May 24, 2018
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Serving their country —now as entrepreneurs

By Wendy Rose, Special to the BDN

What do the following women entrepreneurs have in common?

  • A real estate agent in rural Maine who has just made her first sale.
  • A top-quality residential cleaner with a growing customer base in central Maine.
  • A basket maker in southern Maine who sells her hand-crafted items at fairs and online through her sophisticated website.

The answer is that they all have served in the military. As with many of their veteran male colleagues who need to make the transition to civilian life, these women have found that owning a business is a natural outgrowth of the skills and qualities they have acquired through their military service.

While the positions they have held in the armed services might not readily translate into civilian jobs, these entrepreneurs have found that they can transfer their experience into business enterprises that have the potential to grow and support their families.

With Afghanistan now the longest war America has been involved in, there are increasing numbers of veterans. Since 2001, about 2 million have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 1 million have returned to civilian life, according to an August 2010 report in the Christian Science Monitor. The number of women who are serving in our military has grown to 15 percent of the active military personnel and 17 percent of the Reserve and National Guard.

This has led to a large pool of individuals — including women — trying to find a career path after their military service. According to the Small Business Administration, veterans own 14.8 percent of America’s small businesses — approximately 4 million in all. The Kauffman Foundation estimates that 22 percent of veterans are starting or purchasing businesses (or are considering this step).

Jane Butler, who owns Jane the Maid cleaning service, is a good example. She learned a lot about attention to detail in the Navy. This has helped her as she performs a wide array of cleaning services to customers in the Waterville area.

“If I hadn’t had the discipline and leadership skills the military taught me, I couldn’t have taken the first step,” she says. “The military teaches you how to take the small steps to get to the end result.”

Starting a business is also a process of taking small steps — creating a business plan, developing a marketing strategy, producing marketing materials, setting up a financial record-keeping system and finding customers. The big picture can be daunting, but the individual steps help you get there. Knowing you can do it can make all the difference.

Morgan Rogers, who works with Allied Realty in Skowhegan, credits the military with giving her a “great head start for the whole world.” She especially appreciates the qualities that her experience developed in her such as, “the drive, the values, the confidence, the patience and the discipline. “I love what the military helped me with,” she says. The confidence she gained has helped her through the tough initial months of becoming a real estate agent, getting listings and making her first sale.

There are many resources that can help veterans to take the initial steps. The Maine Small Business Development Centers have online workshops and a Web page dedicated to veteran entrepreneurs. They can connect individuals with business counseling by calling 800-679-SBDC. In addition, SCORE has an excellent website that lists many resources for veteran entrepreneurs. While Women, Work, and Community’s services have always been available to veterans, their recent partnership with UMA’s  University Military Achievement Project (funded by Wal-Mart) has enabled them to network more closely with veteran and military organizations and counselors in order to alert this community to the free workshops that are available.

As Lee Cheever from the Maine SBDC says, “People in the military have a unique set of skills that are very useful in business. They’re organized, know how to follow a plan, and are determined to achieve a goal.  We can help people sort out their ideas and match them with possible opportunities.”

As the examples above illustrate, veterans are now serving their home communities with their economic ventures just as they served our country in the armed forces.

Wendy Rose is senior microenterprise coordinator for Women, Work and Community based in  Augusta serving clients in Kennebec and Somerset counties.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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