If you are transitioning from military to civilian life, you might be wondering what your next step should be. Margo Baines and Felix Macias were wondering the same thing. Margo is a Veteran of the Army National Guard and founder of Chicks with Class, a Houston-based business dedicated to empowering girls and young women. Felix is an Army Veteran and the head of Sole Sneaker Boutique, a San Antonio-based destination for premium sneakers and streetwear. If you share anything in common with them, you might find that being your own boss is a great fit for you, too.
1. Commitment to Service
Margo decided to join the National Guard out of a desire to make a difference. “When I was discharged, I wanted to continue to serve the society in a positive way,” she said. Margo encourages other Veterans to think about business as a way to continue their own interest in serving others. “Creating your own business gives you the same fulfillment that you felt in the military,” she explained. “When we were in the military there was that sense of pride – we’re serving our country and we’re doing this for the greater good. And when you have that passion to start your own business – whatever it may be, you will still have that pride and you’ll be serving others for the greater good.”
2. People Skills
Margo’s time in the military instilled a sense of humility that allowed her to appreciate the diverse challenges that people around her might be facing. She also learned how to work with people from “all different walks of life,” a skill she said has paid off in her experience as a business owner. Felix said that the values he learned through his time in service have translated to his interactions with customers. “The Army has made me what I am today.” He said. “I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t go into the military. It made me a respectful person.”
Veterans are more inclined than civilians to be their own boss. In fact, they are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-Veterans. Felix discussed how his experience in the military prepared him for entrepreneurship. “I had my own squad, and running the business is kind of the same thing,” he said. Margo explained how her experience in the military influenced her decision to strike out on her own. “I learned leadership skills while serving, so now it comes natural to me to take on that leadership role,” she said.
Entrepreneurs are risk-takers, and they often have a unique ability to persevere in the face of obstacles. Margo credits her time in the military for helping her maintain a positive attitude in the face of the unexpected. “I learned to look at failures not as failures but as successes – because it takes those failures to reach success,” she said.
Felix advises other Veterans, whether or not they are considering going into business, to keep an open mind about their opportunities. His business journey started when his former employer considered closing the business. Felix had some creative ideas for how to make Sole Sneaker Boutique grow, so he and his fiancé Brenda, who manages the business finances, decided to buy it. “I never thought I was going to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “Stay positive! You never know what’s something’s going to turn into.”
Starting a business means trying something you’ve never done before. That experience is bound to require problem-solving skills and creativity. For Margo, those traits come from her time in service. “In the military I became very innovative,” she said. “Not only my life, but other people’s lives depended on me problem solving and getting things done.” Felix has found creative ways to attract new customers. Since taking over the business he has focused on building customer loyalty through social media. The company’s Instagram channel has since grown from about 3,000 to nearly 12,000 followers, and the store now has a national following. “There are people who come down from LA, Chicago – just to see the shop,” Felix said.
Sound like you?
If any of these characteristics sound familiar to you, it might be time to look into starting your own business. But how do you do that? For Margo, this was new territory. “I’m the only one in my family to do something like this, to start my own business from literally the ground up,” she said. Through her mentor, another Veteran who she met through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Margo learned that there are many resources available to those who are looking to start or grow a business. Here are just a few:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration has a wealth of resources and training available for entrepreneurs at various stages of their business journey – and they even have a resource page dedicated to Veterans.
- Small Business Development Centers provide current and aspiring entrepreneurs with free business counseling and low-cost training opportunities. Women entrepreneurs can find tailored training and assistance at their local Women’s Business Center.
- SCORE connects entrepreneurs with mentors and business advice.
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ Veteran Entrepreneur Portal is a one-stop-shop for Veteran entrepreneurs, providing resources and training related to starting a business, accessing financing, contracting with federal agencies and more.
Now that you’ve decided to start or grow your business, it might be time to look for financing. Margo used her first business loan to pay for the legal fees she needed to transition from a sole proprietor to an LLC, as well as to move into her first brick-and-mortar location. Felix used his business loan to purchase inventory for his store. Here is a helpful resource on how to determine the best financing options for your own business.
Margo and Felix applied for their business loans through Accion’s online loan application, which was made possible through the support of partners like the Sam’s Club Giving program. Through its Small Business Economic Mobility initiative, the Sam’s Club Giving Program supports Accion’s technology initiatives and business owner education activities. These efforts are designed to enhance and expand access to financing and business education among underserved entrepreneurs nationwide – including women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses.