This blog post was written by Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra has offered workshops and individual counseling on human resources and employer issues for Alexandria’s small businesses through the SBDC for many years. She was the 2017 Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year.
Are You Entrepreneurial? Want to Start Your Own Business? Non-Profit?
The week of November 4 – 10 recognizes veteran-owned small businesses across the USA. You probably have heard of the many big businesses, like FedEx, that were started by veterans. But most US businesses are small businesses. Currently, nine percent (9%) of all small businesses are owned by veterans.
The Alexandria SBDC has helped over 220 veterans start and sustain their own businesses. These include a wide range of types and sizes of businesses across Alexandria.
If you have been thinking about starting your own business, we offer a range of services to help you. Whatever you want to be — a coach, retailer, cybersecurity developer, consultant, physical fitness trainer/gym owner, home health care or theatre founder – now is your time!
Studies show that veterans who want to start a business run into trouble in four major areas:
- the lack of a professional network
- the lack of a local network
- little or no business experience
- limited capital
You can fix all those problems! Sometimes working for a company/non-profit in your field for a few years will help you address all those. Going back to school – full or part-time to hone technical skills or add business skills may be a smart move. You might also consider starting your business as a side gig while you build capital and expertise.
As a volunteer for veterans groups and at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, I have seen too many veterans get into trouble because they did not do their homework first. This might be lack of knowledge about the specific business or about basic business practices, it often includes assumptions about some giant pot of ‘free money’ for veterans or about how easy it is to become a government contractor as a veteran. Far too many also do not seek out resources until they are already in trouble or near bankruptcy.
Doing your preparation and being able to adjust your plan as you learn more about the market is vital. For most of us vets, it is also something we learned in the military!
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
1. What need or problem are you going to solve?
- Why does this problem or need interest you?
- What do you offer to solve it? (Expertise, education, new technology ideas, etc.)
2. What is your purpose in starting this new business or non-profit?
- What is your vision?
- What is your definition of success?
3. Do you believe what you want to do is possible for you to do? Are you ready to dedicate yourself fully every day to building this?
4. Do you have the skills you need to be successful building a business or non-profit?
- What do you need to learn? How will you do that?
- Are you naturally curious?
- Are you willing to actively market yourself all the time?
- How good are you at seeking advice and help?
- Are you flexible enough to change direction based on what you learn?
5. How will you use your current contacts (your network) and build new ones to support your idea?
- Are you active in professional and business organizations that are relevant to your goal?
- What are you doing on social media to make the right connections?
- Which groups in the area you want to create your work are worth your time?
START RIGHT TO SUCCEED
Research and Planning:
- Have you defined the need or problem your business/non-profit will satisfy?
- How will you be better than others in this space?
- What makes your vision unique?
- Grow and develop your networks in your chosen field, local area, and business groups. The Alexandria SBDC offers monthly roundtables of business owners and a variety of other services to help you expand your network. Consider women’s or minority business networks, local business groups, professional and veteran groups. Check out MeetUp, EventBrite, local calendars, community groups, and your network for leads. Later some of these will be good places for you to market as well.
- Learn the business and regulatory requirements you face – the SBDC is a great support here. Assess where you need an attorney or CPA and find one that specializes in small businesses or non-profit ogranizations.
- Do you have the savings/resources to go without an income for 12-24 months? If not, how will you build those or do you have a spouse/other who will support you during this time?
- Grants, loans, crowd-funding, investors are all limited and time-consuming to get. None pay your living or most basic expenses at the start.
The Alexandria SBDC provides a range of services, consultants, and seminars to help you develop and grow your business. Virginia is one of the top states for veterans and also offers programs to assist and support you through the Virginia SBDC Network. Contact us for assistance and support, we are here to help you succeed.
Those wishing to start a business in the City of Alexandria can contact the Alexandria SBDC. Complete the short questionnaire and we will contact you to set up an appointment.