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Skills learned in the military don’t always translate to the civilian workplace. But the military philosophies of serving the community and helping those in need are great business ethics and a good starting point for veterans interested in launching their own careers.
Major Michael Hawkins and Lieutenant Colonel Michael Eliason of the United States Air Force took that philosophy a step further and opened Interim Healthcare in February 2014. Their intention is to provide quality home care for veterans or anyone else in need of professional home health services.
Eliason, a 23-year veteran and Air Force pilot, didn’t want to take his military skills into the commercial airline industry once he retired, considering the things he learned in the service as too important to give to the airlines. Instead, he chose to work with veterans and seniors.
“There’s a certain nobility about military service, and a certain nobility about caring for the elderly and treating them with dignity and respect.”
But starting up a home healthcare business was far from easy. Hawkins credits his military service for teaching him how to work hard, focus and have the discipline necessary to see the process through from planning, to hiring, and to opening the doors.
A 21-year veteran, Hawkins compares operating his own business to drinking out of a fire hose. “You have to take in so much information so quickly that you just can’t absorb it all.”
Fortunately, veterans have resources if they’re interested in starting a business. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides information for vets about everything from creating a business plan and acquiring funding to hiring employees and developing a marketing campaign.
Mike Steck is the co-owner of Joe Firearms, a manufacturing business that designs and machines high-quality firearm accessories, as well as provides conceal/carry weapons training. Steck served for eight years with the Utah Army National Guard, and his service included two combat tours in Kuwait and Iraq.
Along with his gun business, Steck graduated from the University of Utah with a law degree and specializes in business law, with an emphasis on estate planning for gun owners. Steck says coming home after being deployed is a big transition, especially when that day-to-day support offered in the military is no longer available. Going it alone can be daunting, so a business mentor is invaluable.
“Like being in the military, being a small business owner takes a degree of crazy,” Steck says. “I would not be where I am if not for the many mentors in my life. Surrounding yourself with smart people is a big part of military training.”
It’s scary to take risks—even for veterans. Steck says going into the gun business helped him translate his military experience into the civilian world and connect to everyday life. Steck lost several friends during his deployment, and he put his life on the line every day.
“Veterans need to figure out how to connect to society in a way that’s relevant to the experience of creating a business,” he says.
While starting a business is never easy, veteran or not, there are several things that can make the process a little smoother.
Don’t underestimate your skill set.
While it might not translate immediately, and may not be initially apparent, serving with the armed forces creates a definite set of skills that can be adapted to civilian life. The military is known for instilling discipline in its ranks. The ability to show up on time, get the job done, and establish a reputation of honesty, dedication and integrity is absolutely necessary to succeed as a business owner.
Find mentors and cheerleaders. Listening to naysayers can erode confidence. By finding business leaders, like-minded individuals and other veterans who have gone through the process, the chances of success increase exponentially.
“I’d love to make myself available as a mentor to another vet,” Steck says. “I’d love to be a sounding board, helping out another vet who might have some ideas.”
Contact business resources designed to help veterans.
The military offers several transition assistance programs that include the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Office of Veterans Business Development. These departments provide resources that maximize the usability of skills needed for small business and entrepreneurial enterprises.
Transition programs should be considered an opportunity, not an obligation. By going in with an open mind, taking advantage of those resources can refine what you want to do next with your life.