From Front Lines to Bottom Lines: Retired Vets Turned Entrepreneurs

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Our whole team at Premier Reverse Mortgage would like to wish all of our U.S. military vets a very happy Veteran’s Day! Your service and sacrifice have made our country and lives what they are today, and we are very grateful.

veteran-business-ownerIt seems the question always lingers for retired military personnel: What do I do as a civilian? A long military career, especially, can make the tradition back to civilian life challenging. We talked to five veterans, from various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, who came home and decided to start building something brand new. These men, and their families, weren’t ready to completely retire, and they became successful entrepreneurs and small business owners.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a business — whether you’ve retired from the military, or even just from a previous career — take some inspiration and practical advice from these five brave men.

Deciding to Take the Plunge

When you know, you just know. When you get excited about a particular task, or you start to recognize a persistent, steady passion, it might be a hint that you’ve found your niche. These vets didn’t let anything stand in the way of pursuing their dreams.

Tim Allen served in the Air Force for over 23 years until he retired, in 2007, as an Air Force Major. Today, he and his wife are the innkeepers at the A G Thomson House Duluth Bed and Breakfast — one of America’s favorite B&Bs.

We were always interested in owning a bed and breakfast inn. We had long stayed at B&Bs, and enjoyed the personal side of the industry. While in the Air Force we often volunteered to host the squadron parties because we loved to entertain. Angie likes to cook and is an excellent chef. We had always restored and lived in older homes. All this made the idea of operating an inn seem like the perfect fit for us. – Tim Allen

Dewey Koshenina spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army, and later followed his passion for photography into his own business. He has been a photographer with, and owner of, Gamut One Studios, since 2010.

I’ve always loved photography, and after years as a hobby I decided it was what I wanted to do for a career. I went back to school for commercial photography after leaving active duty. – Dewey Koshenina

Lee-PorterLee William Porter grew up in Colorado, but served with the Peace Corps in Thailand. Now, Porter is the owner of Hand Held Trips to Thailand (H2T3).

The year I retired from the Army I organized a two-week tour of Thailand for a group of seven friends. It was from that experience that I decided it would be a great idea to share my enthusiasm for Thailand with others. It was then that I decided to start my own business, and have been running Hand Held Trips To Thailand since 2007. – Lee William Porter

Joe-MichelsDr. Joe Michels served with the U.S. Air Force, and today is the Managing Principal with Solomon Bruce Consulting, an international management/engineering consulting firm.

I was a Business College Dean for a few years before I became ill and could not return to college. I have always been in leadership and teaching, so becoming a consultant was a natural fit for my skill set. I have served at all major command levels in the Air Force, so it was very natural to go into the consulting business for myself to help others using my skill set. – Dr. Joe Michels

When a certain industry or service just won’t let you go, turning a hobby into a business is a natural step, which makes the initial decision, at least, easy.

Military Training for Entrepreneurship

Even if you’ve never served in the armed forces, it’s no secret that military life is much different from civilian life. The training, responsibilities, and expectations of soldiers can be good preparation for the business world.

Mike-SchoultzAfter completing active duty as an aeronautical engineering officer with the U.S. Navy, Mike Schoultz started Digital Spark Marketing.

My three years of experience in the Navy was most helpful in pointing me to areas for a future career, learning to take initiative and lead, and gaining knowledge in an organizational setting. – Mike Schoultz

For Koshenina, it was what military service taught him about leadership:

I was still in the Army Reserve system, but understood that the leadership skills I learned would benefit me in business. I try to apply those skills every day, most importantly: integrity. – Dewey Koshenina

Allen and Michels have applied lessons on discipline and excellence from their Air Force days to their civilian roles as entrepreneurs.

The military taught us commitment, discipline, and a solid work ethic, among many other things. There are no 40-hour work weeks for us. (We usually pass 40 hours of work some time on Tuesday.) Striving for excellence was instilled in me during my 23+ years of active duty service. We always strive to give our guests the best possible experience they could have. We believe what sets us apart is our over-the-top service. – Tim Allen

Military discipline, attention to detail, and timeliness are all qualities that you need to employ in the private sector. I have had no difficulties using these military-imbued traits in private business. – Dr. Joe Michels

In some ways, being a business owner is the exact opposite of military life: no commanding officer to answer to, no drills. In other ways, though, it’s not so different, and serving well is great preparation for leading well.

Advice from the New Front Line

Every entrepreneur has horror stories and big win stories, dos and don’ts, trick and tips. Retiring from military service and trying to pick up normal civilian life can be a challenge, but starting and growing a new business at the same time takes a special dedication and passion.

These five vets-turned-business-owners have lots of advice — both practical and inspirational — for other vets who may be thinking of striking out on their own.

Allen starts by encouraging vets to figure out where their passions and their talents overlap, and to not give up on that sweet spot.

Don’t give up on a dream. Sometimes getting started can seem overwhelming, but if it were easy everyone would do it. Owning your own successful business is so rewarding it’s hard to put it into words. Figure out what you love and what you’re good at. If you’re lucky, they’re the same thing. – Tim Allen

On the more hands-on side of things, Schoultz emphasizes the need for a solid financial plan:

Best advice for anyone starting up a business today (veteran or not): Build a conservative financial plan, and fully plan the details of a cash flow. If you don’t have the financial assets to succeed, then don’t waste your time and effort. – Mike Schoultz

Koshenina and Porter recommend supporting, and working with, other vets.

Surround yourself with other veterans who are in business to help you succeed. If you need a marketing team, look for a veterans-owned agency. If you need legal advice to launch your business, look for legal teams that are owned by veterans. Trust Vets can help with that. – Dewey Koshenina

Take advantage of any local, state, or national organization that works with veterans. There are too many to name, but they are available to all veterans. – Lee William Porter

The truth is, no matter what business you want to start or how prepared you try to be, entrepreneurship is equal parts rewarding and very hard.

If you wish to go into business, go for it. It is not easy. You have to work three times as hard as you ever did in the military, and you are the chief cook and bottle washer — you do everything. Strong focus, dedication, and drive will ensure that you are a success as a business owner. – Dr. Joe Michels

Entrepreneurship is difficult, but then, so was the military. If you’re a vet (or you or a loved one are about to be), and you’re considering starting a business, gather all the advice you can find, and go for it.

Start Something New Today

If you’ve been thinking about start a business for a while, that may be all the assurance you need that it’s time to do so. Where your passion and talents overlap is where you’ll find the energy and enthusiasm to create something amazing.

The community of military vets-turned-business-owners can provide a lot of help and resources if you’re retiring from military service. But even if you’re not, don’t think that it’s too late for you to follow your dream. Whatever your past has been, if you have a vision for a new future, start by talking to a few people about it — a spouse, adult children, a few trusted professionals you might know — to help determine if it’s the right decision.

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