a few fields vets often find most appealing:
1. Technology Services.
Computer and telecommunications systems require the same quality control, troubleshooting, maintenance, and upgrading in the civilian world as in the military. If you are one of the many vets with telecom engineering training, those skills can be applied to systems everywhere and will be in demand among businesses that rely on this technology but are too small to have their own technical staff. That could be call centers or any business that has intensive customer service, payment processing, or just complex computer systems. Your veteran-owned business may be able to even do government contracting. The best part is that you can start a business like this on a small scale and grow organically.
Caution is necessary as you start out, though. You need to do careful market research before starting a highly-specialized business. Keep in mind, too that you will need management as well as technical skills. Accounting and marketing, even scheduling, are integral parts of this business activity that require specialized skills. You may need advice on getting your business started successfully, and that guidance is not easy to find.
2. Transportation and logistics.
We vets are accustomed to thinking in terms of goals, deadlines, and problem solving, which is necessary for transportation logistics. If you thrive on orderliness and you enjoy a challenge, you are the right type of person to start your own freight and cargo brokerage company. A freight broker acts as an intermediary between a person or company that needs shipping services and carriers that can provide those services.
The barriers to freight brokering, however, should not be underestimated. This is a business where relationships and connections count for everything as you find clients and make arrangements with shippers in distant places. Failure to make and maintain connections—finding your niche, you might say—can be fatal to your business. In addition, the industry is highly regulated. You will need separate federal licenses for every medium—air, land, and sea—that you work in and you will need to obtain Unified Carrier Registration from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You will also need insurance and bonding. All of these require applications procedures and fees, and they can really add up.
3. Construction and Craftsmanship.
You might have training in a specialized construction or craftsman trade that can turn into a business. Do you have the skills to be an electrician, heavy equipment operator, mason, pipefitter, plumber, or surveyor? Or, perhaps you refined some skills on the side during your military service and are more of a carpenter or furniture craftsman who likes to make unique artisanal pieces. These are valuable skills that can create a comfortable income for you and your family. You may like to work by yourself, with an assistant, or manage a small crew. With some luck and planning, you have the potential to expand considerably.
But, expanding your business may be much harder than breaking into the business. The administrative aspect is daunting. Permits, bonding, insurance, and certifications all require significant amounts of time, money, and effort. The relatively high number of employees involved in a large construction project create a lot of bookkeeping, too. Another complication is the bidding process through which most large construction projects are awarded. It takes training and a lot of calculation to bid successfully.
If you are eager to settle in a particular place and participate in the life of the community after a military life of relocating all the time, you might consider the benefits of owning a small retail store. As a store owner, you would have lots of contact with the public—either your neighbors or the people who share your interests—both as customers and, potentially, employees. In addition to a potentially good income, you can put down some roots and build relationships that will last you through the rest of your years.
Be aware, though, that there are also significant drawbacks to going into retail. The first is the high rate of failure. You are going to work long hours and statistics say that your chances of succeeding are pretty low. The success of your business will almost certainly depend on things you don’t control, such as the state of the economy, rent rates, property values, and changes in consumer buying habits. For you, though, the rewards may outweigh the risks.
5. Real estate investing.
Real estate investing is a dream business if you want to be your own boss. It requires many of the skills you developed in the military, such as effective communication, project management, flexibility, teamwork, integrity, planning skills, and problem-solving. You choose your properties, control your sales volume, and plan the work on your houses yourself. With this kind of flexibility, you have the ability to control your own work/ life balance—you won’t have to miss another soccer game or ballet recital due to work again.
Of course, there are risks to residential property investing but, if you have the right support, you can mitigate those risks. Many people start investing without the knowledge of best practices or a good understanding of the market, and they fail at their attempt to turn their investing activity into a professional business. You don’t have to walk in their shoes, however, if you know where to access the best tools and resources in the real estate investing industry—and the best network of professional investors to guide you.
Every business has challenges, even ones that are well suited to your skills and interests. Owning a small business shouldn’t mean you operate in the dark though. Having an experienced voice to guide you as you establish your business can make all the difference. Happily, when you become a real estate investor, you can find the guidance you need and still be an independent business person.
Grow a Real Estate Investing Business, with Support
I told Enrique that, for me, starting a small business as a professional real estate investor was an easy choice when I found the HomeVestors® franchise opportunity. As a HomeVestors® franchisee, not only did I receive a week of intensive training, I was paired up with a seasoned Development Agent who provides ongoing mentoring. He saved me from many investment missteps and provided me with the assurances I needed to grow my business successfully.
If you’re thinking about starting a small business, take a closer look at becoming a professional real estate investor by calling HomeVestors® today.
Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.