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5 Secrets a Veteran Should Know Before Starting Their Own Business

Pro tips that will set you up for success as an entrepreneur


spinner image a smiling man in a light shirt, gray blazer and dark pants stands with red PuroClean machines outside a home
Former Army officer Steve White, COO of restoration company PuroClean, encourages veterans to jump-start their careers by joining a franchise.

Veterans transitioning out of service, and considering career changes in the years beyond, might wonder what’s next. Business ownership might be a scary, but exciting leap.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Veterans own 5.9 percent of all businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, overseeing close to 4 million employees across the country. And they are doing well — more than 3 in 4 businesses owned by veterans exceed $100,000 in yearly revenue, and 38% exceed half a million dollars, the National Veterans Foundation reports.

Veterans who own their own businesses, and those who advise them, have specific tips for success.

You might love the support system of a franchise model

Former Army officer Steve White, COO of restoration company PuroClean, implemented the PuroVet program, which encourages veterans to jump-start their careers by joining a franchise. He started his own franchising journey when corporate recruiters from Domino’s Pizza approached him while he was still on active duty. 

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“I am very grateful to have found this franchise life,” White told AARP Veteran Report. “Everything I learned in the Army has had application in my business career. During my time in service, I served under some of the greatest leaders who taught me … the difference between management and leadership. Being an infantry officer taught me how to work hard until the job was done.”

Franchise life means you aren’t “doing it alone,” and instead have a sense of community reminiscent of military service. 

You won’t love it every day — it’s a ‘roller coaster’

Business ownership is far from easy, even though you get to be your own boss. This is a lesson Air Force veteran Tisha Ayers, based in Evans, Georgia, wants all veterans to know. 

The CEO and founder of Cashmere Moon looked into business ownership after enjoying being able to see her kids more during the pandemic. Though her sustainable indie beauty and body care business is thriving now, with a projected “few million” in revenue this year, it wasn’t always simple.

“Of course, doing the research, knowing there will be tough times, and being prepared for a roller coaster ride of emotions is important to accept as well,” she told AARP Veteran Report

Consider acquiring a business rather than starting one

While it might seem like the only option is starting from the ground up, Kevin Henderson, a Dallas-based attorney and founding partner at SMB Law Group, often recommends Entrepreneurship-Through-Acquisition (ETA) to his veteran clients. The term simply means buying or acquiring an existing business. 

 “Instead of sinking one’s life savings into building a new customer base, designing the logo, building out the right retail or office space, finding product-market fit, and everything else in between, hopeful entrepreneurs can buy an existing business that has already demonstrated value in the market, which can provide a bit more assurance and stability right off the bat,” Henderson told AARP Veteran Report.

The government can help you

Don’t miss out on government incentives and programs, Henderson said. The Small Business Administration offers a veteran-owned business certification program, which allows small businesses to pursue sole-source and set-aside contracts at the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Vets First program. Some state and local government agencies offer tax incentives to veteran-owned businesses, such as reduced or waived fees and taxes.

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Former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer John Mahoney, who retired as a captain, founded Chain of Command, where he partners with retiring business owners to continue to grow their companies after they’ve let go of the reins.

“I feel like I have found my purpose: building and leading a team that shares a common mission, solve problems together, cares deeply and serves the community,” he said. “Two of the proudest moments of my life were signing the first paychecks for our team and helping a team member process the paperwork to buy his family’s first home.”

You already trained for this

Former Navy officer Katherine Lynch is head of business operations at Ness, a health and wellness credit card company.

“We learn in the military to have extreme accountability — that’s exactly what you need,” she said. "The same way you led sailors in the Navy, you can lead civilians at a startup."

Veterans can either follow a preset plan like they did in the military, or pave their own way, Lynch said.

“We are often presented with a playbook in the military — executing that playbook can of course be challenging, but it’s written for you. In startups, you have to create the playbook,” she said. “If you have the passion to help other people through a new business or idea — go for it!”

You should apply for VA health care. This covers preventive care, inpatient hospital services, urgent and emergency care services, mental health services, prescriptions (written by or approved by a VA doctor), routine eye exams and preventive eye care are free. Dental care may be covered, too. 

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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